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Awareness Is Our Mental Canvas
So let's paint a richer, more fulfilling picture of our lives.
In Know Thyself, I wrote about the immense value of cultivating awareness in our daily lives. Every day, we must make a deliberate effort to be conscious of our awareness, attuning ourselves to the situations we encounter, the events we participate in, and the people who share our lives. This conscious effort enriches the fabric of our existence. In essence, seeing clearly.
The Joy of Seeing Clearly
One of the great joys of life is the ability to see things as they truly are, unclouded by fear or desire. This clarity emanates from a deep, cultivated awareness of our environment, relationships, and selves. And why is this so crucial?
Clarity: Heightened awareness offers a lens of clarity through which we can perceive our surroundings, relationships, and even our internal thoughts. This acute observation enables us to perceive reality as it is, devoid of distortions created by personal biases.
Non-Judgmental Observation: Awareness serves as our "silent and non-judgmental observer." It doesn’t colour our perceptions with preconceived notions or emotional biases, affording us a purer and more authentic experience of the moment.
Living in the Present: Being fully present or mindful is an outcome of cultivated awareness. It enables us to live in the now, unburdened by anxieties about the future or regrets from the past.
Reduced Anxiety and Stress: With heightened awareness, hypothetical scenarios and unrealistic expectations lose their power. This can significantly lower our stress and anxiety levels, aligning us more closely with the reality of our situation.
Enhanced Relationships: In social contexts, our sharpened awareness helps us see people for who they truly are rather than through the lens of our judgements or expectations. This often leads to more rewarding interactions.
Inner Peace: Being aware fosters a sense of inner tranquillity derived from understanding the world in its raw form, devoid of personal narratives or emotional reactions.
Depth of Experience: The quality of our experiences is enhanced when we appreciate their complexity and subtlety. This nuance adds depth to our lived experience, making even the everyday extraordinary when viewed with a clear and aware mind.
Being fully aware is joyful, powerful, and supports us in living and working creatively and to our full potential. But, even after thinking about all of this, I still needed clarity on what awareness is exactly. And how is it different from but related to thoughts, sensations, emotions, and experiences?
I looked around for some quotes.
“The art of awareness is the art of living the ordinary life in an extraordinary way.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle
Powerful stuff, but it didn't tell me what awareness is. Wikipedia didn't really do it for me either.
“In philosophy and psychology, awareness is a concept about knowing, perceiving, and being cognisant of events.”
So, after much thinking and head-scratching, here is my way of understanding awareness as well as, while we're defining things in order to understand them better: thoughts, sensations, and experiences.
Awareness is like the backdrop of your mental stage; it's the part of us that notices everything else. Think of it as the silent and non-judgmental observer that lets us perceive our environment, our thoughts, and our body's sensations. It’s what makes us say, “I notice that I'm feeling anxious,” rather than just being swept away by the anxiety.
Thoughts are the narratives and dialogue running through our minds. They can be as mundane as "I need to buy milk" or as complex as pondering the meaning of life. While these thoughts often guide our actions and feelings, it's important to remember that we are not our thoughts—they're something we experience. Just because a thought enters our mind doesn't mean it's an absolute truth or something we have to act on.
Sensations are the raw data our body sends us; they're our initial, unfiltered experience of the world. This could be the touch of a warm breeze, the sound of a car horn, or the ache in our back. Sensations are immediate and don't come with a built-in narrative; they're simply information for us to notice.
Experiences can be considered a composite of awareness, thoughts, and sensations. They are the multifaceted events or moments that encompass what we perceive (awareness), what we think (thoughts), and what we feel (sensations). Experiences are the phenomena that arise when these three elements interact, giving context and texture to our lived reality.
For instance, if you're walking in a forest,
Your awareness would take note of the environment—the trees, the sounds, and the quality of the air.
Your thoughts might range from contemplating the beauty of nature to wondering how old the forest is.
Your sensations could include the feel of the ground underfoot, the smell of the foliage, and the sounds of wildlife.
All these components combine to form a singular experience of "walking in a forest," which could evoke emotions, inspire actions, or prompt further thoughts.
Let's also consider that high-stakes moment at work—you are giving a presentation.
Awareness: The climate in the room, the arrangement of the chairs, the brightness of the projector, and the faces of your colleagues set the stage for what unfolds.
Thoughts: Thoughts about key points, reception, and potential memory lapses flood your mind, shaping a narrative that could either boost your confidence or escalate your anxiety.
Sensations: Feelings like mouth dryness or a quickening heartbeat offer a direct line to your physiological state.
Experience: All these elements combine to form the experience of "giving a presentation," which could evoke emotions, inspire actions, or prompt further thoughts based on your interpretation.
Awareness is Our Mental Canvas
So, this was the “Aha!” moment for me: awareness is like the canvas for the artwork of my life. It's what makes everything else noticeable. On this canvas, my thoughts are the sketches, and my sensations are the colours. Just like an artist, I have the control to shape this canvas the way I want, focusing on what matters most to me. And so do you.
To sum it up, being more aware doesn't just make our lives better—it gives us the power to choose what fills our canvas. We can decide what thoughts, feelings, or experiences to highlight or leave out, creating a richer, more complete picture of our lives.