July 2015 – The Direct Path

Meditate. Celebrate. Activate.


“Let come what comes, let go what goes. See what remains.”
– Ramana Maharshi




If you’re reading this newsletter it means you’re interested in the meditative shenanigans of the Consciousness Explorers Club. The CEC’s mission is to explore meditation and spiritual practice from different traditions and directions in order to deepen our understanding of self and world –  in a way that’s curious and relaxed, as opposed to uptight and precious. Since the last Monday Night Exploration was on the nature of fear, we decided to make our July offerings a little more soothing. For the next four Mondays, we’ll down-regulate the nervous system, help you slip into a warm and restorative space where nothing needs to happen and everything is fine.


To that end, for this newsletter I thought I’d give you some summertime homework, or home-UN-work, a deceptively simple practice that is so simple most folks write it off without giving it a sincere shot. Like meditation, it can take a while to get the hang of, but it’s definitely worth it once you do; in fact its many proponents argue no other practice can change your relationship to hardship and suffering more radically in so short a time. That’s because it begins with where many meditation practices are trying to get to: the inherent freedom and openness underlying all experience.


Here’s the practice: however underwhelming this may sound, bring your attention not the content of your awareness, but to the fact of it. Awareness of awareness, awareness of knowing (for this post we’ll consider awareness and knowing to be synonyms). Don’t try to find this awareness with your attention, rooting around in the back of your head like a pig looking for truffles.  Your attention is made of what you’re looking for. The “action” if you want to call it that, is more of a relaxing backwards into your own gaze.


Try it. Shift your awareness away from the screen for a second, and simply notice your own act of knowing. You can do this while still looking at or thinking about stuff, by the way; nothing in the content of your awareness can prevent you from noticing the knowing of it. Awareness of awareness. It shouldn’t feel remotely exotic – actually, nothing is more familiar. We make this shift a hundred times a day. We just don’t do it knowingly.


Every time you orient in this way, for the duration of the shift, there may be a very subtle diminishment in the intensity of “content” in your awareness. This is particularly true for thoughts and feelings. They seem to occupy slightly less of the bandwidth they occupied a moment before. You may momentarily feel a bit lighter, a bit more open.


And that’s all there is to it. The trick is repeating it, again and again. Every time you remember – “oh yeah, that weird practice Jeff was ranting about” –  you make this tiny adjustment in perspective. Very quickly, you learn you can still think and act and engage with the world without ever losing contact with the broader perspective of your own knowing.


Why would you want to do this? After all, it can sound a bit oppressive, a version of heightened self-consciousness, the very state so many of us are trying to escape from. But that’s only because the painful part of self-consciousness – of being seen – is the thinking and feeling it can evoke, the inner critiques and tensions and contractions and so on. In so many different ways, Indian traditions have argued that knowing itself – bare awareness – is “empty.” It has no intrinsic properties of its own, but simply reflects whatever it encounters. You also learn though repetition that there’s a difference in your experience between thinking (rumination) and knowing. This isn’t an intellectual idea to argue with by the way, for of course as an idea it’s subject to any number of legitimate rational critiques. It is, rather, something to explore, something to experience.


Try it again, for just a few moments. Awareness of awareness. You are that empty awareness, that pure knowing. Everything else is a visitor, a cloud passing through an open sky.


There – for just a moment, a flicker, of …. of something. Did you feel it? It begins with these little tastes, little tastes of openness, of freedom. Little recognitions that there is something different about experiencing reality in this way – something peaceful, or maybe, at first, something scary. Because it points to a place in your life not subject to change, a place to orient to – and operate from – that’s outside the shifting circumstances of your life. When you rest your awareness here you’re not dependent on things going “right” in the external world. It sounds like detachment and that can definitely be a temporary flavour. And yet, paradoxically, the longer you rest here, the more you find you’re actually more available, less likely to be hijacked by the previous moment’s concerns. Free to respond. Free to be.


As always, no need to take my word for it. Do the experiment – for the next few days, try it as you walk around. As you order lunch, as you watch the summer sky. Awareness of awareness. Practice living from this place. Practice allowing life to flow through you. Not exotic, takes no effort, no need to buy into any mystical or religious assumptions. Just the direct evidence of your own experience. In the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism, they call this the Direct Path: an arrow into the heart of mystery.


Happy July.

President, The Consciousness Explorers Club


Monday Night Explorations for July 2015

Start time 7:55pm; address is 967 College, just past Dovercourt at Octopus Garden Yoga.


DATE: July 6
THEME: Being
MEDITATION: Do Absolutely Nothing
GROUP PRACTICE: WTF: Exploring Meditation Questions and Challenges
Tired from trying so hard all the time? Me too. We’ll explore what happens when we practice letting go of all effort, at least for a little while, until the weird Puritan guilt you’ve accidentally absorbed just from living in Canada kicks in. For group practice we’ll continue our monthly exploration of questions and challenges that emerge in meditation practice.


DATE: July 13
THEME: The Dreaming Edge
MEDITATION: Exploring Image Space
For this meditation we’ll investigate the theatre of the mind, the internal screen where shapes and images shimmer, animate, and disappear. Then for the group practice, everyone will lie down and close their eyes and Andrea will lead us through another of her Yoga Nidra sequences. Yoga Nidra – or “yogic sleep” – is a state of deep relaxation that yogis claim to access during meditation. The idea is to journey to the edge of sleep, but to maintain full alertness while doing so.


DATE: July 20
THEME: Tension Tamer
MEDITATION: Letting Go Inside
GROUP PRACTICE: Letting Go Outside. For this meditation, Jude will hand out Depend ™ adult diapers and everyone will close their eyes and relax into blissful guilt-free incontinence. Ahh, one version of freedom from conditioned existence. But not quite the one we’re after … Ok so this meditation will actually explore a neo-Tibetan technique for letting go of tension in the body. For Part II we’ll explore how we may unknowingly carry tension into our various social interactions.


DATE: July 27
THEME: It seems I just go on and on and on and on
MEDITATION: Boundless Space
GROUP PRACTICE: Exploring Personal Boundaries
LOL, remind me to talk less in the intros … First we explore the amazing plasticity of our spatial sense, how our experience can expand outward in surprisingly large increments. Then in the social practice we’ll explore a now-classic CEC theme of boundaries within social relationships. How do we sense the edges of our “personal space”? Can we become more conscious of how we use these boundaries to open or close ourselves to others?