In order for to begin something new, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or a phase of life, you will be confronted with the task of adapting to a new set of circumstances. New beginnings are excellent opportunities to recognize and let go of unhelpful patterns that cause suffering. When you venture down a new road, your mind is momentarily like a clean slate; it’s the perfect opportunity to make lasting changes for the good. In order for this to happen, mindfulness and awareness are necessary.
What does it mean to develop mindfulness and awareness?
Mindfulness is continuously coming back to the present moment; it is conscious involvement in whatever you are doing. Awareness is recognizing the context in which mindfulness takes place; it is observing the process of being mindful. Eventually it is seeing into the nature of the mind. Why is this important and how can it help you to be happier?
Mind has a tendency to get distracted, especially when you are uncomfortable. If you have ever tried to follow the breath in meditation, you have probably noticed that the mind wanders. Distraction can prevent you from attending to the task at hand. When your distracted mind is left unchecked for prolonged periods, you may end up ignoring entire aspects of your life. When you tame the mind to stay present with your experience, even when your present experience is less than optimal, you suddenly see things in a new light. Learning to stay fully present when you’d rather fight or flee is the key to inner peace.
Yoga and meditation practice— with mindful breathing– are wonderful tools to tame the mind. You can train yourself to be present with your experience of simply being in the body.
Observing your present experience is surprisingly challenging. You may be so accustomed to a certain outcome, that you may miss things that do not fit with your expectations. But the more you practice, the more subtle detail you will observe. It can be excruciatingly slow and tedious work at times. The mind is elusive. Tame it once, and it is easier to tame again, but it is never a done deal. Mindfulness, or calm abiding, requires a gentle touch, and dedication is essential. You develop mindfulness, the discipline of staying on task with full presence, through regular practice.
The benefit of taming the mind is that you learn to rely on your own experience. You learn to recognize how your mind works and how to avoid falling into painful patterns. But while mindfulness may provide temporary relief of the symptoms of ignorance, it won’t alleviate emotional suffering over the long term. For that you need awareness, which arises through expanding your view.
The dawning of awareness arises when you are able to sustain mindfulness of the present moment.
Awareness is something that happens naturally when you are fully present, engaged and relaxed. Say you are in conversation with your beloved, and he or she is telling you all the reasons you are so wonderful. Chances are you are so riveted by these words that you are not in the slightest way distracted by the child screaming in the restaurant, or the clatter of plates as the waiters rush about, or by the sound of traffic outside. Mindfulness is what keeps your ears tuned in to the words; awareness is recognizing what is happening in the present situation. Essentially, there is no effort involved in awareness. The effort is to stay focused and relaxed—to keep coming back to mindfulness. Awareness is simply recognition of that fact, which allows insight to arise.
Awareness is observing, without agenda. If something is lovely or horrible, awareness stays present. Mindfulness practice sets the parameters—creating a container in which awareness germinates. Awareness is also the recognition of the interconnected nature of every aspect of your experience. You start to see how relaxing the body and deepening the breath affects your state of mind. Eventually you may start to see how every thought, word and action sends out waves that affect the subtle details of your environment.
Do not underestimate the power of awareness. When you start to discover the bliss of settling the breath into the body, and the awareness into the breath, it is such a joy to experience that distraction becomes less interesting. So eventually awareness is not about disciplining ourselves to stay undistracted, as much as it is about settling so completely in the experience of the present moment that everything else becomes less interesting.
Applying mindfulness and awareness to your daily life will enable you to weather storms with greater ease and bring about a deeper feeling of connection.
The only way to interrupt bad habits is to first become aware of them. In practicing mindfulness and awareness, you learn about your own individual tendencies, which are different from everyone else’s. Once you are able to see your patterns, you can apply antidotes necessary to bring yourself back into balance. If I have a tendency to shut down when provoked, I can learn to stay present and engaged. If I easily fly into emotional upheaval, I can learn to slow down my reactivity by applying mindfulness. If I have a tendency to be lazy, I can learn to create structures that motivate me.
It can be hugely empowering to learn to master habitual patterns that have caused suffering in your life. The antidotes are not the medicine; they are journey you take to awareness. Awareness is the great medicine. Without your imbalances, there would be no journey to take—no need to seek medicine. So we should also bow to our weaknesses, in gratitude.
The way to develop this ability to master our thoughts is to maintain a consistent habit of observing the mind. Through mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation, you put yourself under the microscope, and then use the data for further inquiry. Becoming aware of your own particulars allows you the freedom to choose consciously to engage in behaviours and patterns, rather than being dragged along by a lifetime’s worth of momentum. Change is the only thing we can depend on; endings naturally arise with beginnings. When full awareness finally awakens, you can remain undisturbed and joyful no matter what the next moment brings. Then you have the opportunity to create new beginnings in harmony with the whole.