Meditation is an exercise in paying attention.
Attention to your thoughts, to your emotions and to anything else that goes on in your head and in your body. Pay attention to these seemingly unimportant little things, and you will gain something amazingly valuable.
Something that will change your life…
You may not know it – because this happens gradually, sneakily even. But you’ve been giving away your power for years. By living and responding based on old habits and social programming.
Awareness gives you back the power that is rightfully yours.
Only when you’re aware, you can make conscious decisions. Only then, you’re the one at the wheel. Only then, you exercise your free will: a divine gift from your Creator. The power to create your own life, your own reality.
But what exactly is this awareness thing?
American news anchor Dan Harris (of all people) said it best:
“The ability to see what’s going on in your head at any given moment without reacting to it blindly […] is a superpower.”
(here’s the source of that quote)
Awareness – you could call it mindfulness as well – means you become your own observer. Instead of being a mindless victim of your habits, urges and reflexes, you see and hear your thoughts and feelings for what they are: a product of your mind. You see what they’re doing to you. What they’re trying to make you do – or not do.
You then have the conscious choice to go along with them, or to make another decision. One that you feel might create a better result for you.
Do you sense what a tremendous superpower awareness can be? We’ll talk more about this in other posts, but for now let’s move on to more practical matters, shall we?
How to train your awareness muscles
I know. Awareness comes relatively easy when you’re in a relaxed, meditative mood. But how about the rest of your busy, hectic day?
Being aware when it matters most, that takes practice. And lots of it. That’s the bad news I’m afraid.
The good news though is that you don’t need superhuman willpower or a heroic amount of effort. Awareness is best and most easily developed through small steps.
Want some good first steps?
- Pay attention to your breath. Just close your eyes and check what it feels like when you breathe. Can you feel the air rush in and out of your nose? How about the movement of your lungs? Are you breathing high up in your chest, or can you make your belly move gently as you breathe? See the next instalment in this A to Z of Meditation for more goodness about breathing.
How is paying attention to your breath going to grow your awareness? Breathing is something you do automatically, without thinking about it. All of its sensations slip under your mental radar. Unless you have a cold of course.
A lot of your thoughts and emotions go unnoticed in much the same way. By learning to pay attention to the subtleties of your breath, you’ll have taught yourself the skill needed to take the next step: quietly observing your mind and its workings.
- Find your triggers. Next time you find yourself failing at being aware and making conscious decisions, don’t be too hard on yourself. Do some backtracking afterwards. See if you can trace what caused you to deviate from your awareness state. Which specific detail triggered it?
Being aware of your triggers is a major step towards reclaiming your power. The next step is to spot them as soon as they rear their ugly heads.
- Seed your life with reminders. After you’ve traced some of your triggers, you need to build an early warning system. Try to spread visible clues in your home, your workplace, your wallet, your bag, or even on the screen of your smartphone. It could be a small note, or some silly little object that only you know the secret meaning of. Anything to instantly remind you when temptation is lurking around the corner.
Give birth to your awareness
Becoming aware and mindful is a learning process. Know what that means? It’s okay to make mistakes! In fact, making mistakes might even allow you to find your personal triggers faster than if you were to rack your brain for them.
So give yourself some love as you go along. The person you are today is a little bit more aware than who you were yesterday. One day you will look back and discover that you have renewed yourself completely.
Image credit: William Warby
PS: If you want to read a refreshingly different and non-traditional account of someone’s personal experiences with meditation, try Dan Harris’ book: 10% Happier.
→ Next in the A to Z of Meditation: B is for Breathing