Beyond Mindfulness: How to Enter the Meditative Path of Waking up
There’s more to life than being mindful. Without doubt, Mindfulness is a hot buzzword at the moment. A quick survey of popular culture and we see mindfulness practice being offered everywhere from Google’s campus in Silicon Valley to the halls of elite universities.
I am in full support of any practice that helps people come into deeper contact with their own direct experience as long as it helps the practitioner bring forth a fuller sense of care and presence in the world. Ultimately, however, if our desire is to tap the full potential of human life, mindfulness is not enough.
Mindfulness is the Tip of the Iceberg
Basic mindfulness meditation has the capacity to generate a fuller sense of conscious awareness in the lives of those who practice it, and because of the positive results I’ve seen it have on those I know and love, I generally endorse it. With that said, however, it is vital that those who practice mindfulness come to understand that mindfulness meditation is the tip of the iceberg when considering what is possible in meditative practice.
Throughout history the great saints and sages of both East and West have consistently described a path that leads beyond mindfulness to authentic spiritual awakening. This means that today, just as there has always been, there exists an entire universe of possibility waiting for each and every human being as they deepen their meditative experience. At the core of that possibility there is the fundamental promise and potential to Wake Up.
Meditation Has Gone Mainstream
Westerners have been dabbling in meditative practices borrowed from Eastern spirituality at least as far back as Ancient Rome (see the life story of Apollonius of Tyana in Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece). In more recent waves of interest, the Beat Generation and many of the pioneers of consciousness in the 1960s took meditation even further with an active (and often public) exchange that brought Eastern practitioners to the West and sent truth seekers to the East. What is remarkable at this moment in history, is that meditation, once reserved for the fringes and most progressive pockets of society, has now made its way into the mainstream.
If we define meditation as the conscious and intentional practice of turning attention inward to study the phenomena of one’s own experience, then without doubt there are hundreds if not thousands of meditative techniques available to anyone of us today. With a simple search on the Internet, one finds scores of recorded and guided practices, meditation apps for smart phones, and other forms of practice that can introduce one to certain forms of practice. In this way, meditative techniques are more readily available today than ever before.
Making Sense of the Meditation Landscape
The fact that it is not uncommon to find meditation in both the classroom and boardroom is cause for celebration. And at the same time, we are faced with an interesting dilemma. With all of the content available, how are we to start to make sense of the plethora of practices at our fingertips?
Despite the ease with which we can access different forms of meditation, what’s not as easily available is any sort of map or guidebook to help the practitioner understand what is what. What are certain meditations useful for? Where do they fall short? Is there a purpose or direction to meditation as a whole?
Because mindfulness is sweeping the world by storm it seems like a perfectly fitting place to begin sorting through some of this confusion.
The Gifts and Limitations of Mindfulness
So, what exactly is mindfulness? What is it useful for? Where does it fall short?
As I see it, mindfulness is a gateway — an important first step on a much longer journey that ultimately leads to authentic spiritual realization.
For those of you who have not yet been exposed to the basics, mindfulness meditation is a practice of intentionally turning one’s attention to the direct experience of the present moment without any judgment.
When the methodology is applied correctly, mindfulness meditation does a few things quite well. First, it brings the practitioner into direct contact with thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise in the immediacy of experience. Mindfulness meditation also brings the gift of training the practitioner to pay full attention to that which is arising without distraction.
In our modern culture of short attention spans, instantaneous distraction, and perpetual efforts to find satisfaction and meaning in a superficial material world outside of ourselves, mindfulness practice provides a healthy antidote to a world desperately in need of fuller contact with the depths of our own body, emotions, and thoughts. To be able to do this in a persistent way from moment to moment without distraction is a skill almost any human being would benefit from acquiring.
When I speak and teach meditation, I often explain that there are two types of meditation: meditation with a lowercase “m” and Meditation with an uppercase “M”.
Meditation with a lower case “m” refers to any practice that allows the practitioner to intentionally engage his or her own direct experience. Basic mindfulness practice falls into this category. Although it is true that there are many different kinds of meditation (lowercase “m”), all leading to their own diverse array of states, Meditation (with a capital “M”) is and has always been about Waking Up.
What does it mean to Wake Up?
