Awareness is different from self-consciousness, focus or positive thinking. It is the idea that one can simply BE AWARE. The reason I’m writing about this is that many people ask me:
“If I’m aware of feelings or even just sensations which originate because of a fear or sadness, aren't I perpetuating them and making them all worse?”
To these people I ask questions inspired by Andy Puddicombe’s Head space teachings:
"Is the world a dangerous place?
What is the probability of getting hit by a car?
Are you aware of the dangers?
Yet you still go outside and conduct your life - why is that?"
Because we have learned to balance the awareness of risk with the reasons why we choose to risk our lives - because we enjoy life more when we engage with it, when we risk pain, failure, embarrassment and even death.
“So why focus on the sensations?”
To this question I ask:
“Can you be aware of the road unless you look both ways?”
“Can you have improved awareness by looking carefully, without judgement or attachment?”
“Can you focus on the immediate stretch of road, but with awareness of things on the periphery, like where you are stepping, if your shoelaces are tied, where you are going, what’s on the other side?”
Only if you take the time to pay attention. Stop, Look, Listen, Think (see picture above)
This is the same as with the body. If you take small moments to pay attention you can become more aware of the subtle sensations and emotions. These signals are the language of the body and of the intuition. If you observe carefully, calmly, easily, like crossing the road, you can navigate them easily and understand.
“But I want to know why I’m feeling this tension in my chest, which I think is anxiety (THE ROOT CAUSE)!”
To this I ask:
“Do you focus on one noisy car, passing by, speeding and causing problems, when observing the road?
Sometimes, yes, but FOR HOW LONG? How long does that car hold your attention?
If it is hurtling for you then it is wise to give it your full attention and MOVE, but otherwise, does it help you to question 'why' as it hurtles down the street?"
Analysing each thought or feeling to the nth degree is blinkering off the wider awareness, it is useful for a moment, but then one must return to the wider awareness or one may be in risk of ‘rubbernecking’ - getting attached to a thought and losing focus on where one is going. It also requires we SLOW DOWN, and who is prepared to do that on a busy day?
To try and analyse each thought or sensation would be time consuming and exhausting. Some thoughts or feelings do require a bit more attention, but then, each time, we must return our attention to the wider area, let go of the passing car and move on. Self reflection is important, but in the appropriate time.
This is a skill, that can be learned. It is called forgiving. It is an essential part of learning.
As Matthew Child’s says in his own lessons from rock climbing: "Fear Sucks. Fear means you're focusing on the consequences of failing what you are doing." I also learned this a lot from rock climbing and wrote my own blog about it here. If you don't let go of the fear, anger or sadness at some point it will cause you pain and then harm you. If you continue to hold on to it, it will consume you.
But don't worry, it's not all hard work!
I’m a proficient climber now as well as an experienced car driver and crosser of many roads! I have reached the fourth stage of learning in these endeavours: automated awareness. Where I have built in the pattern of coming back to awareness after every troublesome moment has had some attention. I no longer even need to consciously think about this more because I have practiced it. If I drop my practice I sometimes become less proficient again and it takes more effort.
"An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
As it is with mindfulness meditation - it is the practice of returning to awareness, or presence. When one combines that with playfulness one can venture to the inner world or the outer world with a sense of ease, fun and awareness more often.
That’s my experience, anyway. I'm still practising and getting better. With mindfulness I'm sometimes still lingering around the third stage... but try it for yourself!
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com