Those of you who have been on retreat with Tejananda will recognise the words above, maybe even have sung them with him at Vajraloka. During this time in Burma they have come to mind as I’ve meditated and reflected on awareness, on the mind and above all practising staying present to experience.
Whatever that experience might be – for me this morning it was swimming in the Bay of Bengal, off the western Myanmar coast, the sky a stunning blue and the sea a turquoise shimmer.The body weightless and the mind in bliss. Two hours later anxiety was creeping in as I walked up the beach looking for the village I’d set out for – had I gone too far up the coast? (almost certainly). Was I getting sun burnt/de-hydrated/knackered/bad-tempered?
Blissful, irritated, tired, hot and sweaty. We can be aware of all these things and many more. And the quality with which we are aware can transform the experience. Awareness doesn’t depend on a certain object to function. The balance, clear sightedness and impartiality of awareness allow pleasant or unpleasant experiences to be fully known. It is possible to be aware of anything that we can know through the physical senses and the same goes for the mind. Thoughts, feelings and other more subtle qualities in the mind can all be known.
Usually we’re either focused externally – and I could feel that pull on the beach this morning towards beauty and the pleasure of the senses – or caught up in an internal dialogue – as with the thoughts and feelings fuelling anxiety when I was lost and over-heating. Awareness allows both those processes to be known and, with practice, not identified with as ‘me’, ‘my thoughts’ etc. It does this through looking more internally at what is going on, through the wisdom aspect of Right Mindfulness – clearly knowing or comprehending and manifesting as a strong interest and a dharma perspective.
We get interested in what is actually happening and distinguish that from our ideas and concepts about experience. Have you ever asked yourself – how does a thought feel in the mind? what is awareness? how do I know I’m aware? Does it make a difference to understand anxiety or irritation or sadness as a feeling in the mind and body? Not asking these questions to answer them on a conceptual level but to let them point us to our direct experience in that moment. We need receptivity for awareness to reveal what its aware of, to just let things happen. And sometimes that letting go allows us to know the mind in a new way, going where it’s not gone before, to be completely present to the mysterious nature of awareness.