Not only can one learn to become more available to the present moment, but within that present moment one can expand the field of direct knowing, experiencing, and feeling to come to rest as the heart of Ultimate Reality. Waking Up, in this way, reveals an Ultimate Reality even more profound, more whole, and more enchanted than the one we tend to find ourselves in our usual everyday consciousness. Whereas a basic mindfulness practice allows us to be more present within the container of our everyday experience, Waking Up takes us beyond the mere present moment of thought, sensation, and emotion, to come to the direct experience of a non-separate awareness, totally open, spacious and free. Many of us have felt and known this experience directly in our own lives. This fresh and lucid awareness is always available. As we deepen our recognition we can begin to live in a perfect oneness, blended with all of life.
The Path Beyond Mindfulness
Pure awareness transcends and includes body, emotion, thought, personal identity, space/time, individual consciousness.
So how does the meditative path beyond mindfulness to this direct knowing of Ultimate Reality actually unfold? At its core, Waking Up is just as much a science as it is an art. Meditation masters throughout history, my own teacher Daniel P. Brown included, have clearly taught that Waking Up is a process of removing all the things that obscure our ability to perceive an Ultimate Reality which is already here. That means that in addition to the fundamental layers of existence that tend to create separation in our experience (thought, emotion, and the physical body), the process of Waking Up progressively reveals deeper layers of experience that are more whole, more free, and more open. (See my bookStreams of Wisdom for a full description of the path beyond mindfulness)
After becoming aware of body, thoughts, and emotions, awareness deepens to notice the moment to moment arising of a personal identity bundled with all of its personality traits, likes, and dislikes. As the path continues, we become aware of the experience of the entire space-time matrix, no longer confining our awareness to the conventions of cause and effect and spatialization. As Waking Up progresses even further, we become aware of the subtlest layers of information processing that create a basic split of subject and object. As these deeper layers of one’s own experience become familiar, we begin to notice the fundamental self-contraction into individual consciousness. As this self-contracting activity is noticed the very noticing itself releases us from the fundamental and erroneous assumption that there is a “meditator” doing the meditation in the first place.
At each progressive layer of realization, we learn to disentangle awareness from the previous layer of identity, while affirming a deeper layer of awareness that stays.
Ultimately, what results is a direct knowing (gnosis/jnana) of naked awareness in its purity. This naked awareness exists without a shred of artificial activity overlaid on top it. This isn’t just being aware of the present moment in the conventional sense (e.g. mindfulness). This is far beyond a mere conceptual labeling of thought as thought, or emotion as emotion. At this level of practice, awareness is recognized as the indivisible Ground of Being, simply and effortlessly, arising in, through, and as every form and every layer of seemingly separate identity. This level of recognition reveals a fullness of life. One comes to know Reality as an ocean of awareness-love that saturates everything.
Waking Up is a journey well worth embarking on….
Why Practice a Path Beyond Mindfulness?
Whereas mindfulness can help the practitioner become entirely engaged with the present moment, it doesn’t (in and of itself) lead to what the traditions call liberation or radical freedom. This type of freedom produces a direct knowing that everything is okay on a fundamental level, exactly as it is. As one begins to get a taste of this radical freedom, there is a natural opening of the heart and an increased capacity to allow steady stream of unconditional love to flow through one’s life and action. Not only does this make one more effective in the world in direct action, but this level of realization generates a continual field of inspiration, care and empathy for all those who enter it.
Going Beyond Mindfulness
And so, to state again my support for mindfulness, I am pleased by the fact that more and more people are coming into fuller and more regular practice of mindfulness meditation. There is no doubt that mindfulness is a healthy and welcomed antidote to many of the personal and social ills that we face as modern and postmodern culture. But if nothing else is gleaned from this article, please remember one thing: There is a pathway beyond mindfulness that leads to a direct realization of an ultimate, non-separate, unbounded identity. This awareness is sourced in love, made of love, and leads to action that leaves a trail of love wherever it manifests.
If you are one of those lucky souls who have already seen benefits in your life from a basic mindfulness practice, know that there is more to come. The path beyond mindfulness is more full, more complete, and more deeply satisfying than you could ever imagine.
 Linda Johnsen, Lost Masters: Sages of Ancient Greece(2006).