Difficult Emotions, Open Awareness

The Circle


One of the tricky parts of meditation is being able to accept all experiences as valid – to allow them, welcome them and, even, make friends with them.

It’s easy to be with the sound of birds chatting in the evening or the steady fall of rain on a roof. But not so easy to accept the rumble of a chainsaw or, the gentle, innocuous drip of a tap!

And what of perturbing thoughts, body aches and pains, and gut-wrenching emotions?

Whilst focused-based meditations (such as breath counting, body scan and mantras) will see you “letting go” of any experience that isn’t that one point of attention; the open awareness (or open monitoring) meditation instead helps you to welcome all aspects of your experience, non-judgementally.

Each style of practice has their benefits, but perhaps the one that helps us most with thoughts and emotions is that bare attention, non-directive style. It allows us to sit back, like this one, be curious, and let the meditation unfold naturally on its own.

Here’s a quick one you can try for yourself.

Welcome. This is a mediation that helps to grow acceptance and kindness for all that we experience, both during practice and out in the world.


First getting yourself into whatever position feels natural and comfortable for you. Perhaps one where you feel most at home in your body.

And just while you’re here resting with the body, spend the next couple of moments noticing and feeling what your body is doing all on its own. Heart beating. Blood pumping. Twitches, temperature, tension. Are there any parts that are trying to communicate something with you?


Whether your week’s been horribly hectic or cruisey and relaxed, now’s the time to give yourself that permission. It is OK to push pause on your regular life just for now.

And we can celebrate the commencement of this time with a few lovely deep breaths.

Lovely deep breaths where the out-breath is slightly longer than the in-breath… and if you can just wait for the little gap at the bottom… you can encourage the chest and tummy to soften before taking the next in-breath.

When you’re ready just let the breath fall back into its own natural rhythm.


And what I’d like you do to now, if you can, is imagine, or get a sense for a circle.

And take this idea of a circle as being your container for all your meditation experiences. A safe and welcoming space where all experiences are valid.

Sounds, body sensations and the breath.
Thoughts, emotions and sleepiness.

All sorts of visitors for which there’s plenty of room.

You may notice that some visitors don’t need much from you. They’re like nomads passing on through.

Others want to be the centre of attention. But it’s ok for them to wait their turn.

And perhaps there are visitors that need some of your tenderness. An ear, your patience. To be wrapped up in your kindness.

So, I’ll give you some space now to practice this on your own… let your attention be guided by the visitors to your circle… remembering that you can widen it at any time if things start to feel crowded.


Open Awareness



Don’t like change? This meditation may change your mind.

Recently I sat down to meditate and quite spontaneously the idea came to me that today, instead of focusing on my breath or things that come in to my awareness (cars passing by; itch behind my left knee; feelings of agitation, boredom or whatever) I should instead notice things as they vanish. As in, stay with whatever is happening in the meditation until it disappears. Until it is in the past.

What happened next was quite profound. I had the sense; the direct experience or knowing; that every single thing we do, see, hear and feel is the first and last time we’ll ever experience that exact thing – in that exact moment – ever.

What a revelation!

Change is happening MOMENT TO MOMENT. If you’re stuck – in a job, in a marriage, in an emotional sh*t-storm – what a relief to know that nothing is the same as it was, like, 5 minutes ago. THINGS CHANGE.

And if you’re resisting change – also, what a relief! To realise that change is not such a big deal after all. Because literally, nothing is that same as it was, like, 5 minutes ago.



This is a meditation on change.

First getting comfy. And adjusting your body so that you can rest comfortably in a relaxed but alert way without needing to move too much for the duration of this meditation.

And bringing some awareness to your immediate surroundings. Wherever you are. Indoors or outdoors. Alone or with others. Sitting, standing, or laying down. Paying attention to however you are.


And knowing that you’re here… and not over there – by the touch of your hands.

Honing your focus in on your hands touching each other, or touching your thighs. Feeling the skin, feeling the temperature and texture of your fingers and your palms and the back of your hands.


And if you’ve not really paid much attention to the breath today, then we’ll mark this moment with three big sighs.

Three deliberate deep breaths where the exhale draws out slightly longer than the inhale and there’s a pause at the bottom.

Deliberately switching off any tense, short breathing you may be experiencing, and encouraging a deeper, more relaxed natural breath.

And any time through this meditation you can always bring your hands and your breath back into the foreground of your awareness as a reminder of where you are. Here in your body, here in this moment.


And for this meditation we’ll spend some time examining the idea of impermanence.

The fact that nothing lasts. And everything changes.

And that every single moment we have will be the first and the last time we’ll ever experience that one unique moment.

The last time I’ll ever speak these exact words in this exact way.

