The term choiceless awareness is commonly used in the mindfulness community. However, I find this confusing when I read suttas such as MN20 (SuttaCentral) which discuss the importance of intentional redirection of awareness (for example, turning away from or suppressing the thought), which seems to be the opposite of choiceless awareness.
There have been several posts on this topic, such as:
The case for bare awareness?
and others that seem to make a case against choiceless awareness:
“The heedful person does not aim at a choiceless awareness open to existence in its totality, for to open oneself thus is to risk making oneself vulnerable to just those elements in oneself that keep one bound to the realm of Mara. The awareness developed through heedfulness is built upon a choice – a well-considered choice to abandon those qualities one understands to be detrimental and to develop in their place those qualities one understands to be beneficial, the states that lead to purity and peace.”
Some of the discussions have mentioned SN 47.10 (SuttaCentral) in which the Buddha mentions “development with direction” and “development without direction”.
A key passage in this sutta seems to be: "And how…is there development without direction?..a bhikkhu understands: ‘My mind is not directed outwardly.’ Then he understands: ‘It is unconstricted after and before, liberated, undirected.’ Then he further understands: ‘I dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful; I am happy.’ "
To me, this implies that undirected attention (perhaps the equivalent of “choiceless awareness”) is only appropriate when one is reflecting inwardly, is clear seeing (that is, contemplating only the body in the body or feelings in feelings), ardent and mindful, happy.
This makes sense. If one is having harmful, negative thoughts, I think practicing choiceless awareness has the potential to be dangerous. For example, if one has thoughts of suicide or self-harm, letting one’s mind linger on those thoughts (because of choiceless awareness) is not healthy or helpful. Instead, one should intentionally seek to remove those thoughts as described in MN20 or with the help of a mental health professional. An example of how the topic we choose for meditation can lead to self-harm is the Vesali Sutta (Vesali Sutta: At Vesali)
As such, and this may be a provocative statement, should we perhaps discourage people from practicing choiceless awareness, at least until they have advanced far in their practice?