Have you ever had the experience of becoming aware of not being aware? Of driving many miles and realising you don’t remember how you got to your destination? Or of questioning who is observing the thoughts you are thinking, and who is the ‘you’ in that equation?
The practice of Tantra helps to cultivate the ability to stay conscious and aware for longer periods at a time. One way to do this is to keep the focus on breath and the five senses. This means being aware of the way we breathe, and what we are seeing / hearing / smelling / tasting and sensing on a moment-to-moment basis. This awareness can then be extended to noticing what thoughts and feelings we are experiencing throughout the day, and how they change like waves in the sea.
Dropping into the body
Dropping deeper into the body in this way can mean that we meet a whole range of feelings and sensations that we may have become unaware of over the course of a lifetime. We may find guilt, shame, fear and other uncomfortable feelings. These often get suppressed out of consciousness through cultural conditioning of what is acceptable or not, or as a defence mechanism to enable an individual to better cope with life. In a way, the development of witness consciousness is the opposite of trying to suppress any discomforts with anti-depressants, alcohol, shopping or other behaviours which can become addictive over time.
“As within, so without”
The benefits of looking and feeling inside the body are also great. Those that do so have the opportunity to more easily let go of the unwanted, by becoming aware of outdated beliefs or thought patterns, and by feeling uncomfortable feelings. These can be let go of through breath and an opportunity to feel and express them. Once they are gone, more love, peace and joy can come into the body. The popular phrase of “As within, so without” is often used to describe that our experiences of the world we live in can be a reflection of our inner world. By re-connecting with the love and joy that lie at the core of our being, our perception and experience of the world we live in can change tremendously. A quote by Anais Inn that sums this up is: “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are”.
Becoming more conscious and aware gives us more of a choice as to how to live our life, how to come off auto pilot. To learn to fully experience each thought, each sensation, each feeling and to learn to observe it without judging or criticising. Simply allowing it to be, in the moment of now.
Meditation is an excellent way to start to build awareness of what is going on inside of ourselves. Sitting quietly with eyes closed for even a few minutes each day, observing any thoughts that come and go, sensing into the whole body to identify any areas of tension, pain or pleasure is an excellent practice. One exercise which I found particularly useful when I started meditating was to write down all of the thoughts which had come up in the five minutes of sitting with eyes closed. The number of times some thoughts had repeated themselves, without my previous awareness or conscious choosing of them, was a real wake up call!
Tantra invites us to witness ourselves and our experiences without shame and without labelling anything as “good” or “bad”. Instead, to objectively witness and to accept whatever it is that comes up.
I want to note here that many meditation practices focus only on what is going on in the mind and our thoughts and focus on transcending this. According to the Dzogchen teachings of Tibet, enlightenment is found in the body. This means that it is beneficial to expand our awareness to the whole body, and not just what is going on in the mind/ thoughts. Practising Tantra is partly about practising living in an embodied state, fully connected with our own body. By being more in touch with our body, this helps us to also feel more embedded in the world, feeling more connected with all that is.
Many Buddhist teachings are somatic in nature, which has not necessarily made it into the teachings of Buddhism in the West. Many traditional Buddhist meditations were grounded in sensations, sensory experience, feelings and emotions – all experiences in the realms of the body. Tibetan yoga also teaches that we can become awakened by becoming embodied. The Tantrik and Tibetan traditions views experiences as displays of wisdom, in and of themselves.
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