What is awareness?
Adyashanti tells us that awareness is that part of us that perceives, observes and witnesses our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and body—the clothing awareness puts on—and we need to discover what is underneath. We need to realize that awareness lives at the innermost core of our being. When our awareness is in the present moment, we’re in touch with who we really are, with our very essence.
Being in the present is being one with each heartbeat, each in-breath, each out-breath, from moment to moment…We only have our next breath, our next heartbeat, or we would not exist.
“The past and future are only concepts, we only have the now…” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
What prevents us from being in the present moment?
Our reactive thinking prevents us from being in the present moment. From our earliest life encounters, our reactive thoughts create storylines about our experiences. We bring our cognitive and emotional development as a five-year-old to our experiences of parents, family, love, safety and fear.
In our storylines, we come to conclusions about ourselves and our world and make judgments about who we are, about whether or not our needs and feelings are OK or not. These storylines remain with us through adolescence and into adulthood. Throughout our life we add storylines and pile them one on top of the other. Our inner critic is an outgrowth of the conclusions we reach about who we are.
We are not our thoughts. We are not our storylines.
Our reactive thoughts create stress, fears and anxieties, our inner critic is a testimonial to this reactive-thinking, storyline-created life. Our reactive thinking creates suffering. Up to 85 percent of our life is spent in reactive thinking, either rehashing the past or rehearsing the future. We are incomplete, never good enough, always striving for completion.
Being in the present moment.
When our awareness is in the present, we are no longer scattered, we are at one with ourselves in the moment. We are at home with our essence. We are the witnessing, observing awareness of our thoughts and feelings, our doubts, our fears and suffering. Our thoughts reflect an insightfulness, creativity and wisdom far beyond anything that our reactive thinking can imagine. We move from a life of doing to a life of being who we are, being at one with ourselves in the present moment.
“Mindfulness meditation is an opportunity to reintroduce yourself to you… meditation is an act of loving yourself.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
Our need to pause
Bringing awareness into the present moment takes some getting used to. We need to periodically PAUSE and ask ourselves “what is going on inside of me, now?” We need to ask ourselves “What am I thinking, what am I emotionally feeling? How does my body feel, how is my body reacting?” This checking in should become a regular part of our daily life. The simple act of pausing, reflecting on and acknowledging what is going on within us will cause us to relax and release tension.
A time to sit and be with ourselves
Take some time each day to sit and get in touch with your breathing. Our breath serves as an anchor point for getting in touch with the present moment. When we do this, our reactive mind often goes wild, sometimes referred to as experiencing our “monkey mind.” We also experience feelings and physical sensations. We hear sounds and smell smells. Don’t fight it, acknowledge that this is happening without judgment. This frees us to return to the present moment. It really is that simple.
This is the meditation experience—a process of bringing our awareness into the present moment, without judgment and by being in touch with what is. Everything in life can be a meditative experience: Washing our hands, eating, walking, being intimate with our partner, taking a shower, washing dishes, ironing, driving, shopping.
We are awareness and a source of compassion
While we are the awareness that is able to witness our thoughts and reactions, we are also a source of compassion. Compassion is defined as a feeling of deep sympathy for another’s misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. According to Tara Brach:
“Our suffering becomes a gateway to the compassion that frees our heart. When we become the holder of our own sorrows, our old roles as judge, adversary or victim are no longer being fueled. In their place, we find not a new role, but a courageous openness and a capacity for genuine tenderness, not only for ourselves but others, as well. Our capacity for compassion is an antidote to our negative judgments and our suffering.”
Instead of bringing judgment to what we have been thinking and feeling, we have the capacity to bring compassion, to feel empathy for our suffering along with the wish to alleviate the suffering, to hold it as a mother would hold a distressed infant. We’re then able to move on and to begin to heal.
By being present with ourselves, we’re less reactive in our relationship with others. Peace in the outer world begins with achieving peace within ourselves.
How to practice mindful living
- Begin by being mindful in each daily activity. When eating, pay attention to what you select to eat, the colours of the food. Smell the food, notice the texture as you place it in your mouth, savour the various tastes as you chew the food. If we eat meals in this way we naturally eat less, lose weight and become totally satisfied with what we have eaten. Do the same when washing your hands, taking a shower, walking, driving a vehicle.
- Bring awareness into the present moment, without judgment, by PAUSING throughout the day.
- Develop a formal sitting practice beginning with a five-minute session and increase it to 10, 15, 30 and even 45 minutes. Do this at least once a day.
- Introduce yourself to various writers in the field. Below is a partial list of those who have profoundly influenced my practice of mindfulness.
Hospitals have incorporated the practice of mindfulness with staff and patients as a way of improving patient care. Corporations such as Google have incorporated mindfulness to promote a healthy and productive community environment. Schools have incorporated the practice of mindfulness to create an effective and healthy learning environment for all.
Eckhart Tolle: The Power of Now; Stillness Speaks
Jon Kabat-Zinn: Wherever You Go, There You Are; Arriving At Your Own Door, 108 Lessons in Mindfulness; Full Catastrophe Living
Bob Stahl: A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook
Bob Stahl and Steve Flowers: Living with Your Heart Wide Open
Adyashanti: True Meditation; The Way of Liberation
Saki Santorelli: Heal Thy Self
Jack Kornfield: A Path with Heart; The Wise Heart
Tara Brach: Radical Acceptance; True Refuge
Shauna Shapiro: The Art and Science of Mindfulness
Thich Nhat Hanh: The Miracle of Mindfulness; No Death, No Fear
Rick Hanson: Hardwiring Happiness; Buddha’s Brain