Open Awareness Meditation: A Remedy for Anxiety, Stress, and Burnout
In our fast-paced and exponentially evolving technological environment, more and more people suffer from anxiety, stress, and burnout. These states are often triggered by a particular mode of perception in which we completely focus our attention on something unpleasant or on a predominant symptom.
Narrow attention is also fostered by the technological means available to us today. With our digital devices as extensions of ourselves, the media and the medium have merged. The result is a kind of attention monopoly.
This kind of narrow focus is commonly referred to as tunnel vision or tunnel awareness. In tunnel awareness, you’re often unaware of what else is possible or achievable in a situation and unable to create more resourceful perceptions and responses. So you could say that stress and anxiety frequently stem from tunnel awareness and remain because of this limited frame of reference.
When you learn to open your awareness and to integrate a broader, more holistic perspective, you can shift your perception about yourself and the challenging situation.
What Is Open Awareness?
Open awareness can be traced to Buddhist origins and was possibly first introduced in the West through the teachings of Armenian philosopher and spiritual teacher George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in the early 1900s.
Open awareness is a mindful mode of perception accompanied by a calm and receptive state. At the same time, in open awareness, you are attentive to both your own thoughts and feelings and those of others, as well as the context that connects them. Hence, you could say it‘s close to being simultaneously focused inward and outward. In my own experience, this makes you more conscious of the interrelatedness of phenomena.
In contrast to one-pointed focus meditation where you put your attention, for instance, on your breath, a mental image, or a mantra, open awareness involves expanding your awareness and then intentionally observing everything inside it. This includes your thoughts, feelings, and sensory perceptions.
While the regular practice of open awareness is a good starting point, true magic happens when you start to embody the state of open awareness. By embodying I mean the ability to “drop into” open awareness at any time, which is the key for reliably tapping into it in stressful situations.
The Benefits of Open Awareness
Learning how to open your awareness and how to remain in open awareness has great practical benefits for your everyday life. Among those are:
- Less stress and anxiety
- More resilience in the face of any life situation
- Improved relationships (better capacity to truly listen)
- More empathy and compassion
- More clarity
- Easier decision-making and problem-solving
- Increased productivity in the sense that you’ll recognize what to focus on
- Better understanding of the meaning and purpose of your life
- Psycho-spiritual growth
How to Open Your Awareness
Open awareness can be established through a variety of means to establish a multi-sensory experience. Eventually, this can be extended to include more subtle psychic and spiritual experiences, as well as a sense of interconnectivity with everything in existence. The various starting points allow open awareness to be accessed by everyone, whether you prefer a visual, auditory, or somatic approach.
Open vision: Start by fixating your gaze on any object in front of you. Gradually include more and more of what‘s on each side of your visual field of awareness. Here it’s important to note that objects in your periphery remain out of focus. Hence, do not try to see more. Rather, allow your visual field to include more of what is in both extremities of your visual field, on the left and right simultaneously.
Open hearing: Close your eyes and pay attention to what you hear going on in the environment around you. Progressively include the sounds that are further away and sounds that are more subtle, like a sound behind a sound. Then become aware of the fact that you are only able to hear the sounds around you and far away because your awareness has extended out to those points. In other words, you hear those sounds occurring within your awareness.
Allow yourself to experience this extended awareness as not just your auditory sense detecting those sounds but rather as your sense of self that has extended. Everything that was experienced far outside of you is now experienced within you.
Open soma awareness: Start by focusing on the rising and lowering of the belly with each inhalation and exhalation. Then, extend the rising and lowering experience to include your whole torso. Eventually, after a few breaths, include the entire body. After you have experienced the rising and lowering of your entire body for a few breaths, you then extend your awareness to surround your body like a cocoon. Next, extend your breathing field of awareness with each inhalation, until it includes other people and objects in your close environment and eventually anywhere at any time.
Open Awareness Meditation
You can practice the following open awareness meditation by itself or in combination with other meditation techniques. After having established open awareness, you can also use this expanded perception for problem-solving, creative inspiration, visualization, or core empowerment.
Keep your head facing forward and eyes open throughout the following 6 steps:
- Extend your visual field of awareness as far as possible to the left and right simultaneously.
- Sense the entire volume of space that your whole body occupies.
- Notice the pauses or space between your breaths (continue for at least 30 seconds).
- Identify the pauses or space between your thoughts (continue for at least 30 seconds).
- Become aware of the space out of which everything you experience emerges.
- Experience the space that connects you to everyone and everything in existence. End by focusing on your breath for at least 30 seconds.
With regular practice, you’ll eventually find yourself tapping into open awareness automatically. The next time you are in a stressful situation, remember that an expanded awareness is just one deep belly breath away.