Core Practices of Awakening in Life
Core Practices of Awakening in Life
Opening awareness, receiving, seeing.
We are so incredibly involved and wrapped up in our lives – reacting, doing, controlling, trying to figure it all out – we need to find a place where we intentionally do the opposite: we let go and open, we receive, and we see clearly.
The practice of listening is fundamentally a practice of opening and accepting. By being open to everything as it is in this moment, we are, without trying, accepting because we are not rejecting anything in our world.
The practice of listening cultivates our ability to open, receive, and perceive life as it is. We experience everything with clear awareness, an open heart, and feeling it all fully in our body. We experience life without pretense or preoccupation. This is radically freeing and deeply tender.
Awakening is being with things as they are. The practice of listening directly cultivates our capacity to be with life exactly as it is. Other practices help us to deepen and integrate this experience in life, but the flavor of resting in what is begins with the practice and experience of listening.
Keep in mind that what you receive and experience directly in this practice of listening isn’t necessarily always going to feel amazing. Sometimes it will break your heart.
But what you experience will be true. It will be real. Why? Because it’s what’s happening right now. You’re not avoiding, ignoring, or controlling. You are simply present and open.
And through this practice we also find that we are more resilient than we thought, and more curious than we imagined. When we are able to listen and experience things as they are, we realize we can endure difficult times, and we see that we can work with our life and situations because we’re not running away or manipulating everything.
How to – The Practice of Listening
The practice of listening is the most subtle and formless of all the core practices. Because of this the instructions are simple, and more poetic language gives you the feel and sense of what it is like, and how to work with your experience. This practice, like many of the others, benefits from guidance from a teacher or mentor.
This practice is great to do both in formal practice and out in the world, sitting waiting for the bus or hanging out on a park bench. I recommend doing this primarily while sitting for awhile.
Lastly, I recommend only doing this practice in short bursts, 5-20 minutes, after you’ve calmed your mind with the settling practice. You can do it more than once in a day, just keep it short.
1. Begin with the practice of settling.
Settling helps us clear space to listen, to turn down the noise in our experience. Listening is very difficult if you’re distracted, whether by thoughts, emotions, or restlessness in your body. You don’t need to get rid of these things, but it’s incredibly helpful to first let go, clear your mind, and come to rest in yourself, as much as you can.
2. Let go of any object of attention.
In the practice of settling you focus your attention on your breath. After doing that awhile and feeling sufficiently settled, you will let go of focusing on your breath or any object at all.
3. Notice the experiential quality of spacious, clear awareness.
When you have settled and let go of the breath, notice that your awareness is naturally clear and open. You experience everything without trying. You’re not doing anything to or about what you experience. A sound arises, you just hear it. A bug flies by, you just see it. It’s all just happening and you are aware. Just rest in this awareness and experience everything that’s arising.
4. Just sit, or hone in on hearing or seeing.
Continue just sitting in this awareness experience.
If you’re feeling particularly distracted, it can often be helpful to lean our awareness towards one of the sense fields, such as hearing or seeing. If you focus on hearing, you’re directing your awareness to all the sounds, or absence of sounds, that are arising. Again, this is not the same as focusing on only one sound. You are open to all sounds. If you need a little more help, notice the beginning, middle, and ending of the sounds that arise.
5. After distraction, release.
Inevitably your awareness and experience will focus and contract around a particular phenomena – maybe you get lost in a thought, maybe you hear a bird chirping beautifully and you start telling yourself a story about that bird. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. When you notice your awareness contracting on an object, simply release and let your awareness expand once more.
The feeling here is like this: imagine I placed a smooth rock in your open hand. After a while you begin to close your fist until you are clenching it tightly. At some point you realize you are clenching. At that moment, you simply relax your hand and fingers, and your hand is naturally open again. When it’s open, you don’t need to do anything else. Work with distractions in the practice of listening in the same way.
6. Let go of this practice, remember the body and your environment.
When you finish this practice, it’s important that you fully arrive back in your body and your environment. It is not that you left your body or that this is an out-of-body experience. However, this practice is again very subtle and formless so naturally we will not be experiencing our body in the same way as say if we were doing pushups or making dinner! So, when you finish this practice, begin to really notice specific things in your environment, move your head, look around. Touch your body, massage in certain places. You might even stretch a little after finishing. This helps to ground and integrate this practice of listening into your body and life.
While I describe this in 6 steps, this practice can be done in a single instant, anytime, anywhere. It might take time for you to develop this capacity of listening, but you will have access to it at any time.