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Awareness - What is It? Of what are we to be aware?

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What is it?
Of what are we to be aware?

Awareness. What is it? Of what are we to be aware?
I emphasize awareness as the first and most important skill to learn with all my students and clients. Whether we focus on creating life meaning for ourselves or personal communication with others, awareness is essential. Usually, within a few minutes after introducing the concept of awareness, someone asks me, “What should I be aware of?” This article will offer some information about awareness, its advantages, and suggestions on what we should be noticing. This article is not an exhaustive list of awareness highlights. Instead, it’s an in-depth introduction, and as you practice awareness, you’ll add your personal experiences to it.

As awareness is a skill that we develop individually, I cannot answer specifically for you. Instead, I can introduce you to some areas of your life to watch. As you watch, you’ll begin to recognize ways that you want to improve or transform. You’ll also notice thought patterns that seem to work for and against you, and you will see ways you can reach beyond those hindering mindsets. When you are ready to go further in your journey, please call me at 720-789-4000 or contact me here, and we will begin personal coaching.

Let’s begin with a short story to introduce the concept.

A man searched for an answer, so he visited every wisdom center he could find and asked this question, “How do I make my life more meaningful and content?” He visited all the universities, schools, think tanks, ashrams, churches, mosques, monasteries, abbeys, synagogs, temples, holy people, psychologists, philosophers, and wise people in the world. He would ask his question at each location or to each person and, usually, quickly leave when the answer would be some theory, dogma, or conversion exercise. He wanted doable solutions that didn’t require beliefs in gods or unproven ideas.

Finally, he came to the last monastery listed in the Wisdom Centers Tourist Guide. He knocked on the front door. A hairy-faced older man opened the door and gestured for the searcher to come in and sit at a small table. The monk sat across from him. The man asked, “How do I make my life more meaningful and content?” The monk smiled ever so slightly, leaned back, stared at a corner of the ceiling for a minute, and then picked up a piece of paper and a pen. Slowly, he wrote something, folded the piece of paper, and handed it to the man.

The man opened the note and read: Pay Attention.

“What?” The man yelled. “Are you kidding me? I have traveled the world asking this question to every wise person at every wisdom center I can find. I have worn out seven pairs of boots on this search. And the best you can give me is, pay attention? You have to do better than that!” He threw the sheet of paper back at the monk with the last word and sat with a loud harrumph.

The monk’s eyes filled with a look of compassion. Then he bent down, retrieved the paper from the floor, unfolded it on the table, and sat quietly back. Again he stared up into a ceiling corner for a long time. Eventually, a small knowing smile formed on his mouth. He picked up his pen and, this time, wrote quickly. He then folded the sheet and handed it back to the man.

The man unfolded the note and read, “Pay Attention. Pay Attention.”

To what are we supposed to pay attention?

To answer this question, let’s begin with some physiology. Our brains are calory eating machines, and calories are a currency of survival. Thus, our brains try to save energy (calories) through autopilot, habits, and automatic reactions. Autopilot is a marvelous tool for energy conservation in our bodies. Yet, it also has some downsides.

Autopilot turns off our brain’s logical thought.

One major drawback is that autopilot turns off our brain’s ability to notice and logically evaluate automatic reactions; we just do them; we don’t think about our actions’ short and long-term consequences.

Autopilot limits our control over our life.

Because we don’t think about the consequences, autopilot reactions limit our control. As mentioned above, when on autopilot, we react without rational thought. If we do not think rationally (even though it feels like we do) when we react, who or what controls us?

Research has shown, memories and past experiences drive our reactions. However, as history can’t rationally think, how well can it choose what is best for us today?

Awareness is Taking Control of Our Life

Look at the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors we experience.

A large part of awareness is the process of observing all the overt and subtle thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that we experience. Suppose we can notice these mental, emotional, and physical reactions. In that case, we can evaluate our actions by how much they benefit or reduce our overall goals for each situation and our life’s meaning.

Awareness gives us power.

