Uncovering Your Natural Awareness from "The Little Book of Being"

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By Diana Winston

Awareness is a capacity of the human mind. Awareness is the ability to directly know and to perceive, sense, feel, or be cognizant of experience. We might think of awareness simply as the state of being conscious of something.

Every living being is aware. We usually don’t think much about awareness, but in order to function, humans have to be aware. Not only do humans have the capacity to be aware, but they also have the ability to be aware of awareness, or aware that they are aware. Let’s try this simple experiment:

Right now, put down the book and don’t be aware. In the next minute, please stop being aware. I mean it. Ready, go . . .

Are you back? Could you not be aware? No, you couldn’t. This capacity to be aware is a function of the human mind. And in this exercise, you noticed that you were aware and that it’s impossible to stop being aware. 

However, being aware is not natural awareness. Natural awareness is very hard to, but here’s the synopsis: Natural awareness is a way of knowing and a state of being wherein our focus is on the awareness itself rather than on the things we are aware of. It is generally relaxed, effortless, and spacious. 

Natural awareness can subjectively feel very powerful. It can feel like a deep sense of peace, joy, love, contentment, serenity, connection, and much more. It can be evoked through specific practices, and it is a type of meditation in and of itself. It can become a familiar state, accessible in daily life and regularly experienced as you meditate with it over time.

Because natural awareness is hard to define, it is primarily recognized experientially. Let me give you some markers of it. Natural awareness can feel like:

  • Your mind is completely aware and undistracted without you doing anything in particular to make yourself aware.
  • Your mind is like wide open space, and everything in it is just passing by.
  • You are aware but not identified with the part of you that is aware.
  • Your mind feels at rest.
  • You are noticing that you are noticing, and you are abiding in that awareness.
  • Everything just seems to be happening on its own.
  • You feel a sense of contentment not connected to external conditions.
  • You are simply being—without agenda—and this beingness creates a feeling of timelessness and ease.

You can experience natural awareness in one of these ways or some combination of them. Everyone experiences it in different ways, and how you experience it can vary from day to day.

Maybe one or more of the markers above makes sense to you. If you think you have had a taste of natural awareness or entered the territory of natural awareness, please trust that. Any experiential sense of natural awareness will become a touchstone that you can always return to during your meditation practice or in life.

What’s in it For Me?

Natural awareness is one of many ways of being aware, and awareness is good no matter how you slice it. But there are many other reasons why you might be drawn to a natural awareness practice:

You’ve already experienced natural awareness. While you are meditating, you might find that, although you are trying to keep your attention on a focus point, like your breath, your mind keeps settling into a more spacious, open awareness. It seems like natural awareness is where your meditation practice wants to take you at the moment.

You’ve been working too hard. I have met many students of classical mindfulness meditation over the years (and, I confess, I was one of them) who exert massive amounts of energy to keep their attention focused, who try to be aware of every moment, and who often feel a disturbing tightness and tension in their meditation practice. When they begin to relax into a more natural awareness, the struggle ceases, and they find they can continue to practice with much greater ease and spaciousness. They don’t have to try so hard to be aware.

You need something to counteract self-judgment. Practitioners often judge their meditation practice and themselves ruthlessly. I remember in my early years of practice I told a friend I was a terrible mindfulness practitioner because I could be mindful only about ten times during the day. He gently replied, “Why don’t you reframe it? ‘How wonderful—I am mindful ten times in a day!’” 

You want to be free of your dramas. Our mind is usually busy defending, worrying, explaining, fighting, and comparing. Natural awareness offers another way for our mind to be—a way that is not lost in these dramas but that has a feel of freedom to it. In experiencing natural awareness, we let go. And when we let go, what is there in the wake of letting go? The goodness of our own mind—the space of a mind free of drama. This is a sacred place. We usually just zip past it—“Phew! I’m no longer caught in my story. I’m not in pain anymore”—and then we move on. But we can learn to rest in this freedom.

You want freedom from ego drama and polarization. It’s extraordinary when we can step aside from our usual focus on me, me, me—on our separateness—and open to a sense of something greater than our own small ego dramas. Spending time in natural awareness is an amazing antidote to the self-centeredness and polarization that our world is rife with.

It’s lovely. Sometimes when accessing natural awareness we feel a lovely sense of compassion, kindness, interconnection, joy, and radiance. Think how your embodiment of these qualities can impact all whom you meet.

GLIMPSE PRACTICE: Recollection

One of the simplest ways to access natural awareness is through memory. Let yourself remember a time when you felt awake, connected, peaceful, expansive—in a state of “beingness.” Recall this time. Don’t try too hard; let it come to you in a simple way.

Perhaps you were in nature, in the midst of athletic activity, in the creative flow, lying at rest in bed, with a lover, or laughing uproariously with your best friend. Can you remember where you were? What did you see? Hear? Now remember how you felt at the time. What did your body feel like? How about your heart? See if you can invite in a full-bodied experience of the memory. Recall details: sight, scents, sounds, and any other sensory experience.

Now notice what is happening in the present moment. See if a sense of beingness is present for you, just by your imagining a past experience. What does that beingness feel like? Connectedness, ease, presence, relaxation? Let yourself rest here.

An excerpt from The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness by Diana Winston (2019, Sounds True)

Diana Winston is the Director of Mindfulness Education at UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC)and the co-author, with Susan Smalley PhD, of Fully Present, the Science, Art and Practice of Mindfulness. She developed the evidence-based Mindful Awareness Practices (MAPS) curriculum and the Training in Mindfulness Facilitation, which trains mindfulness teachers worldwide. She is a founding board member of the International Mindfulness Teachers Association.

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