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