A. ‘Open awareness’, I think, may be better described as something more akin to a ‘spirit’ rather than a ‘method’. This to me is where the crucial difference lies between this approach to practice and a more formalised one.Because pure awareness practice doesn’t have an ‘object’ (and therefore no ‘subject’) of practice, how could it be described in any other way?
So then how do we describe this so-called ‘spirit’?
It is a willingness to open up to and accept all situations that we experience throughout our everyday life. Both during and outside our periods of sitting meditation. This acceptance is certainly not a passive one, but requires inner strength to work against our tendency to fall into old habitual and emotional reactions. To restrain these habitual impulses requires awareness, and, crucially, the spirit to practise through all situations without picking and choosing -carrying on and functioning in as normal a way as we can, so that those around us don’t even know that we are ‘practising’. There is nothing to do but respond to what is in front of us without trying to posses, manipulate or react, which are our normal everyday ways of dealing with things and life in general. This is where we get the notion that there is no practice. This way of practice – if we genuinely take it to all our everyday experiences without picking and choosing which ones we want to apply it to – is immensely difficult.
The nature of this practice, like all Dharma practice, is that it will bring up karma from the depths of our being, often so strong, that being able to bring forth the spirit I talk about becomes impossible. Bearing with these ‘blockages’ is a part of what we do, so that in time they lose their strength and fade into the background, so they no longer possess us in the way they use to do.
If some things refuse to shift, despite persistent effort and doing your best, making practice difficult or even impossible, you may need to focus on the particular attachment that is giving you this difficulty and give it ‘special treatment’ in order to free the ‘log-jam’. This is where the more traditional ways of practice can come to our aid.
In my own experience I found the ‘three signs of being’ to be very helpful in ‘loosening up’ my blockages to dramatic effect. Most of the traditional practices may be helpful. Metta may be used to overcome anger and ill will, for example. Or the very useful formless practices of mindfulness of breathing can be used for several hindrances. In fact, these practices of the breath can always be kept at hand anyway, to help us settle and bring forth our awareness during meditation.
So when do we employ one of these ‘skillful means’? This is where your teacher comes in, because a pure awareness practice requires a teacher more than any other kind. They will suggest a particular practice and crucially they will tell you how you need to practise with it in conjunction with the spirit of your open awareness (which will always be there as the supporting framework), and importantly when to drop this ‘expedient means’ and return exclusively to the pure awareness practice.
One point worth mentioning here is to always remember that before we return to our own intrinsic awareness, there is first a long path of insight to travel. Slowly we unpick the delusion of self, and therefore much insightful deliberation into our makeup is needed.
I would go as far as to say that I doubt there is anyone that would be able to go through their practice without needing a helping hand, at some time or another, from one of the deeply profound tools of orthodox Buddhism. I may also venture to suggest that it is only when in the latter stages of the ten bhumis that ‘just being’ becomes truly possible.
But always remember the key is never to lose the open all-embracing spirit that one day will ‘pull the rug’ from under the spell of samsara.