Mindfulness Primer: Awareness
So the question is: How do I “accept what is” AND “drive change”? Answer: Mindfulness. This series of posts is designed to introduce the key concepts to this paradoxical approach to empowerment. Today’s topic: Awareness.
Throughout our lives, we have exhausted much time, energy, and resources driving change in our lives. Even if our efforts towards positive change are successful, our experience of fulfillment from that “win” is rarely enduring. Instead, something else typically stands revealed as an area for improvement.
From this platform of unrest, the idea of accepting a “less than ideal” situation seems, well, unacceptable. After all, if we don’t take steps to change what we are unhappy about, how will we ever be happy? One glaring fault in this logic is that life is in a constant state of change without us ever doing anything. Another is that the same situation that was once viewed as a source of happiness can be the very same situation that later on is viewed as a source of frustration.
Yet despite these points of fact, the idea of accepting an uncomfortable situation challenges us at a primal level. If we fail to negotiate that automatic response, we are bound to spend our lives chasing, and never finding, enduring fulfillment. That’s where mindfulness comes in.
At the core of mindfulness is presence awareness, so it only makes sense to start there. One point that rarely gets mentioned in discussions of presence is that presence is always the case: it is only our awareness of presence that shifts. In this way, presence is our natural state of being, and maintaining a point of awareness on presence is the skill we must cultivate on our journey to mindfulness.
How do we do that? The most immediate path I have found is rooted in the mundane activities of everyday life. The innocuous activities that fill our day such as cleaning, dishes, laundry, washing your hands, walking up a flight of stairs, or any other sort of highly automatic activity, are ripe with the opportunity to flex and strengthen presence awareness simply because they do not conceal any “hidden agenda”. In this way, we can more easily let down our guard and open to learning what these activities have to teach us about fulfillment.
In other words, even if we do not like doing the dishes, we can recognize that the activity itelf is neutral and that our dislike of the activity has nothing to do with the activity itself but is entirely derived from our own preconceived biases. This recognition allows us the opportunity to set our biases aside for a time and fully accept that there is an activity of doing the dishes.
Ready to give it a shot? While engaging in the mundane activities of your everyday life, maintain a point of awareness a half-step “back” from the activity. A more tangible way of achieving that is by maintaining a point of awareness on your breath while you are doing whatever mundane task is in front of you to do.
Next, slow the activity down, and watch each small movement you make in performing that activity while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Don’t be surprised if a smile paints itself upon your face. Another time, try mentally “stepping backwards” through the entire chain of events that had to take place in order for you to be there doing the activity, all while maintaining a point of awareness on your breath. Notice the miracle of it all, as well as the absurdity.
Eventually you may arrive at a point where it seems that you are merely an observer watching the activity “do” itself. It is a humbling and empowering state of awareness.
Engaging in our lives in this way is hardly practical, but it’s not something that we need to do all the time. Much like exercising, presence awareness is like a muscle we can strengthen over time. Initially it helps us learn by practicing it in dedicated blocks of time, but as we get more adept at the art of awareness, we can more expertly integrate it in micro doses throughout our day (more on that in a couple of days).
Tomorrow, we will look at the aspect of “accepting what is” on our journey to mindfulness.