The notion of present moment awareness is often referred to on the Happy Cow website. It is also a subject which is often referred to by many spiritual masters and it is at the heart of the Zen tradition. But for some people the concept may be difficult to grasp and it may seem like it is a spiritual notion which is hard to relate to or which they just don't have time for.
The other day I was watching TV at a friend's house, when I saw a short film produced for the UK Government as part of its campaign to try to reduce the incidence of abuse in teenage relationships. This video is a simple and brilliant example of what awareness is.
Before reading on, please take 30 seconds to watch the video below.
In this video, there are two versions of the same young man. One outside looking in and another inside, part of the action. Outside the window is Awareness. Some other writers may prefer to refer to this as 'The Witness' or one's 'True Self'.
Inside, the young man has lost control and is acting out an egoic reaction pattern triggered by not getting a want satisfied. Ego has no concern for others, it is entirely self-serving, doing whatever it can to get what it wants and to maintain its puffed-up stature. One might say that his 'True Self' is not present at all. Some Eastern traditions refer to this ego-controlled state as being 'asleep', hence the term 'spiritual awakening'.
The caption at the end of the short film reads 'If you could see yourself, would you stop yourself?'
That short caption sums up very well what awareness is. I do not wish to write an article about abuse in relationships in particular, but that short question can be carried into all aspects of life. Very often we are creatures of habit, reacting to circumstances without any awareness at all. The weather is bad, we automatically feel down. We feel down, we automatically reach for the wine or the chocolate. We feel insulted by someone, we automatically lash out in return. Our partner talks to another (wo)man and we automatically become jealous and possessive. Someone tries to show us love and we automatically become suspicious and rejecting. I could go on.
Take into the whole of your life the question: 'If you could see yourself, would you stop yourself?'
This will bring more and more awareness and with awareness, change happens automatically. This is something very different from morality. Let us take the film as an example again. If someone comes along and tells a teenager that something is 'wrong', we might be able to guess what their reaction might be. But if this young man is able to develop awareness, he will be able to see how utterly stupid his behaviour is. Not 'wrong', but just stupid. He is hurting his girlfriend. He is hurting himself. He is destroing their relationship. He is destroying friendship and love for the sake of a few minutes pleasure and to defend his ego.
"Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness." James Thurber
Awareness very often shows us how habitual and how stupid our behaviour is. It allows us to see that a lot of the time we are just on auto-pilot, and once we see that, the habitual reaction patterns will tend to fall away naturally. We regain choice. We reclaim responsibility an regain response ability. This is not necessarily instant, but it is a natural change. It happens not through self-judgement and the effort of forced change. Forced change just creates a different habit. It happens not because some outside authority is telling us that we are bad and wrong. Change happens because we have remembered that we have a choice and are once again free to choose from infinite possibilities. When awareness remains, every moment is a new choice. Habits are no more.
Whenever you remember to, have a go at standing outside that window and looking in on yourself. Whenever you remember to, ask yourself that question.
This is what awareness is. Not something other-worldly and spiritual, but something very useful and practical for everyday life in this world.
"To be aware of a single shortcoming in oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in someone else."
Tenzin Gyatso (14th Dalai Lama)
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