Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Talk 27: Awareness is the Limiting Factor

About 10 years ago I was driving to the beach in a sports sedan and enjoying the coarse thrill of occasionally downshifting into 3rd and flogging the engine up to redline* while passing cars on a narrow two lane blacktop so curvy and treacherous that a friend nicknamed it "the Devil's Highway".

This was at some point after having had a big awakening experience and my dabbling in meditation was becoming more serious.  I was practicing being aware on the drive, that is, practicing this awareness of awareness that we talk about, a kind of less attached awareness, less embedded, less lost.

And this was working fine for the most part, but when I would get into the intensity of that experience of passing the car, the speed, the excitement, the fear, I would lose that extra awareness.  I would become completely lost in that visceral excitement, concentrating, grasping so tightly on the goal of the moment, and resisting the fear.

And then, afterwards, that extra awareness would return.

At the time I had no real tools for maintaining this awareness other than my intent, just sheer willpower which obviously failed when tested at the highest level.  Possibly I could have thought about it a bit and figured out that I could have followed my breath or something.  But I just wasn't there.

Any number of techniques could possibly be applied here, perhaps a mantra, following the breath, body scanning.  I wonder how they would compare with the directness of noting exactly what is happening in the moment, simply naming what one is aware of:  excitement, tension, pulsing, fear, seeing, grasping, resistance, etc.

In some ways the real work of meditation is practicing letting go of attachment, the prototypical grasping or resistance of objects of awareness.  But it can't happen unless one has this kind of awareness.  This real work can't take place if we are embedded or lost in the dream.  And we could also have problems with the relaxing part as well, the letting go part.  So we could have problems with both of the two main meditative dimensions of awareness and relaxation, but understand that the awareness problem is the limiting factor.

If you are not aware in this way, you are not going to be able to do the real work of letting go.  And just sitting on a cushion is no guarantee of this kind of awareness.  And so for some folks like myself some kind of technique may be necessary to cultivate this kind of continuous awareness.  I favor noting, but regardless of what works for you understand that this kind of awareness, done in a continuous way, must be cultivated.  We have cultivated the lost, embedded style for tens or hundreds of thousands of hours, it will take some intent, some work, some persistence, to regain this less attached style of awareness.  And then the real work can begin.

*[In the years that followed, speeding tickets arose, and divided highways arose, and 9 mph over the limit is about it for me.]

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