What is natural awareness?
Natural awareness is the term I use for the state or capacity that others have called presence, Being, the natural state, true nature, open-hearted awareness, nondual awareness, awakened awareness, effortless mindfulness, unconditioned mind and many other names. The discovery of natural awareness as the basis for lasting peace, freedom and fulfilment is a common thread running through diverse expressions of human wisdom for millennia, and is just as relevant today as it has always been.
This awareness is ‘natural’ in the sense that it is an innate capacity that everyone already has installed, so it’s not something we acquire only after years of practice. Natural awareness is the same for everyone: it is who we are beyond our gender, age, race, ability etc, and beyond all our ideas about who we are and who we want to be. It’s the pure, unified field of consciousness through which our thoughts, feelings and experiences of the world come and go, and of which they are made. It is always already here, but usually goes unnoticed because we’re focused on the content rather than the context of our experience.
Experientially, natural awareness is an effortless state of presence in which nothing feels lacking – we feel complete as we are. When we are dwelling in natural awareness, we realise there is nothing we need to do or achieve to experience peace of mind. We recognise our natural capacity to be with things as they are, even when challenging situations and emotions arise. This means we can engage with whatever life brings with less fear, and less attachment to things being a certain way.
Ultimately, all descriptions of natural awareness fall short because what we are speaking of is beyond language and can only be known experientially. Hence these words are not intended as statements to be believed but an invitation to see for yourself what is true in your own experience.
How is natural awareness different from our usual way of being?
In our usual, everyday state of mind we generally see ourselves as individuals, separated from other people and the world. This generates an underlying feeling of separation and lack, and a yearning to belong and be accepted. Even when we’re safe and well and have our basic material needs met, we may often still feel that something is missing from our lives, or something is wrong with our current experience, or we aren’t good enough in some fundamental way.
When we aren’t focused on tasks, much of our attention can be absorbed in thinking patterns which make us feel inadequate, incomplete and stressed. When we are identified with these thoughts and beliefs, they just seem to be telling the truth.
In our working and personal lives, we strive to be accepted and to secure whatever it is that we think will make us and our loved ones happy. We don’t think we can be truly fulfilled until sometime in the future when we have everything arranged as we want it to be. We may often compare ourselves and our lives to others and feel inferior or superior. When things go to plan and we get what we want, we may experience joy, satisfaction and fulfilment for a short time, but soon feelings of lack, dissatisfaction or resistance return and the cycle continues.
When we’re abiding in natural awareness, the sense of being separate from others and the world dissolves and there’s no sense that we don’t belong. We feel complete as we are and there is an unconditional acceptance of ourselves and others. There’s no longer a preoccupation with our individuality and the ongoing need for approval. We’re no longer identified with the thinking mind, so it is now our servant rather than our master. Any thoughts and feelings of lack, dissatisfaction or aversion are seen for what they are, and allowed to come and go in the space of awareness so they lose their power over us. Our motivation shifts to a natural concern for the good of the whole that is not about striving to conform to an image of ourselves as a ‘good person’ that is hard to sustain.
Although natural awareness is innate and cannot be improved, for most of us our capacity to access and live from natural awareness gradually increases over time as we become more familiar with it. Due the strength of our conditioning, and the influence of the culture around us, we’ll often find ourselves caught up in reactive patterns, and thoughts and feelings of longing, lack and inadequacy. But these moments can themselves be doorways back to the freedom that is always available. So there is an ongoing, naturally unfolding process of letting go, integration and embodiment as natural awareness gradually infuses our lives with ease, wellbeing and unconditional goodwill.
How is this approach different from conventional mindfulness?
Most forms of mindfulness practice involve deliberately focusing our attention on objects in present moment experience, such as the breath, body sensations, sounds etc. The focus can range from very narrow to very wide, but the basic instruction is to ‘pay attention – on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally’.
With natural awareness practice we become interested in awareness itself, and who or what is aware, rather than what we are aware of. There is no attempt to control or manipulate attention or train ourselves to be more present and nonjudgmental. Instead we relax our attention and recognise that awareness is always, already, naturally present-focused and nonjudgmental.
Both approaches are valuable in their own right, there is some overlap and one can lead to the other. In my experience they are also complementary, and an awareness of both can be helpful, though isn’t essential.
What are the sessions like?
Sessions usually involve a natural flow of contemplation and dialogue. There’s a mix of meditative guidance, experiential exercises, inquiries and conversations that are integrated with the flow rather than clearly delineated. In this way the whole session is an opportunity for us to access and dwell in natural awareness together. The atmosphere is warm, informal and non-judgemental. There may even be humour! Courses have a maximum of 12 participants, while one-off group sessions may have a few more, or a few less.
Is this approach suitable for me?
This approach is suitable for anyone who is interested to see for themselves what it has to offer. No prior knowledge or experience of mindfulness, meditation or natural awareness is necessary. If you have some experience of mindfulness or other forms of meditation and your practice has fallen by the wayside (and you’re not the only one!), this is an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective and renewed momentum. Likewise, if you’ve reached a plateau and are wondering where to go next, the natural awareness approach could open things up.
If you are currently experiencing significant mental health challenges please get in touch to find out whether this approach is suitable for you at this time. What I offer is not therapy, nor a substitute for therapy, so please check with your mental health professional before signing up for courses or one-to-one sessions. I don’t make any claims about the efficacy of this approach in addressing serious mental health conditions such as clinical depression and anxiety disorders.
What is the relevance of natural awareness to the collective challenges we face?
Many of us are concerned about what’s going on in the world and wondering how things will unfold. From the current pandemic to environmental destruction, climate change and the persistence of poverty and violent conflict, humanity faces a range of complex and interdependent challenges. Obviously, there are no simple or easy answers, and no silver bullets, but reconnecting with natural awareness and the peace in our own being can contribute in various ways.
For example, when we’re more at ease with ourselves and the way things are, there’s less of the psychological insecurity that fuels unsustainable consumption of the earth’s resources as some of us seek satisfaction far beyond our basic material needs, while others struggle to survive. Natural awareness can thus help us find ways of living well together sustainably and equitably.
And when we feel more unconditionally secure in ourselves, and in touch with that dimension of our being that is the same for everyone, there is less aversion, distrust and fear of people from different backgrounds, cultures and views. At the same time, we can also appreciate diversity and uniqueness as a healthy source of creativity in addressing collective challenges.
The current widespread disconnection from ourselves, others and the world is an effect as well as a cause of dysfunctional aspects of the societies in which we live. So we need to collectively evolve systems and cultures that bring forth the inherently expansive, creative and loving aspects of our nature. It’s my intention to contribute to this endeavour by creating supportive spaces, communities and resources that foster natural awareness in ways that are relevant to people’s lives today.