And the last time you’ll ever hear them on this day, at this time, in this precise situation again.

Or, the last time you’ll ever experience this breath.

This very in-breath. And this very out-breath. Ever again.

It really is quite a miracle. That nothing lasts, bestows us the gift of appreciating everything while it’s still here. And that everything changes; a comforting reminder during times of pain and anguish.

So let’s try to develop this understanding in meditation by focusing not only on things as they arise, but trying to stay with them until after they vanish.

Just sitting wherever you are ready to receive with an open awareness of your surroundings.

Ready to receive sounds.

To receive sensations in the body.

To receive thoughts and emotions.

To receive each and every breath.

And as the observer of all these occurrences, whichever is the most dominant in any given moment, staying with it until it vanishes. Until it disappears.

Every second of a ticking clock.

Every car that passes by.

Every itch that you scratch or leave to fizzle out on its own.

Try to stay with these moments until all that’s left is the space on the other side. A momentary blankness that marks the start of something new. A space for a brand-new moment to arise, pass on through, and then vanish gracefully into the past.

And see what’s it’s like to relate to all these moments not as if they were our last – but because they are.

Feel free to keep this going in silent meditation. And come back to the hands and the breath whenever you’ve lost the connection.


Concentration Meditation, Open Awareness

Labelling Senses


Do you remember watching the film The Sixth Sense for the first time? How shocking it was when the wedding ring drops to the floor and we learn that (spoiler alert!) Bruce Willis was actually dead all along?

If you’ve seen the movie a second time you’ll know that without the same curiosity and suspense, it’s a pretty different experience. Pleasant and enjoyable perhaps, but not nearly as vivid, exciting and alive.

We tend to live our lives a bit like a re-run — on autopilot, consumed in an exclusively-thinking mode where we live out our day through thoughts and barely give our senses the time to show us what they’re all about.

And they’ve got so much to offer!

So here’s a meditation that brings a couple of the senses centre stage to give thoughts a back seat for a while.

Hello. This is a meditation that brings our senses into the foreground of our experience.


First, finding yourself a comfortable position. Adjusting your posture. Finding a comfortable place to rest your hands. And just while you’re doing that, noticing how the hands feel. Noting the temperature; which parts feel cool and which parts feel warm. And feeling all the different sensations running through the fingers. Prickling. Throbbing. Pulsing.

If you haven’t already, you can close your eyes; but of course, if you prefer to keep them open, just lower your gaze a little way in front of you.

And at any time through the meditation feel free to open your eyes if you’re feeling sleepy or are in need of a reset.


Now we’ll connect in with the breath. And we’ll make this connection with three deliberate deep breaths. Taking a big full in-breath to fill up the lungs and then gradually letting it escape your body.

Allowing the breath to leave the body until all that’s left is a pause and a space before the need for the next big in-breath.

And then after three big breaths, noticing how you settle down into a more relaxed and natural way of breathing that needs no effort.


And for this meditation we’re going to do a variation on the noting or labelling technique.

But instead of labelling thoughts as they arise, which you may have had experience with before, we’re going to work with just two labels – ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ – and use these to note your experience of sound and sensations in the body.

Because when we experience life through our senses – such as hearing and feeling – we experience what’s happening in real-time. Not as a preview. Or a re-run. But the live broadcast of our life as it unfolds.

And what this does, is help us switch from an exclusively-thinking mode into more of a sensing mode. And it’s in sensing mode when our body softens, our breathing slows and thoughts have the chance to retreat to the background.


So, we’ll begin with the sense of hearing. And all you need to do, is use the label ‘hear’ whenever you’re aware of sound.

Tuning in to all the sounds that come into your experience and acknowledging them with the label ‘hear’.

TV in the background. Hear

Footsteps coming and going. Hear

Car door closing outside. Hear

Even thoughts can be heard in your mind’s ear if they’re dominant enough; so, for the really loud ones, you can label them ‘hear’, too.


Now we’ll move on to the sense of touch. Tuning in to all the different sensations in the body, and using the label ‘feel’ to note your experience.

Itchy scalp. Feel

Thighs resting on the chair. Feel

Breath going in and out. Feel

And of course, emotions. We feel those too, so if an emotion presents itself like frustration, calm, or impatience, it too, can be labelled ‘feel’.

And as you go about the rest of the meditation, you can continue switching between these two senses, noting ‘hear’ whenever sounds are dominant, and using ‘feel’ whenever you’re drawn to a physical sensation.

Remembering that this technique doesn’t need a great deal of effort, just approach it quite passively. It’s a place that you can return to in between sessions of thinking and daydreaming. And if you start to feel settled then you can drop the labelling altogether.