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Practice: Two Paradigms

by Brian Tom O'Connor

I'd like to contrast the awareness practices paradigm with the traditional meditation paradigm, and to point out how they differ, and how they're alike.

This is not to discourage traditional meditation at all. If you enjoy it, by all means continue.

But in my view of awareness practice, the idea is different. It's sort of a different definition of "practice." In traditional meditation, we practice for one of these reasons:

  • Changing our current state to a more desirable one—that is, bringing about a particular experience that we desire,

  • Attaining a future state of enlightenment or awakening, or

  • Improving ourselves in some way. For instance improving our concentration, or our ability to sit still and be quiet for long periods of time, or to reduce our stress and anxiety.

All of these are future-based. All of these are based on the idea that there is something you don't have right now.

Awareness practices are based on the idea that there is something here now that you don't usually notice. Something that's already here, and that's always here. That something (which is really not a thing) is Awareness. Or the sense of presence if you prefer. It's who you really are because all experience appears within it. It never goes away. It's always available to be tapped into at any time, at a moment's notice.

However, the idea that you don't have to do anything, or that there is no practice, is sort of true, but misleading. It's true that you don't have to make awareness happen; it's already happening. You couldn't not be aware if you tried. So all you need to do is notice it, and you do that by turning your attention away from the content of awareness to pure awareness itself.

Pure awareness itself is where peace and joy live because, since it allows everything that is experienced to appear in it, there is no argument with what is, and it's the argument with what is that temporarily covers up the joy and peace that is our original nature.

If we're trying to allow, it's easier to notice what within us is already allowing.

If we're trying to be loving, it's easier to notice what within us is already loving.

If we're trying to be peaceful and calm, it's easier to notice what within us is already peaceful and calm.

If you do nothing except shift your attention from the content of awareness to the clear field of awareness itself, you will know the loving peace and joy that is your natural state. You, awareness.

But the two paradigms are alike in this way: You do have to practice something. Doing nothing is not easy. You have to practice it. It's like learning a musical instrument. You practice it so that it becomes second nature. Allowing everything to be as it is, and turning your attention to awareness itself is something you can practice doing.

The difference is, you are practicing for now, not for the future. You are not trying to change anything. The peace, joy, and love that you desire and dream of in your wildest dreams is here now, just waiting to be noticed.

So it's really about simply noticing the presence of awareness, and then knowing yourself as that.

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