Awareness Practice: Part One.

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As the great yogi Milarepa said, “Do not cling to the pond of shamatha/Allow the flowers of vipashyana to bloom.”

Although mindfulness meditation, or shamatha, is intrinsically valuable in itself, it does not lead to liberation. Within a session, once we have a stablized shamatha and have experienced a degree of calm one-pointedness, vipashyana-awareness will arise naturally if we relax and allow it.

Glimpsing gaps in thoughts, feelings and sensations is a sign that one could open more and let awareness dawn. First we mix mind with breath—mindfulness; eventually mind begins to mix with space—awareness. This moment of opening, of letting go further, usually coincides with a natural, gradual lifting of the eye gaze. This is not forced, nor is the gaze an intense stare. It just happens naturally as we relax more.


In shamatha the breath, especially the out-breath, has been the primary focus and relief. That breath again and again invites us to let go into space.

When we really do so, although there is still awareness of the breath, it is no longer the prime focus. In fact, we are now not focusing on anything in particular, but just including everything in the open atmosphere, just as space accommodates everything from rainbows to rockets.

Thus, whether we hear the cry of a crow or the roar of a snow blower, we register various appearances and sounds as moments, even sustained moments, of nowness—without clinging, without rejecting, without struggle. We are simply being with whatever is.

In Tibetan this practice of awareness is called lhaktong, which means clear seeing, seeing things as they are. We might call this “insight,” as it leads to many “ah-ha” moments on and off the cushion.

Vipashyana-awareness develops the prajna, or the insight that cuts through to emptiness. Even a brief experience of emptiness is nothing like the concept of “a void,” for the experience is not nihilistic. There is still energy and clarity but the cognition is not dependent upon having an object. The experience is non-dual. One might also say it is like being present without a sense of “I” being present.

We have already seen in shamatha and vipashyana the impermanence of thoughts and feelings. And we begin to notice that when we resume believing our thoughts and feeling, they tend to weave the illusory web of “I” and “mine” out of thin air. If we catch this process, we can dissolve habitual patterns and have a fresh take on life.

    Insights continuing post-meditation will be the topic of Part II of this Awareness Practice series.



Editor: Anne Clendening

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About Linda Lewis

Linda Lewis met the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and, following Rinpoche’s invitation, immediately moved to Boulder, Colorado to be a part of his young and vital sangha. The predominant themes in her life have been teaching in contemplative schools–Vidya, Naropa, and the Shambhala School in Halifax, Nova Scotia–and studying, practicing, or teaching his Shambhala Buddhadharma wherever she finds herself.


13 Responses to “Awareness Practice: Part One.”

  1. Nonymous says:

    Interesting, considering vipassana in the west focuses SOLELY on the “I”, as taught by the Goenke method, which has established centers around the world.

    If what you have just posted is true (which it IS), it essentially proves the Goenke method is literally cult creation via group hypnosis that panders to the not eschewed ego.


    I guarantee you, people will not be happy with this.

    • Linda V. Lewis says:

      I am not trying to say one method of meditation is better than others. There are many methods, because there are many different kinds of people. I have respect for Goenke, who was a pioneer of sorts, presenting a form of meditation to Westerners. The awareness practice presented in the above article is that presented by Trungpa R., who was in the lineages of Tibetan Kagyu and Nyingma Vajrayana buddhadharma.
      But if one does practice Goenke's methods long enough, no permanent, changeless self is found, even, as you say, the focus is on the "I". Then by extension it is possible to realize that there is no self-entity to any phenomena either. In other words, the realization of 2-fold egolessness (of self and of phenomena) is always possible, but some methods are perhaps more direct than others.

  2. angel says:

    hmmm… now I'm confused… I thought Vipassanna was the meditation that the historical enlightened Buddha taught???

    • Nonymous says:

      Vipassana is not the method the Buddha used.
      The buddha used Samatha.
      What Goenke did was take a version of meditation he learned from an ENGLISHMAN, MODIFIED IT, and then turned it into a stockholm syndrome style method.
      Guided meditation is group hypnosis, nothing more. Someone tells you what to see, and you eventually see it. Hypnotists and psychologist use this all the time.
      That belief that what Goenke is "selling" (the ask for contributions, but don't enforce it, knowing you eventually WILL contribute, after they have fully indoctrinated you) is an artful propoganda perpetrated by Goenke.

      There was an independent study done, of VIpassana, that came to the exact same conclusions I did.

      It's a very long read, and If I could find a link that was not a PDF download, I would post it here.
      In the end, it is cult creation, the isolation, the silence, the control, the "comeraderie", the control of diet until the last day…..all of this shouts of stockholm syndrome.

    • Nonymous says:

      I apologize. This line should have read:

      "That belief that what Goenke is "selling" (the ask for contributions, but don't enforce it, knowing you eventually WILL contribute, after they have fully indoctrinated you) IS THE METHOD THE BUDDHA USED, is an artful propoganda perpetrated by Goenke."

    • Nonymous says:

      Also, meditation is always meant to be a solitary exercise, and though they will argue that even though there are people next to you, if you are meditating, that should not matter, the egoic mid will STILL take solace in "knowing" that it is not in this alone, that there are others there with it, doing the same thing it is doing.
      THIS is modern vipassana, whether it be done in the united states, europe, or india.

      The egoic mind, by the method alone, is coddled, cemented, and reinforced.

      Vipassana under the Goenke method reinforces the "I".

  3. […] four in a series on awareness practice. Click here for part one, here for part two and here for part […]

  4. Nonymous says:

    Please research, people, as what is being pushed as "spirituality" these days is nothing but "self-cherishing", causing more damage than help:
    "The analogy to the obesity epidemic is useful here. Definite steps are being taken to combat obesity: soda machines are being removed from schools, exercise programs suggested, and nutrition education plans implemented. Not so with narcissism. In many cases, the suggested cure for narcissistic behavior is "feeling good about yourself." After all, the thinking goes, fourteen-year-old Megan wouldn't post revealing pictures of herself on MySpace if she had higher self-esteem. So parents redouble their efforts, telling Megan she's special, beautiful, and great. THIS IS LIKE SUGGESTING AN OBESE PERSON WOULD FEEL MUCH BETTER IF SHE JUST ATE MORE DOUGHNUTS."
    ~~~~Excerpted from “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell 2009

    They keep telling you to eat more doughnuts.

  5. […] about the concept of impermanence is the key. The feelings will pass. They always do. It’s also very important to forgive […]

  6. […] truth asks us to develop an appreciation for suffering through mindfulness. This is the practice of shamatha or peaceful-abiding. We are not trying to figure suffering out or fix […]

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