The Spectrum of Awareness Practices

Last year my family adopted a rescue dog, Bamboo [pictured], who has since wreaked havoc on my morning meditation practice. And in some ways my meditation is better than it’s ever been.

I am the designated early morning dog walker and between this new chore and getting my daughter off to school, my usual morning session has become a rarity. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover a way to meditate through dog walking.

In the last few year through I have been teaching and writing about the more expansive side of mindfulness: natural awareness. Natural awareness invites us to rest in a sense of being, to stop trying too hard to get it perfect, and to recognize the awareness that’s always present within us and accessible in each moment.

Dog walking has become my new doorway into natural awareness. It might go something like this:

Bamboo scratches, whines, and wakes me from a sound sleep. I stumble out of bed, throw on a coat, and grab a leash. He jubilantly rushes out the door with me trailing behind. The first block or so he’s excitedly sniffing, peeing, and pulling me. And my mind mirrors his wildness. I’m thinking about everything I have to do, stressing about upcoming work projects or some worrisome news I read the day before.

But at a certain point something kicks in and I feel my feet against the ground. I start to notice step after step, I find myself connecting with ease to a focused mindfulness practice: stepping, stepping, stepping. It feels satisfying to connect with the ground in this way. Bamboo, if you want to know, is usually doing his business at this point.

A few more blocks and something else happens without me really trying. My mind relaxes, and business completed, so does Bamboo. I soften and find myself naturally aware—mind resting in a sense of being. I feel expansive, open, spacious; I notice qualities of joy and sweetness, and a depth of connection with my pet. I can take in the neighborhood sights and the morning breeze. Natural awareness is just how things are. Upon returning home, I feel revitalized for the day, ready to face what life brings.

If you have a dog, I encouraging naturally aware dog walking, but here’s another practice for all of us, even the cat lovers and the pet-free:

Try this practice at any moment. In meditation you might want to focus your mind before you employ it. In daily life, try it when you feel drawn to.

Turn your attention to whatever is happening in the moment, which we might call “just this.” “Just this” could be anything—thoughts, emotions, sensations, sounds, your breath, the visual field, or some combination of these things. Then gently drop the following question into your mind and see what happens, as if you were dropping a stone into a pond to notice the ripples:

“Can I be aware of just this?”

Enjoy your practice—in whatever form it takes!