Using awareness and sensation for anxiety: A meditation talk by Mingyur Rinpoche

I watched a video recently titled “Meditation and Going Beyond Mindfulness – A Secular Perspective” by Mingyur Rinpoche. It’s nearly two hours long, but it’s special because he goes fully into what it is to use awareness of sensation as a form of meditation. He uses simple language that an absolute beginner can follow. The video is at the bottom of this post but for anyone who might find it useful, here are some notes on the talk.

Mingyur Rinpoche suffered from anxiety as a child. He asked his parents for permission to join a monastery for two years and it was here that he learned how to overcome fear by using awareness and sensation.


Awareness is like space and it’s nature can never change. It’s behind all thought, emotion, perception, feeling (eg panic). These happenings like panic are like snow storms. Welcome the happenings, even if it’s panic. After time, you will become friends. It will be your teacher, friend and support your meditation. This is life changing once you commit.

You have awareness all the time. But meditation is about gaining awareness. So why meditate if we always have it? Well, we have awareness but we don’t recognize our unawareness. We don’t know our “space” and we are lost with the clouds. So we have to learn to recognize awareness so we don’t lose it. So we must learn to recognize awareness and more importantly “maintain the awareness”. That’s it. You will have a lot of discoveries within yourself.

An Exercise

How do you this? We can’t connect with ‘big’ awareness straight away. We have to connect with a piece of awareness. This is well demonstrated in the video below but here’s a summary you can try:

Sit comfortably but keep your spine straight. Raise one hand and become aware of sensation. Maybe you feel no sensation, but that’s okay, just be aware of the absence of sensation because that’s awareness too. Put your hands together and notice any new sensation. You are using your awareness to do this. Can you be aware of your awareness? Rub your hands together, keeping your awareness on any new sensation. Now put a hand on your forehead, then remove it and notice sensation in your forehead alone. From your forehead, continue to note sensations on your face, head, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, legs, feet. Be aware of the awareness you are using to notice these sensations (or absence of sensation).

Awareness eases tension

If you know (i.e. are aware that) you are not relaxed, that means you are actually relaxing. Rest your mind in awareness and continue observing. This purifies negative emotion, clearing it to uncover our basic goodness and compassion.

The connection between awareness and happiness

What is the connection between awareness and happiness? “I want to be happy but you teach (me to) watching the breath – it’s boring!”. Well, when you see the river it means you are out of the river. If you fall into the river, carried by the river, you cannot see the river. When you see the panic, you’re not under control. But panic might still be there. When you see the river you don’t have to block the river. Let it continue. Calm or turbulent, doesn’t matter. But if you fall in the river, a calm river is better!

Normally negative emotions have influence on us. Positive emotions are better. Don’t get lost in the river and don’t meet the waterfall.

We don’t have to meditate

We don’t have to meditate. Just recognize awareness and maintain that recognition (using an object initially such as sensation). Sound is a valid alternative to sensation. You can focus on what you hear instead of what you feel in your body.

Dealing with obstacles

Don’t force anything. It doesn’t work. “Don’t judge, don’t think … I must connect with heart, 1, 2, 3 (go!)”. There is no need because everything is allowed in awareness including any obstacles you experience. This is real non-judgement. If you like the idea of meditation but don’t like the practice, change technique. Switch to sound, for example. Listen mindfully and for children use hand to track volume by starting high with the hand and lowering it gradually as the volume decreases, for example.

Without awareness of sensation you cannot practice emotion meditation. So emotion meditation is a later stage.


The above are just notes. If they appeal to you, consider putting aside the hours and watching this in full. It’s fundamental knowledge, taught well with lovely Tibetan humor throughout.