Working with Choiceless Awareness

At the two CSS retreats I have been to, Choiceless Awareness has been the main practice, and I can see why. It can be a finely tuned tool for exploring the workings of the mind, the mechanisms of samsara, and what is (already) more true for us.

The main progression, over the course of the retreat and also within each session, is from stability practice (focusing on an object such as the breath or a mantra), going through the sense fields and noticing what arises in each (sensations, sight, sound, taste/smell, thought), and then inquiring into a particular process or area in more detail.

When we go through the sense fields, we can do it one by one (seems useful to get into it), then label whatever attention goes to (sound, sight, taste, thought, etc.), and we can also move into just noticing which field something arises within without the self-talk, and finally shift into Shikantaza, just sitting, or true meditation as Adyashanti calls it.

Some of the inquiries we can engage in using this tool…

  • We can notice impermanence in each sense field, how everything arises and passes away within this timeless now of awareness. We can also notice how this impermanence is alive in immediate timeless awareness, while any other forms of impermanence comes from a story and happens within time. In other words, this is the only one outside of thoughts, and the other ones are only found in the inside of thoughts.
  • We can explore thoughts specifically.
    • We can explore image thoughts put on top of perceptions.
    • For instance, without the visual field (eyes closed), we can explore how the body and the space within and around the body is represented in thought, and how movements of the body is mirrored in changes in these visual thoughts. The visual thoughts are laid on top of perceptions, identifying what arises, and also giving rise to a sense of a body (overlaid on sensations) and space in general (body+wider world). For instance, a sensation arises in space, in the area where the body-image says a foot is, and it is taken as an itch on the side of the foot. A sound arises, and it is taken as the sound of a bird just outside the window.
    • Bringing in the visual field again, we can actually see the image thoughts superimposed on the pure visual perceptions, and the difference between them. We can also notice how anticipation of a change in the visual field is actually a change in the visual thoughts superimposed on the visual field. For instance, I see the teacher sit there with the stick for hitting the gong, and the visual thought shows me him moving to hit the gong while the visual field shows him sitting with it in his lap.
    • In exploring impermanence within each sense field, we can see how image thoughts create a sense of continuity. Perceptions arise and fall away within timeless awareness. Any thought about them is a thought of what was, a memory. And in this way, a sense of continuity is created. Without thought, no continuity.
  • We can explore emotions, and see how they are made up of sensations and a story about these sensations. When this is seen, and the story is not believed in or engaged with, there are no emotions anymore. There is not the label of emotions. And also, we see that what arises as an easily recognizable emotion from the gestalt of sensation+story (when its components are not clearly seen), now is something quite different, often something that we couldn’t label very easily (beyond simply “sensation”) even if we tried.

This is obviously a very limited list, mainly because I have a quite limited experience with it so far. It strikes me that this form of inquiry is quite similar to in the Big Mind process, with choiceless awareness with a more narrow focus, and the Big Mind process spanning a much wider range of areas of inquiry.

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