Mindfulness has been described as having two wings – the wing of awareness and the wing of compassion. In fact, many of the mindfulness teachings emphasise the need to cultivate both awareness and compassion in balanced tandem. In a recent group discussion, we revisited the idea of awareness and the part it plays in mindfulness…

Awareness can be a fairly intangible and illusive concept and it is quite easy to get a little intimidated by the mysticism that sometimes surrounds it. But there are a few teachers like Tara Brach and Eckhart Tolle who unpack and translate it quite nicely. According to them; mindful awareness is a non-evaluating observation of whatever is arising in a given moment. This means that we recognise, allow and appreciate what is happening right now.  We tune-in to our sensory experience and become aware of our surroundings, our body, our feelings and our thoughts. In this way, it is sensory and embodied and not cognitive or, indeed, conceptual at all.

It sounds extremely simple – just use your senses to observe yourself and your surroundings in the moment – so why is it so hard? Our whole existence to date has been influenced and shaped by a cultural and educational emphasis on the cognitive. We have been taught to think; to process our world and our experiences cognitively and this is a necessary skill and function, but it is not the whole story. What we also need to factor in is awareness and for many of us; we were not taught how to be aware. We were not encouraged to tune-in to our senses and our feelings, in fact, in many instances we were taught to ignore and overide those feelings and senses, so now we need to teach ourselves how to be aware from scratch.

What does that mean and what does it have to with how we live? Whenever we process our experiences; those experiences are being shaped and coloured by our beliefs, our assumptions, our emotions, our expectations, our prior knowledge and our state of wellbeing in that moment. As we start to tune-in to our awareness, we can start to notice those influencers and in so doing we start to see that they are quite often narrowed and even, untrue or mistaken. In other words; we start to see that we are often reacting to or responding to situations with limited or, even, inaccurate information. By cultivating more awareness, we can begin to live our lives more attuned to the reality of the moment; a more real and authentic way of being.

So how does one cultivate more awareness? In our mindful practices, we purposefully bring more awareness to the senses and the sensations in our body. We cultivate an openness to what is happening right here and now. We foster an attitude of kind curiosity and we actively practice looking at situations, sensations and scenarios that arise from an ever-widening perspective, thus expanding our awareness. Some theorists have claimed that this expansion of awareness is, in itself, curative and that may sound somewhat radical, but there is more than enough evidence that is being published across the globe by psycho-social and spiritual researchers as well as neuroscientists to indicate that increasing our awareness brings with it:

  1. A greater sense of agency or self-empowerment. When we turn off the auto-pilot and engage in our life with awareness; we have more control or power to manage ourselves and the scenarios that arise.
  2. A greater connection to our creativity. When we are more aware, we can see more options and more solutions and we can identify, access and make better use of our resources.
  3. A greater sense of meaning in our lives; mindful awareness allows us the space to reconnect with the sense of meaning in our difficult moments – Victor Frankl has purported that this sense of meaning is a key to resilience and wellbeing.
  4. An increase in compassion, which has also been shown to improve our wellbeing.

 These and many other benefits are certainly a draw, but cultivating awareness is about more than finding some kind of panacea. Mindful Awareness is a deep exploration of self, a long and difficult and extraordinary journey of self- discovery. An exploration of that which is beyond the ever-enticing illusion of our thought narrative.

If you would like more information about cultivating awareness or if you would like to book a coaching session please feel free to get in touch.

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