In Awakening the Sacred Body, the author does an excellent job of defining conceptual and non conceptual awareness. Conceptual thinking is a distraction from stillness. It is thinking about the meditation or the focus of the meditation as opposed to really opening yourself to presence. It is judging what you experience instead of actually allowing yourself to have the experience. Non-conceptual awareness, on the other hand, is allowing yourself to be present with the experience, to let it happen to you without having to interpret or categorize it. As you might imagine, it is not always easy for people to experience non-conceptual awareness.
When I do meditation, I find that the experience of non-conceptual awareness is an experience of relaxing into it. If I try to force it, what happens is that I move further away from it. Stillness isn't something you can force...it's something to be relaxed into as an experience. So when I meditate, I just allow myself to be where I'm at, and it happens to be in a place of lots of thoughts, then I let that thinking occur, instead of trying to quash it down. By opening myself to that experience, eventually what occurs is I enter to a place where the thoughts go away and I'm just present. And if a thought does occur, I know what it is and I let it go. It's a kind of silence really that is actually quite relaxing and puts me into an altered state of consciousness. The key is to accept that in order for this experience to happen, you let go of trying to control it and just let it happen to you and move you to a place of stillness.
The reason people get stuck in conceptual thinking is because we have a tendency to analyze and critique and judge and get caught up in lots and lots of thinking. The problem with the conceptual thinking is that it distracts you from feeling. So if you feel uncomfortable, but get caught up in analyzing that discomfort, you still aren't dealing with the discomfort. You are thinking about it, but you aren't experiencing it. The experience of discomfort in your body and in your state of awareness is very different from thinking about it. It forces you to get real with what you are feeling. And when you do that...when you stop making it into a concept and just experience it, then you end up achieving a liberation of sorts, because you are allowing yourself to just feel it, and in the feeling of it, enabling yourself to really be present with it. Non-conceptual awareness opens you to a place of vulnerability. That place of vulnerability can be frightening, but if you are willing to engage it, what it provides you is the experience and that experience allows you to let go of the feeling ultimately.
In the past I've had a tendency to spend to much time in my head, over thinking what I'm experiencing. It's resulted in less than genuine work because I haven't been present with it in the way I needed to be. What non-conceptual awareness has helped me do is stop being in my head so much, so that I can be present with what I'm feeling. It's not easy work, but its the kind of internal work that can ground you into your body and into being more present with what you are doing in your life.
I was recently interviewed on the Donna Philisophica Show.You can download the show and listen to it by clicking the link and finding it on her list of interviews.