I'm a perennial beginner, so we can't take my words seriously. But along my path, I've collected some quotes from people who do know what they're talking about. Sources given to help dig up context (I can help find page numbers if needed, too).
-- Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Carefree DignityQ: What is the difference between nondistraction and dwelling on nowness?
A: According to the general vehicles, to dwell undistractedly in nowness is to be undistracted. But from the Dzogchen perspective, that is called being distracted. Dwelling on nowness means you are already distracted. Why? Because you are dwelling on something, repeatedly. The awareness is directed towards something which is not rigpa. When there is a split between the rigpa and something other, you are already distracted.
There is some risk of misunderstanding this matter, if you only get half of this message, the nonmeditation part, and you miss the first part, which is to remain undistracted. It would be easy then to simply not meditate! But that wouldn’t make any sense. People who are already not meditating are constantly being carried away by the three poisons of attachment, aversion or dullness. That is not meditating at all, so if one is told “don’t meditate” in that situation, that makes no sense at all.
On the other hand, if we pay attention only to the first part, ‘be undistracted,’ it might seem like we have to remain mindful of whatever takes place: “Now I’m walking. Now I’m putting my foot down. Oh, there’s a pink flower. The air is touching my skin. I’m breathing in. Here is a thought coming. There is the thought going. Now I am angry. Now I have some desire. Now it is leaving again.” In the normal sense of the word one is certainly undistracted, but there is no sense of freedom. You are not liberated at all. It’s like you’re a shepherd totally involved in watching your sheep or goats: “Now they are going up the hill over there... now they are coming back down... oh, they shouldn’t wander too far... now they are going up another hill... now it’s five o’clock, I should gather them all together and go home.” That type of practice is called “maintaining the meditation.” You are herding the meditation, keeping constant watch. Dzogchen practice is not like that. Instead, meditate without being distracted at all, and without “keeping” a meditation.
If we aren’t able to maintain a free and easy attitude, we will never have good meditations. During these few days up here at Nagi Gompa, give up any anxieties, hopes, fears or worries. Just leave them all behind. There is nothing you need to do. There is no office you need to go to, no long-distance phone calls to make, no faxes to reply to. Let go of the whole thing. Let go, let go and let go, until there is nothing more to let go of. Let go until that point.
-- Thrangu Rinpoche, Vivid AwarenessAs I mentioned above, there is a distinction between tranquility and insight meditation. In tranquility there is a lot of stability but not much intelligence, whereas in insight meditation we do have intelligence.
[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.
What do we feel in that sort of meditation? Khenpo Gangshar’s instructions say:
At the same time, there is no thought of “Sights and sounds are out there.” Everything appears unceasingly. There is also no thought of “The perceiver, the six types of consciousness, is within.” Clear and nonconceptual awareness is unceasing.
-- Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Rainbow PaintingWhat we should really look into from now on is that which thinks when we think and that which feels still when we are quiet. All practices prior to this point are externalized, in that one watches what occurs as an object of the attention, “Now I’m thinking. Now I’m feeling still.” In both these cases, the object of attention is externalized from oneself, from the one who watches. So, from this point on we internalize the practice by recognizing that which thinks or that which feels still, rather than observing the feeling of it.
-- Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Fearless SimplicityCognizant nature is your present mind, your sense of being awake, right now, while knowing that its essence is empty; otherwise the cognizance is dualistic consciousness. That’s the fundamental difference between dualistic consciousness and original wakefulness. The dualistic way of perceiving is being unaware that this awake quality is empty in essence. Original wakefulness is recognizing that it is empty in essence.
-- Lama Gendun Rinpoche, Heart Advice from a Mahamudra MasterThe crucial difference between fruitless states of meditation and true meditation is the presence of this awake and relaxed self-awareness of the mind, because only in this state of recollection is it possible for our mind to change over from mere mental calm to intuitive insight into its true nature.
-- Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Carefree DignityIn terms of experience, what is this really? When simply resting in [shamatha] meditation, dwelling on the nowness, there is this presence of mind. One is being asked to recognize the essence of this knowing. At the very moment no basis is found. In other words, the sense of dwelling on something falls apart, the resting in something disintegrates. This doesn’t mean that the quality of knowing or being awake vanishes. It is still there, but there is no dwelling on anything whatsoever. It is simply awareness in itself. This is the point where shamatha is transcended into self-existing awareness. It is not a sequential process that takes place over time; instead, it happens very fast. It is simply a matter of letting the focus or dwelling fall apart. When that happens, you already have arrived in self-existing awareness, in rigpa.
-- Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Fearless SimplicityWhat is the difference between the real state of rigpa and the imitation? Check whether or not there is any clinging, any sense of keeping hold of something. With conceptual rigpa you notice a sense of trying to keep a state, trying to maintain a state, trying to nurture a state. There is a sense of hope or fear and also a sense of being occupied. Understand? The keeping means there’s a sense of protecting, of not wanting to lose it, in the back of the mind. This is not bad, it’s good, and for some people there’s no way around training like that in the beginning. Through training in this way, that conceptual aspect becomes increasingly refined and clarified. So you practice more, more, more. Now you have more of a sense of openness, but still you’re holding this openness. All right, then, let the openness go. Let’s say that after two months you let it go. But still you’re staying within the openness—so then you practice letting go of the staying. And somehow there is still a remnant of wanting to achieve it again. So you let that go as well, and slowly again let it go, let it go, until you become very much ‘just there,’ and finally very free and easy.
One description of rigpa is phrased like this: “Not dwelling in any way whatsoever, and yet totally present throughout everything.” Please listen to this once more: Not dwelling in any way whatsoever, and yet totally present throughout everything.
Let’s try this one more time: Not dwelling in any way whatsoever, and yet totally present throughout everything.
And no quote list of mine would be complete without my favorite quote ever:
-- Lama Gendun Rinpoche, Heart Advice (bold mine, italics his)Our mind will recognize itself by itself -- clarity recognizes its own nature, its own emptiness. Beyond that, there is nothing to do. Only our fear of missing the goal blocks our path. Through faith our mind will relax and get to know itself more and more clearly. Its continual seeking will come to rest in the awareness nature of its own unimpeded dynamic nature.
Whenever we lose our motivation, we should remind ourselves [that there is nothing to do or attain] and never have any doubts about our capacity to do nothing!