Urban Sitting and Witness Consciousness

I’ve been grounding my practice in the breath and the body lately, primarily focusing on breathing in while being aware of the body — then breathing out being aware of the body. I say, “breathing in… then breathing out” because it helps me to get concentrated when I think of each breath in both parts, letting each half of the breath bring me back to the present moment. Being aware of the body while breathing in focuses the mind on just this slice of time, along the whole of the in breath; then the out breath gives you a chance to start again and focus on just this slice of time, along the whole of the out breath. It is like a reminder to be present and a container in which to focus two times with every breath cycle.

This method of meditation can be used to focus a busy mind, or overcome noisy external circumstances. Sitting today at lunch — downtown and outside — I was able to achieve focus while sitting on a cold concrete step with a high wall behind me and a wide courtyard in front of me. The courtyard itself is surrounded by pedestrians and skyscrapers. I’ve found that sitting on a curb or curb height step with legs folded burmese style can be quite comfortable and very similar to sitting on a zafu.  Breathing in; and breathing out. The city buzzing all around. Even so, the mind can become steady. After some time with the body, I stayed anchored to the breath but let my mind become aware of some of it’s own subtle movements. Self referential thoughts and images – seeing myself from various vantage points as I imagine others must be able to see me, labeling smells and sounds as they arise, monitoring my posture and feeling my sit-bones on the hard surface.

At some point, both the mind and the body settle down. Staying connected with the breath, but feeling unaffected by sensations and thoughts, I had the sense of recognizing witness consciousness. The sense of being the witness is often discussed in the context of meditation. When this sense of witnessing is strong, there is generally a good deal of concentration. Being familiar with witness consciousness through past experience, and recently reading sutras on breath meditation that describe consciousness as a state to become familiar with and from which one must ultimately release– I sensed an opportunity here and I began to focus on the state of consciousness directly. Being the seer. Being the knower. Being the presence of awareness itself. Resting there. What are the movements that take place at this level? What is the flavor or texture of awareness? Can I find any tension or stress; and can I release it? Is there an inkling of something more subtle still? Is there still mental noting or is there silence? Is there any mental imagery or mental fabrication in my effort to rest in the witness?

It was a good sit. Especially for a city-sit.

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