No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it ~~ Albert Einstein
Awareness is our true nature. As human beings we have so many ways of being in the world – through our body and our senses, when we are enveloped by emotions, and mostly, in our heads. Yes, we live mostly up there – in the clouds of our minds.
There are many authors and teachers, from past millennia to present day, who tell us humankind has got it wrong. Instead of using our minds, our minds are using us. Instead of being a “faithful servant” to the whole person, the mind has become the master of the entire ship. In fact, the mind often gets mistaken for the whole package. “I think, therefore I am” as Descartes once said.
What happens if we stop and observe? Maybe the equation can be changed to “I am, therefore I think… and feel… and use my senses”. Thinking is not a choice, it is an automatic function of the brain. But we do have the choice of observing our thoughts. What is the use of this?
For starters, it creates a distance with our thoughts. We actually see them as thoughts, rather than live IN them. When we can see them, we realise a few things about them: they come and go, they don’t last for very long, and they are chained in a succession that doesn’t always have rhyme nor reason. When I catch myself thinking about something odd, I like to retrace back to see how I got there. It’s a fascinating and rather hilarious game: how to get from “I need to call my mother” to “I wonder what will happen to Frank Underwood in Season 4 of House of Cards” in 5 mental steps.
The more we observe our thoughts, we realise there are patterns of thoughts that keep repeating, like inner voices. Yes, voices. We all have them – they are like avatars in the films playing in our heads. These voices, like broken records skipping over and over, grow into “mental software programmes” that can keep us tied to automatic responses and unconscious blockages.
Being aware is the ultimate goal in any process of self-discovery, healing, or change. When trying to change something, to fix something, or simply to understand something, we need to become aware of it. If the “it” is LIFE then awareness equals being. A life truly lived is a life in awareness.
As a life coach in awareness, I like to explore issues, choices, blockages, goals and steps with my clients on four levels: mental, body, emotional and spiritual (don’t worry they are all optional – whatever works for you!).
Acknowledge – The Mental Conundrum
So, we have some degree of awareness. We dip in and out of it, like river fish jumping out of the water. This leads us to acknowledge that most of our time is actually spent in automatic pilot. Whether through reactivity (someone does something, we say something before we even know we’re opening our mouths), sleep walking (we’ve brushed our teeth so many times, we can’t even remember doing it this morning), or blockages (I don’t seem to be able to prevent worrying about tomorrow), the fact is most of the time we are not in awareness.
Acknowledging this is a first step towards self-discovery. This is not about giving your inner critic a blank cheque to beat yourself up even more. Acknowledging is accepting that this is the current state of affairs. For a lot of people. For most people, in fact. Even ourselves. Even the Dalai Lama.
Attention – The Practice of Mindfulness
So how can we become more aware, more regularly? If awareness is our true nature, how can we tap into it? It’s deceptively simple: by paying attention to the here and now, non-judgementally. By being present, fully present. To have less resistance to what already is. To lower the level of “mentalizing” so that our minds don’t constantly take control over our entire experience of life. Some things cannot be expressed with words, and many happenings don’t have to be categorised, analysed, assessed or given the “mental treatment”.
Living the “here and now” fully is conceptually easy to grasp, but difficult to implement in our day and age. We are constantly bombarded with information and requests for mental output: opinions, views, assessments, ideas, etc. We are permanently distracted, under the rule of self-imposed busy lives.
Mindfulness is the practice for being attentive to whatever you are engaging with, in an open manner. Meditation is the more formal practice of seated mindfulness, where the aim is to contemplate anything that arises (mostly our thoughts). Both are credited with having positive physiological effects including: greater mental clarity, lower stress levels, relaxation, improved emotional balance.
A simple gateway into mindfulness and meditation is to pay attention to our breath. This automatically redirects our attention from our minds to our bodies, and helps ground us back in the “here and now”.
Accept – The Murky Waters of Emotions
Recognising how we feel and becoming intimate with our emotions is a second step to self-discovery. There are no bad feelings. There are no good feelings. Our mind categorizes them because that’s what it likes to do. Jealousy goes in there (in the bad box). Happiness goes in here (in the good box). Emotions are simply response mechanisms conveyed through our bodies. An emotion will have a physiological manifestation – even the most subtle one – that is beyond our conscious control. Our mind sits at the top trying to be a gatekeeper of emotions. “Nice one, joy, you can come right up and be celebrated with fanfare”. “I can’t believe I’m feeling angry again, what a useless waste, just go away, I can’t let you roam around here again causing chaos!”
We often get stranded trying to navigate our own emotional swamps. We don’t understand why we keep reacting in a particular way, or keep getting stuck in the same old relational patterns. Because maybe we have figured out what needs to change, but when a similar situation arises we go back to old ways. This often happens because we are thinking about our emotions, not feeling them. If they keep getting pushed down by our mind, they are not truly released and are likely to come back time after time. There is no emotional resolution.
Accepting the huge importance of our emotions and honouring their wisdom is crucial. Our emotions need to be released through our body, in awareness. Then we can choose whether or not and how to act, rather than be driven to react.
Activity – Our Body, the Poor Relative
Body awareness is part and parcel of self-realisation. The body has an innate wisdom that we cannot afford to ignore. Our body has become the poor relative in the family. We may treat it like a god and pray every day at its altar in the gym or else loathe it as our enemy number 1, but either by excess or defect, we are treating it like a stranger. Many of us see the body as a “supporting actor” to the mind. As if it were the simplest part of us, of less importance. The mind is all too often reticent to take into consideration the messages the body is trying to relay (“stop eating!”, “go to sleep!”, “I wanna dance!”).
Becoming fluent in “body speak” is the hardest language you will ever learn. But it is crucial in our journey of self-discovery and growth. It also is mightily useful, but it takes courage, compassion and a regular practice.
Amor – The Spiritual Cornerstone
The secret of spiritual work is to not consider it as one of the goals to pursue in life, but as life itself ~~ Aurobindo
Yes, it’s corny. Love, love, love. All you need is love. (By the way, isn’t it neat that I could talk about all these issues with words that start by “A”? Hence using the Spanish word). If I said I was talking about Universal Love, you would probably roll your eyes. I would too. What does that even mean?
Well, in essence it’s the more spiritual, transpersonal, other-worldly, philosophical dimension of our human enquiries. Call it what you like. A lot of people out there are still calling it God, even though it’s the most misused word in the entire human lexicon.
Discernment comes from awareness. Awareness comes from mindfulness. Mindfulness is accepting. Accepting is simply BEING.