Recollective Awareness and Mindfulness

Recollective Awareness Meditation and Mindfulness Meditation are similar in some areas, different in others. These practices can oppose each other or fit together like two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. I will talk about how they might complement each other in my upcoming webinars on October 14th and 15th (the same material will be covered in both). But here is a short introduction to my current thinking.

There is no reason why mindfulness meditators can’t recollect their meditation sittings and make the occasional detailed journal entry afterward. Just as there is no reason why someone who practices recollective awareness can’t also become more aware of walking, eating, breathing, body sensations, and all the other areas of attention taught by mindfulness teachers. Why wouldn’t any of us want to develop a broader awareness of our experience?

What makes them both awareness practices are that they train us to become more aware of various areas of our experience. They have different theories on awareness, but I don’t see those theories as being wholly incompatible. Both recollective awareness and mindfulness are attempting to develop the same thing: getting closer to what we are really experiencing in the present moment. Awareness is in the service of wisdom, of non-delusion, and is not just being developed in order to be in the present moment, but awake and wise in the present moment.

Practicing Recollective Awareness to become more aware of thoughts and emotions and Mindfulness to become more aware of the body and the five external senses makes a good deal of sense. I would say that Recollective Awareness Meditation is a mindfulness of thinking practice, and people learning mindfulness could benefit from exposure to it. When it comes to emotions, mindfulness techniques tend to locate feelings primarily in the body, whereas Recollective Awareness tends to see emotions in the thinking, especially in internal monologs and dialogs where an emotional tone of voice can be observed.

My own experience with mindfulness these days is that I try to be aware of my body throughout the day. When I practice yoga, that body awareness is heightened, and I use it to fine tune my movements and make subtle adjustments to the poses. I tend to eat more slowly and follow my chewing and swallowing, having found that to be a safe and healthy way to eat. And, on occasion in meditation, I will intentionally stay with each in breath and out breath for a few minutes. It just seems natural to do so.

That is what we are really after from doing these awareness practices—a naturally arising awareness of what is happening now or of something that has happened in the past. Recollective Awareness Meditation initially helps with developing greater awareness of past events (thoughts, emotions, perceptions, intentions, moods, etc.), eventually leading to greater awareness in the present, while mindfulness disciplines the mind to stay in the present moment until it becomes more habituated to do so. We tend to trust that kind of discipline more than the slow cultivation of present-moment awareness by way of recollection, and here is where the two practices actually do go in separate directions.

Mindfulness Meditation is structured, relies on techniques, offers strategies for any problem, and utilizes loving-kindness and compassion practices to help people become softer and more accepting. Recollective Awareness Meditation is largely unstructured (minimally structured), does not rely on techniques or offer up strategies, and is softer and more accepting by its nature of being open and allowing. Whereas a Mindfulness meditator might sit down and put her attention directly on the breath or do a body scan, a Recollective Awareness meditator will sit down and carry on with her thoughts and emotions, not interfering with her experience, being receptive to it, except for moments where she might decide to bring her attention to the touch of the hands or the contact of lower part of the body on the chair or cushion.

These meditation instructions are opposites and are incompatible, but that does not mean someone can’t have a meditation sitting where they practice mindfulness and another sitting where they practice Recollective Awareness. I have heard many students do just that, especially if they have a Mindfulness Meditation practice prior to coming to Recollective Awareness. And, maybe, some people can go back and forth doing both practices, while others might do just one of these meditation practices for several months and then the other, or try out other practices. In the end, our meditation practice is a composite of various practices that blend together into our own unique meditative path.

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