Reactions are fast; they are also based on past experiences. Thus, instead of reacting from similarities to our past, we probably garner more benefit if we navigate our current situations based on their current merits. Therefore, teaching our brains to pay attention to the current situation breaks past-based coping mechanisms and allows us to utilize our logical thought and reasoning to navigate our present-day situations. Awareness gives us power, especially in the present moment.

Awareness brings us into the present moment.

I mentioned earlier; reactions come from our past experiences and how we coped the last time we experienced a similar situation. So please notice, autopilot works from our past, our history, in other words, not the present moment.

History is important. It is an excellent predictor of current autopilot reactions. However, every situation is different, so we benefit if we keep reasoning brain power online in every situation, no matter how familiar it seems. Thus, awareness requires us to pay attention now.

Paying attention forces us into the present moment. Now the past can be a trusted advisor, and logical thought in the present moment can be the commander of our actions.

Awareness gives us the time we need to process what is happening now.

Imagine that in the past, a big dog chased you and bit your leg. Ten years later, you still won’t go anywhere near big dogs. You don’t visit parks, go on walks, take picnics, etc. Notice how the past built upon that memory is ruling your current life. Awareness gives you the ability to see that the former and scary experience is controlling your present life. If you notice that you live with memory-induced limitations, you can then choose to test those beliefs about big dogs in a non-threatening way. You may open up new possibilities for your life by moving beyond that history-based fear.

Awareness allows us to see situations as they truly are.

The gift of reality is a significant benefit of practicing awareness. We can see our autopilot reactions, and we can choose to see beyond them. If we decide to recognize our memory-based reactions, we begin to notice that what is happening now, the present moment, is usually very different from our past experiences. In other words, we begin to see and live in reality as it is happening.

I can imagine this doesn’t sound very exciting, so let’s look closer. If we notice it, our brain’s stories always make us the hero, the winner, the victim, etc. Our brains invent stories that make reality seem more exciting and more in our favor. In reality, though, we tend to lose that privileged position of being the star of the show. Additionally, the star-of-the-show that our brain invents tends to avoid being responsible for what happens in our life unless that responsibility feels good.

However, in real life--the way life genuinely is--we are 100% responsible for our life. Granted, we can’t control what the world hands us. We can control how we respond to those offerings, though. Awareness offers us the chance to shape and create our life by responding with logical reasonings to the present moment.

Awareness offers us meaning.

The man in the story earlier asked, “how can I make my life more meaningful and content?” That man understands that no matter what the world hands to him, he is responsible for how he uses it. Let’s use our daily experiences to give our lives meaning. We create our life’s purpose by our choices.
We create our life’s meaning by our choices!

Awareness and acceptance and suffering

Awareness forces us to accept that we do not control what the world does. We can only control how we respond to the variables as they affect us. Yet, so many of us try to change the world we do not control. We then suffer when the world doesn’t change. Some things are worth suffering for; most things are not. Awareness gently teaches us to accept the things we have no control over, so we suffer less.

Awareness and forgiveness

A client once asked me if the past matters. He described his attitude that he could only accept what happened to him previously, forgive the injuring party, and move forward based on the future he wants to live.

He is a courageous man; many people hold onto injuries in their past. Yet, if we hold on to those past experiences, we are letting memories rule our currently happening lives. This man was doing therapy and working toward accepting the mental, emotional, and physical injuries inflicted on him as a child. He wants to accept the past as it happened and move into a promising future of his design. He realizes that he can only do that if he accepts and possibly forgives the perpetrators and himself for not taking care of himself earlier.

(A side not: acceptance does not mean approval. I’ll address that in another article.)

As he becomes aware of his past tragedy in therapy, he can heal by seeing the situation as it indeed was (as horrible as that is). He can learn from it, forgive himself for not behaving as he thinks he should have, and let go of his anger against the injuring party because he is still being hurt by that anger now.
Awareness is not a fix to the past. It is instead a path of living the possibilities of today with advice from the past.

