If you care to observe the people around you – family, friends, co-workers, shopkeepers, people on the street, people on television, people in the market, and people in general – you would surely have noticed several times that most people are unaware of what they do, what they say or how they behave. That is to say only when you consciously pay attention to how people are going about doing their work. Otherwise, you also are one of them – going about your work, lost in thoughts. This is not to say that you are not doing important things but only to point out the quality of the awareness that goes with the activity.
The problem is common across people of different countries, races, ages and gender. No doubt, there are people who are more aware than the general population but for the majority, limited awareness (almost as if walking in sleep) is the rule.
Consider a spectrum of awareness beginning with the whole universe, only a part of which is perceivable to the human senses. There is a vast portion of the universe which cannot be perceived by humans, even with high tech instruments. Of the perceivable world, people are aware only of a limited fragment which is based on our conditioning. Each person selectively experiences the world. And of that small portion of the world that people selectively experience, people limit their awareness to quick judgments, conclusions, opinions, likes and dislikes.
For most people, the real world is external, what is out there, outside of themselves. They believe that they, with their bodies, are living as a separate unit within the external world. At best, they have only a very vague awareness of what goes on inside their bodies and minds. There is a huge stream of thoughts, emotions, instincts and intuitions that are constantly flowing through the mind. And yet, because it is through these thoughts and emotions that humans make sense of the external world, these are almost totally hidden from normal awareness.
Only when the body screams out with tiredness or a headache or stomach ache that we have the opportunity to recognize there is something inside us which we are not aware. Only when there is anger or frustration that we have the opportunity to note that there is something inside us that we are not aware. We only are aware of the external manifestation of those elements when we have to face their consequences, which are usually painful.
All human suffering arises from a lack of awareness. As awareness increases, suffering reduces. This is the law of nature. Despite all the clues and pointers that one must look within, most people find ways to blame the external circumstances or other people for their troubles.
Left to itself, the nature of awareness is to shrink, to focus on only the most important elements. People are anyways conditioned by education and environment to focus on limited goals, limited choices, limited alternatives, and limited outcomes. So people learn very fast what is desirable and what is not, what must be done and what must be ignored. As people practice limiting their awareness, they become experts at it. Therefore, when problems arise, the prescription is to increase awareness – through relaxation, meditation, out of the box thinking, going off on vacation to seek new experiences. All of this temporarily increases awareness and people feel fresh but when they go back to normal life, they stop investing in awareness. They give credit to that nice beach, or the thrill of the speedboat or the soothing music used for relaxation but do not realize the importance of their own awareness in healing themselves.
Awareness is the goal and awareness is the means of achieving that goal.
One must consciously be aware and expand that awareness in order to experience life more fully. Right now, sitting where you are, you can notice how limited your awareness is – limited to the words on the screen of your computer and some sounds that reach your ears. Right now, you can consciously increase your awareness by being more aware.
- Become aware of your posture
- Become aware of the contact of your feet with the floor
- Become aware of your weight on the chair on which you are sitting
- Become aware of the variety of sounds around you
- Become aware of the things you can see from the corner of your eyes
Notice that as you become aware, small corrections happen automatically – maybe you shift your posture, become more centered in yourself, relax a little, notice the change in breathing… As you become more and more aware, your experience undergoes a qualitative change, maybe you can notice what mood you are in right now. When you are aware of something, you have the opportunity to act in full knowledge of what you are doing.
Awareness cannot be increased mechanically by taking a pill or an injection. It cannot be increased by doing exercises in meditation and yoga. All those have temporary effects. The only way to increase awareness is through a gentle conscious effort which begins with noting that one is not aware in the moment.
Awareness is its own reward. As awareness grows, one realizes that all activities in life, whether it is family or career are not ends in themselves but a stage or platform on which to develop our awareness. Awareness can make every moment in our life seem divine. What else can we desire for?