Expanded awareness

Expanded awareness March 12, 2013

I wrote a while back about sitting in one spot for an hour at a time over the course of a year to meet the wildlife in your garden or a local park. Today I’d like to return to that to speak about finding the expanded awareness that will help you learn more about your wild neighbors. Think of this as a meditative practice that looks outward rather than in.

Start by sitting still in your chosen outdoor spot. Get comfortable. Try to sit up as straight as you can, so that you can breathe well and your internal organs aren’t squashed inside of you. Shift your hips so that you are sitting on your “sit bones” as yoga teachers say. Pull your shoulders up to your ears, roll them back until you feel a stretch, then let them settle downward into a resting position. Stretch your head from one side to the other, then let it sit straight. Find an alignment that feels well balanced.

Move your attention to your breath. Breathe deeply from the belly not the chest. Push your diaphragm out with each breath, expanding your belly as your lungs fill with air. Push your belly back in as you breathe out. Try not to move your shoulders at all. Feel how these deep breaths calm you and slow your thinking down.

Now move your attention to what you see, hear and feel. Notice the feeling of the air on your skin, the colors of the plants around you, the sounds of the animals and the people in your environment. Stay there for a moment and notice all the things that your senses tell you about the environment around you.

As you do that, you’ll start to notice more subtle things, just a little bit outside your area of attention. These things may startle you or surprise you. They may draw your attention away from all the other things you have been noticing. Bring your attention back to where it was before, but this time expand your awareness instead of shifting it. Try to be aware of the bird right in front of you AND the bird fluttering in a bush a few meters away. Notice the sound of the crickets AND the sound of the cars AND the sound of the children playing next door.

Each time your awareness expands and you become comfortable with the next level, you will notice some new thing just barely on the edge of that space. Gradually, gradually take in more. Let yourself notice more things, name them in your mind and acknowledge them, without shifting your attention away from any of the other things that you have already noticed.

At some point, you will reach the limit of how far you can push your awareness. You will also notice that no matter how hard you try, somethings drop out of your awareness as new things pop into it. Keep practicing. As the days pass you will notice that you are able to push your awareness further and further out, and that you are able to hold more details in your mind at once.

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