Creating Your Life

When life throws events your way, memories and reactions try to control you. Alternatively, responding with reasoning combined with advice from the past can guide you. One method is reactive, and the other is proactive. Living in the present offers you the best chance to direct your life. Reacting from your past experiences is allowing coping mechanisms from those experiences to control your life. Here is another way to say this: reaction is being a victim of your history; proactively responding is creating your present and future.

Recognizing the automatic push of those past situations and their resolutions gives you the chance to reframe your present to build the future you want instead of repeating loops from your past.

I choose to create my life. I ask you to pay attention to your autopilot reactions and habits and then choose your response so you also create your life.

What do you really, Really, REALLY want in each situation?

The final part of this essay describes the guiding metric I use for my life, and I ask you also to consider using it. What do you really, Really, REALLY want out of each situation you experience.

Autopilot is effortless. It is “natural” to think that ease represents what we want because it frequently does on an emotional level. Unfortunately, the part of our brain that generates autopilot reactions doesn’t have logical thought and can’t plan to achieve our goals. For example, I once had a student who wanted to buy a motorcycle. He was at the dealer signing the deal to go further into debt for the bike when his wife asked him, “how badly do you want a house?” She was the substitute for his awareness in that situation.

He stood up, walked away from the dealer’s desk and the shiny motorbike. He thought for a moment and realized that bike would feel great to own now. The bike would also set back his dreams for a house for several years. He wanted a home for his family more than the bike, so he didn’t buy it. Had he kept going with the excitement that produced good feelings, he would have set back his dreams for his family. His wife’s question brought the reality of the situation back to his mind. With that additional information, he decided his goals were more important than the feelings about the bike.

In each situation, we have several internal drives to navigate through. We have our emotional pushes for and against us. We also have our logical predictions, conclusions, and fantasies for and against us. With all those voices chattering in our brains, how do we navigate the noise?


Then ask yourself, “In this situation, what do I really, Really, REALLY want?”

Often we discover that the emotional pushes are controlling us and silencing the reasoning parts of our brain. That pause offers us the time and space to distance ourselves from the emotional compulsions and think reasonably and rationally about our long-term goals.
The pause generated by awareness is not easy! The compulsions of the moment are powerful. Yet, pausing offers us more possibilities for creating meaning in our lives. My friend Terry Hershey says, “There is power in the pause.” I think he is right.

Concluding Thoughts on Awareness

Have you ever said or did something that you later regretted? Immediately after the words came out of your mouth, you asked yourself, “Why did I say that?” Where did those words come from? By paying attention to your mind, you’ll probably find they came from a similar experience in your past or a deeply hidden desire you’re harboring in your heart.

Autopilot is a tool our brain uses to save energy by repeating previous thoughts or reverting to what feels good now. Autopilot also reduces our brain’s ability to think logically or reasonably. That means that autopilot limits possibilities for us and controls our lives through automatic reactions. And because autopilot uses past experience as its manual, our reactions are rarely based on immediate situations.

In contrast, awareness opens up possibilities for us. Awareness gives us power, brings us into the present moment, and offers us the opportunity to respond to reality, and maybe most importantly, awareness offers us meaning.

Awareness offers us the chance to say what we mean to say the first time. Awareness affords us more control over our actions and words, and therefore, our lives. That means, with awareness, you have the power to create your life.

Awareness is a marvelous tool for creating our lives as we want. Granted, it takes more energy to practice awareness, but the payoff far exceeds the investment. When you can create your life instead of reacting to life, you gain the freedom to be the person you want to be and live the joy, peace, and contentment you want to enjoy.

If you would like a guide on your awareness journey, please call me at 720-789-4000 or contact me here, and let’s talk about personal coaching.
May you enjoy creating your life. Thank you for the honor of contributing to your knowledge.
Blair's Handwritten Name
Posted May 21, 2021
Written April and May 2021
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Teaching and Coaching
I will not transfer or sell your data to anyone.
Please read the full disclosure here.

©2022 Broadlands Media, Inc
All rights reserved.
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