One way to notice experience in meditation is called “choiceless awareness” meditation, or “open awareness” meditation. This is contrasted with what we might call focused awareness, single-pointed awareness, or anchoring awareness. Choiceless awareness means we are not choosing one particular thing to focus our awareness on, but are allowing whatever comes into our awareness to be there.
The eyes are closed in this formal meditation while sitting on a cushion and rather than focusing your awareness on something specific you’re simply sitting and being present to whatever is arising. It could be sound, thought, emotion, a sensation in the body, anything that comes into the awareness. You’re allowing things to come into your awareness and allowing them to leave again. You’re working at remembering to not follow a storyline, not to grab onto an emotion and start to ruminate about it, not bring anxiety in when you’re thinking about or experiencing an emotion. You’re aiming to avoid that second arrow, that story, the suffering that comes with dwelling on an already painful experience. As the Buddha said, pain is unavoidable, suffering is optional. We can’t avoid having difficult emotions and feelings, but we can avoid exacerbating them with rumination or worry.
…ordinarily you don’t want difficult emotions in your experience. You want to get rid of them. You don’t want to be with that part of yourself.
When noticing an emotion, especially a difficult emotion, you’re simply aware that you’re having a difficult emotion, and you allow it to have its own manifestation in your body. Try not to get involved in it, but simply allow it to manifest itself. Any emotion has a time limit. Any emotion will come and it will go in its own time. If you don’t get involved, ruminate on it, and don’t project it into the future, if we don’t try and own it, any emotion will come and go.
A second option is to bring a self-compassion response into the open awareness meditation. You become aware of an emotion, a physical sensation, or a thought and consciously allow it to be there. This can be tricky because ordinarily you don’t want difficult emotions in your experience. You want to get rid of them. You don’t want to be with that part of yourself. But in open awareness, allow that difficult emotion to be there and then bring in a little self-compassion technique, something that works really nicely for you. Soothe yourself, comfort yourself, or simply allow your heart to melt as you’re being aware that you’re having a difficult emotion. This is an active experience within the open awareness meditation: feeling the emotion, allowing it to be there, not adding anything extra to it, and then bringing in some kindness, some tenderness, a hand on the heart, a soothing gesture, maybe even some comforting words. You are actually allowing something extra into your meditation to comfort yourself. You deserve to have some way for that difficult emotion to be validated, acknowledged, and tended to, and you deserve to bring warmth to your experience.
This active aspect of open awareness meditation is simply another option for meditation practice. There is no one right way to meditate: we are all unique, and it’s worth our while to test out different meditation techniques to find those that work best for us. Happy meditating!