Suppose a seeker has acquired a certain proficiency in the practice of witnessing and is prepared to move on to practicing self-awareness in daily life. As mentioned earlier, the main challenge at this stage is to learn to divide our attention in two. One part of your attention supports whatever action you are engaged in at the moment, while the other supports the process of observing your actions.
Comment. To rephrase, one aspect of our attention is spent on the activity at hand, on being present with it; the other stays within and is spent in a continuing effort to observe reactions that emerge in the meantime, including physical sensations, thoughts flashing through the mind, associations and feelings, that is, everything one experiences in the course of performing the activity. This is what is meant by the observation of the doer.
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Once a person begins to work with his attention, the energy of consciousness that has been used thus far entirely to feed the lower bodies, begins to become more available to him, and the capacity of his free attention increases noticeably. As one identifies less with emotions and thoughts, the volume of one’s free attention grows to eventually accommodate all internal content: physical sensations and impulses; emotional spikes, the flow of thoughts and associations… All of this assemblage could well be covered by one’s attention simultaneously. Moreover, growing sensitivity and awareness will allow one to sense things that are imperceptible to those who are “asleep”.
When learning a new skill or an art, a rule of thumb is to begin with the basics. Do not try to force your awareness to span across all processes happening in the three lower bodies at once because you are bound to fail. Taking the mind and its fine moves as a starting point for observation in the practice of self-awareness is not a good idea either, because our self-identification with the mind is the deepest and it is too easy to become confused between observation and thinking about observation. That is why the best way to begin to practice self-awareness is by being present with your physical body during any activity in which you are engaged at the moment.
Nearly anything can become a target for practicing awareness: walking; dishwashing; manual work, etc. The goal is to maintain attention in a divided mode, allotting an ample part of it to execute the activity properly while the other part of one’s attention spans all of the sensations emerging at the moment. A routine, ordinary activity is the best choice to practice observation.
Let’s take dishwashing as an example. While performing this simple chore, you may be conscious of the tactile sensations as your hands make contact with the dishes, hot water, and suds. You may smell the detergent’s fragrance. You may also sense the contraction of your arm muscles and how strong or weak it is. As we usually stand while doing dishes, you may exercise awareness of the muscle tension in your legs and back, as well as gravity’s effects on your body. By tension here, I mean tonic motor activity of postural muscles rather than muscle stiffness. Further, going deeper into awareness allows you additionally to exercise awareness of your breathing rhythm and heartbeat.
All of these sensations are there all of the time but we are blind to them because our attention is absorbed by thoughts and other things. The moment you become engaged in awareness of your sensations, the quality of incoming experiences changes and you now stay with what is, with what is happening with you in the moment, and cease to live habitually in the clouds.
Brought into the field of our attention, the sensations give us a chance to realize our physical bodies’ true state. Very often people invest excessive physical effort in basic body movements, which can cause them to overexert muscles when otherwise they would be relaxed naturally. Once a person becomes aware of their state, they have an opportunity to do something about it, for example, to incorporate relevant active practices or to discontinue inefficient movement patterns. Once successful, they find that their stamina has increased, as the energy wasted previously can now be put to good use, for instance, to expand their field of attention.
Comment. I would like to add here that high muscle tone occurs for a good reason—it has its roots in the mind’s tension. Even if tension is caused by repressing emotions, the mind is still involved because it is responsible for their control. It will take more than practicing emotional expression—you will need to recognize your ideas that lead to overcontrol and repression and eliminate them—again, through awareness.