Misconceptions about Awareness

My teachers often say “to have an understanding of awareness you need to know what awareness is not”.  So as a follow on from my previous post What is Awareness? let’s look at what awareness is not. In my experience there seem to be a number of common misconceptions about awareness and for me it has been helpful to learn that:

  • Awareness does not just magically happen
  • Awareness is not swapping one thought for another
  • Awareness is not a permanent state

Awareness does not just magically happen

A number of years ago I became interested in experiencing greater calm, peace and purpose in my life. I began to meditate, I began to immerse myself in age old teachings, I began to surround myself with inspiring and positive messages. But I soon became disillusioned that my life was not changing, that I was not changing, that in some ways I felt I was moving further away from the calm, peace and purpose that I was seeking.

What I have come to realise is that no matter what your external circumstances, no matter how many personal development or spiritual retreats you attend, no matter how many insights you collect, how many positive or inspiring books or quotes you have read – your experience of life will not transform unless you attend to your inner experience, unless you look within.

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At most the insight of another can act as a signpost, can give us direction – but each of us need to be willing to question, to reflect, to test these insights, and to see for ourselves what is true. And we need to be willing to see awareness as a process – one that we practice and apply in our daily life. Collecting insights or worshiping the words and experience of others (as I have done) will not make you wise, it will not magically transform your life – only a vision to live an extraordinary quality of life and a commitment to look within and grow in awareness will create a fundamental transformation in your thinking and your experience of life.

Awareness is not swapping one thought for another

One of the ways I thought I could change my life was by immersing myself in positive affirmations and teach these to others as a way to foster self-care and self-love. I would adopt affirmations from a variety of sources (always from others, not my own) and take them on, but would become disillusioned that the same old insecurities and judgements would persist.

I clearly remember during my first Freedom in Living retreat applying some cream to my legs one morning and thinking about an affirmation I had often used “I nurture my body with love and care”, I was surprised to observe that reality for me in that moment did not match this affirmation, in fact I came to realise that my reality was quite different to this affirmation. I observed my thoughts as I was applying the cream – I saw judgement, I saw self-reproach, I saw discomfort  and non-acceptance of the way things were in that moment, I saw that I was applying the cream in a rushed and rough way.

My thoughts included “if only my legs looked better”, “if only you were more committed to looking after yourself”, “my veins look horrible, what if they continue to get worse, what will others think?”, “I’d be so much happier if I didn’t have to worry about them”.

This was a very interesting and empowering realisation for me.

I realised in that moment that no matter how many affirmations I collect and recite, if I am unware of my internal thought process, of what is driving my actions, I am merely pushing my thoughts aside, swapping one thought for another! And I asked myself the question how often was I doing this in my daily life, here was but one example.

After seeing this I paused, I smiled at myself, I slowed down, I felt a softness towards myself as I would feel towards my child. I saw that self-love does not come from merely reciting affirmations, I saw that self-love comes from awareness, from acceptance of myself in that moment, from feeling compassion towards myself.

This was a beautiful awakening to the power of awareness and an understanding of self-love which continues to grow for me today.

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Awareness is not a permanent state

We are surrounded by spiritual traditions and pervasive marketing of products that promise salvation, enlightenment, happiness in a bottle, a quick and lasting fix to all our ills. And as a result we tend to look outside of ourselves to find the answers to the challenges we face; we tend to miss the beautiful moments of our life as we are looking elsewhere; we become attached to a particular experience or way of seeing and we become stuck, struggling to grow and let go of some of the heavy baggage we end up carrying around.

Is the practice of awareness a magic formula?

Is the practice of awareness a permanent state you reach where you will be happy for evermore?

For me the answer to this is no………and you may ask well WHY would you bother practicing it?

When we practice awareness it can be enticing to feel satisfied with a big AHA moment or a profound insight that you have had. It has been my experience that if we become attached to the idea of awareness as a permanent state or we begin to worship an insight we had last week or last year then we are likely to revert back to our old habits of relating to a person or a situation based on our perceptions, based on our past experiences. And when we do revert back to habitual ways there is often a tendency to judge ourselves harshly, to feel like we have somehow failed to reach “destination awareness” and we may be tempted to say “this doesn’t work for me”. This is how I felt when I thought that awareness was a permanent state I would reach, rather than understanding that awareness is a process to practice and apply in daily life.

Awareness is to bring fresh eyes to each moment of our lives and in knowing ourselves we are better able to let go of some of the veils of perception, hurt and suffering that we tend to view life through. Awareness helps us to see the truth of who we are, the truth of our life as it is and therein lies the profound power and possibility of its practice. As we see the truth of ourselves we arrive at a place of choice and for me this is one of the answers to the question of why do I practice awareness.

To see that I have choice to continue my habitual responses and the impacts they create or that I can choose to nurture new habits, new ways of responding and relating is a very empowering place to arrive at.

In my next post I will explore more about the WHY…..why the practice and cultivation of awareness is beneficial, not only for ourselves but also for our world.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to take time to reflect on your concept and experience of awareness.

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