A Deep Awareness of The Self
I have spent countless hours with books and teachers discussing all manner of deep concepts. I have dedicated large parts of my life to my own practice and thoughts. All the while I have felt there is a real need for a much more accessible bridge between the far out and the common mind set. For those interested in creating for themselves a good life, read on.
The Best Path to Understanding is to Do
Whether you are sitting, standing or lying down right now, adjust yourself so you can stay comfortably still for the next few moments. Think about your feet for a moment. What are they touching? Can you feel the ground beneath them? Can you feel the air moving around them or any materials covering them? Are they warm or cold? Without moving, continue this process of bringing attention to the rest of your body. Moving slowly, bring your attention to your ankles. Feel the bones connect inside your joints. Proceed up the legs feeling any sensations on your skin and in your muscles. Simply witness them without reacting. Moving through the hips and the pelvis to the stomach and the lower back. Feel any sensations in the organs as you continue up the chest to the shoulders and down across the elbows to the wrists. Remember not to move as you scan each finger and the spaces between them. Now try this with your eyes closed, picturing each part of your body as you go. Take your time as you do.
This may not come easily at first. Your mind will quickly try to fill the quiet with noise. This is completely natural and all it takes to move past this is a little bit of practice. Try the following method and see if that helps. Sit with your eyes closed while you count all the different sounds around you. See how far away you can hear. From the sounds, paint a visual picture of the world around you. Give this a go now if you like. Again take your time as you do.
You are now aware of the present moment.
Okay Now What?
These techniques bring your body and your mind into the present moment. They are a great way to calm down a racing mind and are still a feature of my own regular practice. However they are only just a start. The first level of awareness in a way. At this stage you have begun to learn to control your mind or your ‘mental body’ as opposed to it controlling you. If you have any experience with yoga or meditation this may be familiar to you already.
If someone asks you where you live, I imagine you’ll be able to give some sort of answer relatively quickly. If someone asks you when you live, you would surely answer with now. How true is this? Of course it’s completely true as there is only the present moment. The future is just a story our mind paints for us. The past is our mind reliving our memories. It seems far to often though, that we focus all our energy on either of these. We constantly worry about mistakes we’ve made, hoping that replaying the experiences will change things. We plan ahead, often out of fear, in search for a better life. This habit is not on it’s own bad but it quickly becomes detrimental when we lose touch completely with the present moment. We have no control over what has, and what could happen. We do however have control over right now. Bringing your awareness to the present moment allows you to consciously control your next move. Continue consciously controlling each move and you will find you can achieve anything you want in life. This is relatively easy when the setting is calm but can be a bit more of a challenge when emotions take control.
Working with Emotions
I find anger a very simple emotional reaction to start work with. It is so quick to snap us out of awareness but it is not usually a very complex feeling. Working with anger is a great way to practice awareness in your daily life.
Consider you have just walked into a coffee table with your smallest toe. Quickly your being is overtaken with pain surging up the side of your foot. Thoughts come rushing in. How stupid could someone be to place a table right here? You are now feeling the familiar sensation of anger. Uncontrolled it can consume you, even just for a moment. It becomes your reality. The reality actually is that you are fine. Even if you have gone as far as breaking your toe, eventually it will heal. Next time you feel anger like this, try bringing the earlier practice into effect. Take a pause. Focus on your breath. Pay attention to what’s going on around you and watch how the anger subsides. Again this will take practice. Over time, like anything else, you can learn to control your emotions and make better decisions. Bringing awareness to the present moment and separating yourself from your reactions allows you to take better, more rational steps forward.
The same theory applies to any state you find yourself in. Sadness, anxiety, frustration, grief. Using the above practices to bring your attention to now can greatly reduce the fog clouding your judgement. Even extremes of pleasure can take hold of you and it’s just as important to be able to settle yourself down from these. By this point things should be starting to make sense. This is usually where common practices stop. Most yoga/meditation teachers, books and even apps can easily get you here. The rest of this article goes a little deeper.
Now We Dive Deep
For you to be able to control your mind (and visa versa) there must be a ‘you’ that is separate from your mind. We usually think of ourselves as our mind. Our mind has thoughts and we identify these as our thoughts. This is basic knowledge until you realise that ‘you’ can control your mind and the thoughts that follow. This happens in a similar way to how you can control your legs to walk.
So Who Am I?
Think back over the past years of your life. Over time your life has changed a lot. You will have fallen sick and regained health. You will have suffered various injuries to your body. You may have enjoyed certain music and movies which now make you cringe, the same probably goes for your taste in clothes. I remember thinking purple jeans were the coolest things out and that the bigger and brighter my earrings were, well obviously the better. Our aspirations and values have changed Our emotional state may have both controlled our world and set us free throughout the stages of our lives. I was once in a relationship that I grew to resent. During which I spent along time as an angry individual who couldn’t take responsibility for anything.
I’m sure, just like me, you no longer identify with a lot your old traits and situations. Somehow though throughout all of these changes, from the day you were born and every second from now, you are still ‘you’. There is a part of you that still exists when you strip away all the exterior factors. You are you when you are sad and you are you when you are happy. You are you when there is far to much noise in your world and you are you when it’s dead silent.
