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What Is Awareness?

How developing your awareness can change your perspective

As often as we might get sucked into thinking otherwise, it's well worth remembering that we are not what we do, what we say, what we think, or even what we feel. Whilst these things may define our experience of life, they do not define who we are. To train the mind is to witness this for ourselves. To witness this for ourselves, is to find peace of mind.

Now reading that, you may have experienced one of many different reactions. The first is one of relief, one of ‘Thank goodness for that, I knew there must be more to life than this”. The second is one of fear, one of “Well, if I’m not any of those things, then what, or who, the heck am I?” The third is one of wonder, one of “Wow, could that really be true?” and the fourth is one of scepticism, one of “This guy hasn’t got a clue what he’s talking about.” Needless to say, given that we are not what we think, it really doesn’t matter which it was!

At this stage it would be easy to get lost in all kinds of philosophical arguments about how we define who or what we are. But that isn’t what this is about. Mindfulness is about finding some space in the mind, less judgement, a greater sense of perspective, in which we see this fundamental truth for ourselves in a very direct and personal way.

It is about recognizing that just because a thought appears in the mind, we are not that thought, and just because we might feel a certain way at a particular time, we are not that feeling. It is the difference between being in a storm and witnessing a storm. It is the difference between being outside in that storm, swept away by the wind and the rain, and sitting inside, cozy and warm by the fire, as you watch the storm pass by.

What does this look like on a practical level? Well, think how many times you’ve experienced a thought but not taken it seriously. Maybe it was when you were out driving, wanting to get someone back after they’ve just cut you up. But you see how crazy the thought is, how much you value your car, not to mention your life, and decide to let it go. Maybe it was as a parent, having not slept for days, wanting to put the baby inside a soundproof tent, tucked away somewhere nice and safe, preferably outside, in the garden. But you see how ridiculous the thought is and, once again, you let it go. Or maybe it was when your boss had just humiliated you in front of all of your colleagues and you imagined pushing him or her off the roof, of a very, very tall building. But you thought about it some more and eventually realised that the thought was not worth taking seriously.

So we already have this filter, we already have the ability to recognize that a thought is just a thought, that we do not have to take it seriously, to buy into it or indulge it. Just because something pops into the mind, does not make it something real, something which we need to act upon or believe in. It is not who we are. Just because something pops into the mind does not mean that it is reflective of the type of person we are either, that it makes us a good person or a bad person. Imagine the pressure of judging every thought which appears in the mind, of feeling some sense of responsibility or ownership over every single thought and feeling that arises. Sure, we have responsibility as to whether we choose to engage the thought and take it to the level of speech or action, but a thought is just a thought. It is like a rainbow in the sky...bright, colourful, amazing, inspiring, full of potential and yet, ultimately, there is nothing tangible there at all.

When we take our thoughts too seriously, life becomes heavy. When we identify with our emotions too strongly, we begin to get lost in them. When we assume our words define us, we start thinking too much. And when we are unable to find any sense of forgiveness with the things we fail to get right in life, then we begin to feel bitter.

The mind is bigger than this. Life is bigger than this. There is something beyond thought, beyond feeling, beyond speech and beyond action. It is a place of awareness. We can call it by any name we like. We might attach it to a particular way of thinking, a philosophy, a faith, or have no name for it whatsoever. It really doesn’t matter. Either way, it doesn’t change this quality of awareness, this place of perspective, from which we can see a thought for what it is and let it go with ease.

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