Thank you both again. This is immensely helpful. Astus, this sounds very much like what I'm doing. I could say that my practice is maintaining a reflexively aware presence (an awareness that knows it is aware) -- or more precisely, allowing that presence to sustain itself, with me having to periodically check and refresh it. Sometimes I fall back into the extreme of "meditation," and sometimes into "distraction," but when those happen I try to gently nudge it (or release it) back toward undistracted nonmeditation
Here are the two last (hopefully!) points that keep me from being confident:
1. One is often warned against duality. For example:
Without wishing for the state to continue for a long time and without fearing the lack of it altogether, all that is necessary is to maintain pure presence of mind, without falling into the dualistic situation of there being an observing subject perceiving an observed object. -- ChNNR
I hope this means that one does not maintain the subject-object distinction in the (non)meditation
-- as in, there is no thought of "I
am meditating on this
." I hope it does not
mean that one must not have any sense of there being any subject-object distinction in order to practice properly. "I" (as this reflexively aware presence) still feel separate from the world, though I am not meditating on it.
To use your example, Astus, even in my current meditation my mind is reifying the dung -- deep down, I still have the sense that it exists, even if I'm not elaborating on it. It doesn't clearly appear to me as emptiness, and I'm hoping it doesn't need to before I can begin Mahamudra vipashyana practice.
2. We are told to rest evenly in mind essence, but the degree to which one must realize it is not clear. For example:
[Mind] is not just blank nothingness, it is the union of clarity and emptiness. ... If we were to think about it, we would say "Oh, that's what mind is." Of course that would just be a thought produced by our minds; when we actually experience it, we do not have this thought. Instead, we have a feeling. This is the intelligence born of meditation that comes from directly seeing the nature of mind as it is. ... [So] we experience this intelligence and rest evenly within this experience. -- Thrangu Rinpoche
Through years of investigation into my mind, it is clear to me that there is no-thing there, and yet it is cognizant. There's no longer even a "feeling" (as bolded above). It's so
obvious that I'm worried I may have it wrong: I don't even know what it would feel like to believe anything else! Because It doesn't feel like I'm experiencing any particular intelligence now, I'm worried that I'm not "there" yet.
And so there's a nagging suspicion that I'm doing it wrong; when I'm told to rest evenly within the experience that my mind is a cognizant emptiness, it feels no different than if I were just told to rest my mind without distraction. Why not just tell me that? (Actually, elsewhere they do
tell me just that; I'm hoping this isn't something additional I have to "add" to that.)
Maybe it would help me to understand where the danger lies for someone who has not
experienced mind essence as empty cognizance? Perhaps the less one realizes that their mind is an empty cognizance, the faster they would fall into one of the extremes (a grasping meditation, distraction, or spacing out)? If one has a tiny
recognition of this, might that be enough to "bootstrap" so that one's sense of empty cognizance grows over time? Is that, perhaps, even the whole point
(And please don't think I've ignored your suggestions to find a guru. I'm still getting guidance from my lama, but there's a language barrier. And I will be signing up for a Dzogchen intensive with Tsoknyi Rinpoche as soon as I can. But I do have 3 long months ahead of me during which it would be nice to clear up the above confusions.)
Edit: I think I see where one would go wrong without the recognition of mind's essence. If one did not see that mind has an instinctive, fundamental, spontaneous function of knowing, one would probably think that it must be directed somewhere or by someone in order to do its thing. As soon as one realizes that it does this naturally, one can release the grip. You still have to guard against it being occupied by distractions, and more subtly, against forgetting that it continues to do its thing, but not much else. As for why it must be seen to be "empty" cognizance (as opposed to spontaneous cognizance) I haven't figured that out yet.