Meditation: Developing Nonconceptual Awareness

The following meditation is a way to cultivate a nonconceptual awareness.

It works best on a relatively clear night, preferably away from bright city lights.

Find a place outdoors where you can lie down on the ground and view the night sky. Gaze up at that vast ocean of darkness that sparkles with infinite stars until you find the cluster of stars known as the Big Dipper. 

Officially part of Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation, the Big Dipper consists of seven stars broadly spaced apart. Four stars make the shape of a large rectangle, and the other three splay out horizontally to the left from the top of the rectangle, so they resemble a large dipper, or saucepan with a long and slightly curved handle.

Once you locate this constellation, try to let go of any preconceived ideas you have about it, and look at the cluster of stars without fixating on the shape of a big dipper. Allow yourself to see seven bright dots amid black space. Notice each star individually. Notice the stars in their context in the sky, within the vast field of shining lights. See how the stars are located in relationship to other stars not in this particular constellation. Observe the spaces between each star.

As you continue the meditation, notice if you go in and out of being able to see the stars themselves, without the idea or image of the dipper. If in moments you find it difficult to let go of seeing the Big Dipper, shift your focus to other parts of the night sky. 

Try looking at just part of the constellation, along with other stars outside the constellation. Close your eyes for a moment, relax your body, and then open your eyes and refresh your attention using a soft gaze. Let your vision be broad and spacious, and look at the stars without thinking about them, yourself, or anything else—just rest in open awareness. Another approach is to stare at the Big Dipper for a long time; after a while, the concept or memory of a dipper may fade and the stars will return to just being individual lights in the sky.

Once you practice this meditation, you can apply the technique to other constellations seeing the stars without their associated imagery, taking in the simple reality of what is, and experiencing the vastness of the night sky. Try doing this meditation for up to half an hour, taking time to alternate between simply resting your awareness in the vastness of sky, and seeing whether you get caught up in concepts about specific constellations. You can also expand this practice to include other objects and people, such as looking at a rose bush without the concept of “rose.”The more you do this, the more you’ll begin to see how using only our preconceived concepts to approach the world can limit our experience and our awareness. Simple concepts can in no way describe the fullness and complexity of any experience or thing, including something as simple as a single, unique maple leaf or mushroom, or something as vast as constellations in the sky.

Excerpt from: “Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path of Self-Discovery” by Mark Coleman

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