No Longer Trapped In Your Thoughts
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
Even though it was the Master’s Day of Silence, a traveller begged for a word of wisdom that would guide him through life’s journey.
The Master nodded affably, took a sheet of paper and wrote a single word on it: “Awareness.”
The visitor was perplexed. “That’s too brief. Would you please expand on it a bit?”
The Master took the paper back and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness.”
“But what do these words mean?” said the stranger helplessly.
The Master reached out for the paper and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness means AWARENESS.”
Anthony de Mello’s amusing tale highlights how something we take for granted, has a powerful affect in our lives.
The single biggest impediment to happiness and fulfilment results from an impaired awareness. Many people scurry about their daily lives absorbed in their thoughts, processing memories of pain and regret or expecting a future to arrive as they hope for.
They are not alive to the present moment but living in their thoughts. Suffering and pain ensues because they believe their thoughts to be true.
Author Jan Frazier states in The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is that we must redirect our attention away from external events to within: “If you want to lead a more peaceful life, the primary focus should shift from external events to the inner, as a general practice.”
Awareness is the experience of consciousness functioning in the backdrop of our lives. It asks nothing of you other than to engage it often.
People associate self-awareness to being awake which means not asleep at the wheel of life. When you are awake, you are no longer trapped in your thoughts but recognise they come and go from your mind like ocean tides.
“Paying attention to automatic thoughts is simply a habit we can change. When you shift into awareness-based knowing, automatic thinking moves into the background, and you experience true peace of mind,” states psychotherapist and author Loch Kelly in Shift into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness.
Programmed By Past Conditioning
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.”— Jon Kabat-Zinn
I’ve had the pleasure of coaching hundreds of people on mindfulness based awareness through simple habits. Most are corporate executives and CEOs who spend a lot of time processing thoughts to make effective decisions.
Yet, the process of thinking does not mean you know where your thoughts are leading you. Of those I work with, many of them notice the same theme throughout their minds. They feel as though their thoughts are thinking them instead of being in charge of their thoughts.
Can you relate to this?
This could be attributed to a lack of awareness of their thought process. It doesn’t mean one must be mindful of every thought, instead you notice the main themes of your thoughts throughout the day.
“Awake awareness can “know” something without referring overtly to thoughts, but it can also use thought when needed,” explains Loch Kelly.
For example, when I’m tired late in the evening or following strenuous exercise, I notice my thoughts are more scattered than usual. I am mindful not to make major decisions at those times since I am not functioning at my best.
Have you noticed how some people can push your buttons at times because they know you have a tendency to react?
Similarly, do you make impulsive decisions at certain times of the day when your willpower is depleted?
Research shows that willpower depletion correlates with a drop in blood glucose in the brain. We are more likely to make mistakes at those times, particularly as it relates to nutritional choices.
It was the Greek philosopher Socrates who said: “Know yourself.” He was referring to knowing oneself at a deeper level beyond your superficial likes and dislikes.
Knowing yourself means being mindful of the nature of your thoughts before they become emotional reactions. The science is clear, many of your choices originate in your subconscious mind. However, they must have first past through your conscious awareness, considered the gatekeeper of the mind.
The subtleties of everyday life such as the music you listen to, the people you associate with and what you read online, can leave a suggestible impression on your subconscious mind.
“The subconscious is a powerful part of who you are and its job is to keep you in the familiar even if it doesn’t work anymore. Your awakened choices are made with present-moment awareness. They are conscious choices,” affirms author Colette Baron Reid in Uncharted: The Journey Through Uncertainty to Infinite Possibility.
In a sense, your subconscious mind and your actions are the result of your biology, past conditioning and your environment.
Meaning Making Machines
“Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh
To cultivate mindfulness in everyday life, be aware of your surroundings. Keep your thoughts in the present moment instead of ruminating on the past or future.
An exercise I ask my coaching clients to do involves taking a walk in nature and notice what is taking place around them, without adding a narrative to it. This means not being distracted by their mobile phone device or other thoughts.
Constantly processing thoughts inhibits mindfulness, yet awareness notices everything and registers it in your consciousness.
Loch Kelly says: “One of the most important things to learn is how to separate awareness from thinking, and then we can see that thoughts and emotions are not the centre of who we are.”
I ask my clients to leave their mobile device at home and avoid creating a mental dialogue of what they see. I tell them to experience their surroundings through their senses instead of trying to add meaning to it.
For example, you might see other dog owners playing with their pets. Instead of creating a mental dialogue, simply experience it through your nervous system.
Your awareness recognises the gender of the individuals, their height, weight, facial expressions and a thousand other things, yet your mind interprets it to make sense of it. It is for this reason humans are meaning making machines.
Whilst it’s good to make sense of your surroundings, you can become stuck processing your experiences instead of experiencing what you see.
Rupert Spira writes in Being Aware of Being Aware: “Peace and happiness are not, as such, objective experiences that the mind has from time to time; they are the very nature of the mind itself. Happiness is our essential nature, apparently obscured or eclipsed much of the time by the clamour of objective experience but never completely extinguished by it.”
Allow Your True Essence To Emerge
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that—thoughts.”— Allan Lokos
Another exercise I ask my clients to do is one you can try yourself. It involves closing your eyes and picturing a yellow lemon.
What does the lemon look like?
Is it big or small?
Is it sitting on a table or floating in thin air?
Can you taste, smell or notice anything else about the lemon?
Simply observe what you see, yet avoid creating a mental dialogue of the scene.
People find this exercise easier as a glimpse into practicing mindfulness, because when your eyes are closed, you witness your thoughts without judging what you see. The more you practice these exercises, the more familiar you become exploring mindfulness in everyday life.