Now this ‘you’ has been called many things, ‘your soul’ and ‘your being’ may sound familiar. And what we perceive as ourselves is merely the manifestation of this. I’ll explain this in separate parts as follows.
The Physical Body
Our physical body is the vessel we use to manoeuvre around this planet. Our eyes see and and our ears hear. Our heart pumps blood filled with oxygen and nutrients around our system. Our fingers feel the world in front of us. Every sensory organ and nerve ending works together to navigate us through this crazy life. All of this happens with very little conscious effort. It’s easy to forget we once had to learn how to walk and talk. Much like learning to drive a car we learned to control most of physical body.
The Emotional Body
The Emotional body is both innocent and strong. It reacts to the world with varying extremes. Anger and frustration towards harmful threats. Love and care to those more deserving. We rarely think to control this body. We identify it’s reactions as a part of who we are.
The Mental Body
Our mind is the computer that receives all this data and controls our functions. Our mind stores our memories. Our mind helps us communicate through language. Our mind helps us to rationalise the chaos of the world. This mental body is tied closely to our conscious but it can also react on its own. What we see on our screens is conscious. What we don’t see in the circuitry behind is subconscious. There is a lot going on in this body but there are easy methods to begin working with it all.
Your Ego is stubborn. It’s the identity we form with all the information from these different bodies. When you start working on changing yourself the ego resists you. It believes you are angry. It is convinced you can’t sit still. And it is certain that all your thoughts are rational.
You’ll get a similar reaction if you try telling a stranger on the street that their blue jumper is red. Met with fear for your sanity, your ego digs it’s feet into the ground. Rather than checking if you are right, it begins to argue its point arrogantly. Perhaps the blue jumper is red, perhaps you can find joy in difficult situations.
How Does This Help Me?
Identifying your different bodies and your ego is the key to finding yourself. The ‘you’ discussed earlier has so much undiscovered potential. Becoming aware of your ego is synonymous with finding your true self. It is simply much easier to work with what we already know. Once you know how to become deeply aware of your being, you’ll be able to handle all of life’s misfortunes with peace and compassion.
My practices for this work have evolved mostly through yogic techniques. However, you do not need to be a yogi to understand and achieve any of this. Simply a desire for something more and a readiness to do the work required.
Method for Deep Awareness of The Self
Do this practice when you have a lot of time free so you can fully surrender with nowhere to be. You can practice this technique in many basic positions and once learned it is easily incorporated into other yoga and meditation practices. Further on it can be practiced throughout the entire day, at any encounter with discomfort. It is a means to prepare for tougher experiences.
I like to do this in a wide legged child’s pose (balasana) as seen in the photo above. It can also be done simply sitting cross legged on the floor or in any other pose you can hold for a while. Advanced yogis, feel free to test yourselves here.
Begin relaxing into the pose by breathing deeply. Inhaling fully and exhaling completely. You are going to do this until any area of the body becomes uncomfortable. Wether it is your knees, hips or lower back it does not matter. Do not move. You are going to simply keep breathing as the discomfort grows. It’s possible by this time that simply being still has become a major challenge. Your body wants to move, it is instinctual. Remember here that you are not your body and that you are in control. Keep breathing deeply.
Now pay attention to the thoughts arising. If you have not listened to your body then your mind will make it’s move. Observe the thoughts telling you to move. Watch how your mind tries to convince you this is crazy. Witness any memories coming to the surface. Your ego doesn’t want to do this anymore. Without moving deepen your breath. Breath in as slowly as you can and then exhale completely. Keep still.
Finally your emotional body takes over. You may feel anger and frustration. You might want to cry. Keep going. Keep still. This is simply the ego trying to bring itself back to comfort. You are stronger than your ego and with this practice you will see your true strength.
Finish this practice when you reach a state of calm and serenity where you no longer want to move. It may help to have a friend read these words slowly to guide you. It could take five minutes it could take hours. It may also come in waves. Doing this well will challenge you. Don’t be afraid of what comes up. None of this will last. Surrender and peace will find you.
If you managed to push through this practice, I won’t need to explain what tranquillity feels like. If this did nothing for you, keep trying. Seek out teachers and discuss this topic with others. You may find you are already surrounded by like minded people who simply haven’t had the courage to say what they are looking for.
Start Your New Life
As you keep on developing your awareness of the self, you will start to notice changes around you. Your inner light will start to shine brighter, making the dark path ahead a lot clearer. You become much lighter and freer. Where you once found fear and weakness you will find courage and strength. Others will notice you and you will notice them more clearly. These tools will help you control your own life and allow you to help others. It is important to mention here that this will not bring you a ‘perfect life’ unless you consider that life itself is already perfect. You may climb higher than you ever thought possible just to fall down deeper than ever before. I promise you this though. Keep going. Keep breathing. Keep searching. Eventually life’s miseries become welcome challenges. One day you’ll value the pain involved in learning new lessons. Only then, can you truly revel in the happy side of life. Only then, can you live in a world much richer than your wildest dreams.
If there is one thing that has stuck out more than anything throughout my life It’s the power of community. I highly value the time I’ve spent alone but I can’t stress how important it is for us to share. From here on I hope to write up many more of my philosophies and tools. I would love to here your responses at the end of this piece. No question is a stupid question here.