“Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment.
This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light,
every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee),
every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression,
every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath.
Every moment is the guru.
–Charlotte Joko Beck
My experience of awareness; I take Dog Goddess Brigit on a walk by the river. We walk the same path almost every morning. On many occasions, I have returned from our walk and realized that I didn’t really notice my surroundings at all that day. I have been completely lost in my thoughts, unaware of what was right in front of me. I have been wrapped up in planning my future or ruminating on my past and the river slipped by unnoticed by me.
But some days are different; some days I actually focus on the path and my steps and the sounds on the wind. I notice the feel of the leash in my hand, the smell of some bush or tree nearby. And those moments when I am actually present and aware are so potent! On my aware days, I notice many new things that I never noticed before – even though it is the exact same path Brigit and I walked yesterday. An aware walk is magical.
It is as though I am more alive in aware moments. Awareness amps up my sensations and makes everything richer and fuller. For me, even awareness about something heavy and hard like sorrow or pain beats feeling half alive. I’ve learned that numbing out and avoiding yucky emotions and sensations comes at a price – if I numb out, I will also lose the yummy sensations and emotions that make my life sing.
Meditation teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes awareness as being mindful, being present with whatever is in this moment. He calls it the art of “falling awake”. Ram Das tells us to Be Here Now. Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of dwelling in the present moment. Not just living… dwelling in the moment. Seems like a very simple idea. And I find it very difficult to pull off most days!
Modern life seems to be about distraction rather than awareness; we distract ourselves by turning on TV shows we only half watch. We woof down food we don’t really even taste. We walk around dreaming of tomorrow or lamenting yesterday. We surf on the internet, popping from screen to screen without really taking any of it in. We pride ourselves on being able to do 3 things at once, even when we can’t actually remember much about doing any of them! Is that living?
I suspect that Dog Goddess Brigit is at least 100 times more aware than I am on any given day. My big, “superior” human brain gives me the ability to analyze and plan far beyond anything a dog can plan. And those same human abilities complicate the simple act of staying present and aware in this moment. My strength is also my weakness. Can I stop planning and analyzing long enough to notice what is here, right in front of me? Analysis is as useless as a dog chasing her own tail when it comes to being aware.
I wonder how much I miss when I am walking through my day half aware of what’s around me here and now? What would it take for me to double or triple how many moments of the day that I am actually present? What if I stop analyzing EVERYTHING and put my big, silly human brain to work sensing and perceiving what is here in front of me? What is the value of analyzing what happened yesterday if I miss today? How much richer can my day to day reality become if I make awareness my priority?
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These adjectives mean mindful or heedful: Aware implies knowledge gained through one’s own perceptions or by means of information: Are you aware of your opponent’s hostility? I am aware that the legislation passed.
Cognizant is a formal equivalent of aware: “Our research indicates that the nation’s youth are cognizant of the law” (Jerry D. Jennings).
Conscious emphasizes the recognition of something sensed or felt: “an importance . . . of which even Americans are barely conscious” (William Stanley Jevons).
Sensible implies knowledge gained through intuition or intellectual perception: “I am sensible that the mention of such a circumstance may appear trifling” (Henry Hallam).
To be awake is to have full consciousness of something: “as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself” (Jane Austen).
Alert stresses quickness to recognize and respond: I remained alert to career opportunities.
Watchful and vigilant imply looking out for what is dangerous or potentially so: The watchful parents protected their toddler. The ranger kept a vigilant eye out for forest fires.