Just Sitting: Choiceless Awareness Meditation

May 29, 2021

Awareness is a mysterious thing. It is something that is always present, always observing, but awareness itself cannot ever be observed. It is always the subject of experience, always the witness. Just as you cannot see your own eyes without looking in a mirror, or taste your own tongue, awareness cannot be aware of itself. It just knows itself through being aware, through being the witness.

This awareness can be either narrow or broad, it can focus in on one thing, like the breath or the sensations of the body, or it can be open and vast, allowing and embracing all sensations to come, to go, to be.

Resting As Awareness

In most types of meditation practice, we learn to focus our awareness on one object. In this meditation, we are just going to rest as awareness itself. Rather than having any particular focus, we will just sit, and just experience things as they are, allowing them to come, allowing them to go, not grasping anything, not rejecting anything.

Rather than choosing a focus for awareness, we will just allow the field of awareness to be boundless, spacious, and open. The true nature of this awareness actually is, and always has been boundless and open.

The mind has a tendency to get fixated on things—on thoughts, on feelings, on sensations. In this practice, we will just sit and observe, and practice not getting fixated on any particular thing that we observe. We will practice just being this vast open space that is always witnessing.

To Practice:

  • Take a moment to find your seat, to sit in a relaxed posture, ideally with your spine straight, but not holding any muscular tension.
  • Gently, close your eyes, and take a few deep breaths in. Just let go of any tension, any thoughts, worries, or expectations. Allow yourself to arrive in this moment.
  • Allow yourself to observe this moment.
  • Can you just be aware of this moment, and all that is happening in it, without focusing in on any one thing in particular?
  • The sky remains vast and open, regardless of what clouds may pass through it. In the same way, your awareness can remain vast and open, regardless of whatever thoughts, feelings, or sensations may flow through it. Just as no cloud can really add to or take away anything from the true nature of the sky, nothing that you experience can really add to or take away from your true nature of awareness. It simply, always is. It is always observing. Even when we are distracted by thinking, and lose recognition of this awareness, it is still always here.
  • Allow yourself to just be aware, to be relaxed and open.
  • If you find your attention wandering, or fixating on any one thought in particular, notice it, and just let it go, coming back to this vast, open, boundless awareness.
  • Do not try to name this awareness, do not try to understand it, explain it, or judge it in any way. Just be it.
  • Just be aware of what is.

We sometimes think of meditation as a kind of escape from our hectic world. For example, we just want to be free from harsh and loud noises so that we can sit in a place that is quiet and peaceful.

The truth is, however, that peace does not have to be dependent on our circumstances, but rather it is dependent on us and our ability to relax and be open to whatever arises.

The need for our outer environment to be peaceful is really an inner tension, one that we can let go of. So, whatever comes to us and whatever we feel, think, or perceive, allow it to merge completely with the meditation.

Perceive that in reality, nothing is separate from this moment, from this awareness. All is existing within this spacious presence that you are. Just allow everything to be, and allow yourself to be.

This practice, of open attention, of spacious awareness not focused on any particular thing, but just observing and allowing all that is arising in this moment, is known as Shikantaza, or Just Sitting in the Japanese Zen tradition. In the Chinese Cha’an tradition, they call it Silent Illumination or Nonconceptual Meditation. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is called Dzogchen, or sometimes it is called non-meditation, as one is not meditating on any one object, but just observing all that is, and relaxing as this unattached, boundless awareness.

Be The Witness

Whatever arises in this moment, relax with it. Allow it to be. Sensations come and go. Sounds come and go. Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. But this awareness remains. Just be this observing awareness.

Between and beyond every sound, there is a field of silence. Between and beyond every thought, there is a field of awareness. Just be this silent awareness. Even if thoughts arise, this silent presence that you are is beyond them, and can embrace them, allowing them to be, without needing to do anything about it.

You don’t have to resist what arises, you don’t have to hold onto it or push it away. You don’t have to react in any way. Just let it be. Allow everything to be as it is.

This silent awareness that is your observing presence, has no name, has no form, has no beliefs to protect or defend, no body to criticize or improve. It is free from all of that. It simply is, always observing.

Just observe as this silent presence. Allow yourself to dissolve in this vast and open space, like a grain of salt dissolving in the ocean. Realize that this space is always here. Even when we forget it.

Let yourself just be in silence, observing and allowing whatever arises.

Points for Practice:

  • Set a time limit for the meditation (not always necessary, but helpful for beginners).
  • Close your eyes (this meditation may also be practiced with the eyes open, but for beginners, closed eyes are recommended), and let go of all expectations you might have of the meditation.
  • Relax your mind, your body, and your breath, and just observe. It is important that you do not feel rushed or have a sense of urgencythere is nowhere you need to be other than right here and now.
  • Allow yourself to be in this state of relaxed, unattached, unbound, open, observing.
  • Allow thoughts, emotions, and sensations to enter and exit your awareness on their own accord. Do not give your energy and attention to what comes and goes, simply allow it to be.
  • Just remain relaxed in this open awareness.
  • If you get distracted, and your attention becomes focused on an object of awareness, simply notice it, and come back to your spacious, open, observing.
  • Rest in this natural state.

If you'd like to learn more about meditation, check out our Introduction to Meditation course


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