Awareness Meditation is the meditation of being. In many meditations, your attention is turned inwards using a one-pointed focus like the breath, while awareness meditation expands your awareness outwards.
Awareness is the substrate of all experience. If you want to change something, you must first become aware of it. You cannot change something that you are not aware of. However, things that you are not aware of can and do change you, and that can be a problem.
Awareness is value neutral. Simply by becoming aware of something you can increase it or decrease it. By becoming aware of your weight you can increase or decrease it. By becoming aware of your anger you can increase it or decrease it. The rule of thumb is that enhanced awareness changes a behavior in the direction of your intent. If you intend to decrease a behavior, more awareness will tend to decrease it.
Most people will do this for three or four things and then drift into long periods of thought and feeling before realizing they have fallen asleep and stopped naming things. Then they will try again, only to soon fall asleep into their reflections. This is why naming things out loud can be helpful at first. It keeps you aware of your intention, which is to break up the addictive flow of one thought to the next, one feeling to the next.
How does this exercise help meditation? By naming your thoughts, feelings, and sensations you aren’t saying anything is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, or smart or stupid. You aren’t saying you have to sit in a certain position, keep your eyes closed, not think, not imagine, or not forget what you’re doing. You are not saying that you shouldn’t name whatever comes up while you in the car or while dancing or while at work. All you are doing is noting whatever comes up, which you can do any time, wherever you are. What this tends to do is create spaces between those thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up. Those that do become less seductive; it becomes easier to simply note them as you gain practice. What you are actually doing is cultivating the witness. What is that? It is objectivity; it is a space where you watch the self-created drama of your life, of you, go by, without judgment, preference, or criticism.
This exercise quickly leads to periods of relative tranquility and clarity that are qualitatively different from normal waking experience. In other worlds, this process quickly leads into periods of genuine meditative awareness. That, in turn, becomes part of your normal, waking experience. You aren’t creating a dichotomy between meditative awareness and normal, waking awareness. You are expanding and thinning your normal waking awareness with constant infusions of clear, witnessing, meditative awareness. This is powerful, and it is your destiny as an embodied human.
Deepening this process becomes a matter of noting more subtly whatever comes up, without speaking out loud or without needing to name the thought “out loud” in your thoughts. As your mind calms and centers you will find that you start naming thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they start to come up and then even before they come up. Such naming is more properly called “noting,” because the process is much more subtle than language and grammar at this point. However, it is basically the same process, simply refined. This is graduate level practice, but you can do it relatively quickly and easily if you follow these instructions with intent and persistence. You don’t need to meditate for years. You don’t have to go to seminars. You don’t need a guru or teacher. All of these things help, and will speed and deepen your practice, but they aren’t necessary, if you follow the deceptively simple instructions above.
Naming is effective for a variety of reasons. It engages the mind in an activity that is productive, supportive, and useful rather than fighting, which only divides you against yourself. It enhances awareness of what is present rather than focusing on the past or future. It makes no value judgments. It is simple. It can be done as effectively by beginning as by advanced mediators. It provides the experience of a genuine shift in consciousness, a payoff promised by meditation, quickly. It continues to provide that experience over time; you do not stop having such shifts just because you have mastered the technique, as can happen with other approaches to meditation. You are doing something that you normally do anyway: observe and think about your experience.