From Mindlessness To Awareness
When was the last time you felt truly awake and alive? For some it may be right now, but for many of us, it happens all too rarely.
I drive the same road to work every day, a winding country road embraced by a forest of oak trees. Sometimes I am shocked to find myself at the STOP sign 6 miles up the road with no recollection of how I got there! Obviously I was lost in my thoughts, going through the motion of driving automatically. There is of course nothing wrong with daydreaming; doing it while driving though, is potentially harmful.
Running on automatic is something we all do. Unfortunately, this is exactly what keeps us from experiencing life at its fullest. I like driving, a lot. But when I drive 6 miles mindlessly, I rob myself of the pleasure of dancing with the play of light through the leaves on the road, or enjoying the deep sensual scent of soil mingling with rain.
So how do I usher myself back into presence? How do you?
The STOP sign on the road is a wonderful metaphor. It reminds me to stop the unconscious chatter occupying my thoughts and step back into participating fully in the current moment. Here, the key word is AWARENESS.
Anthony De Mello—a psychotherapist and spiritual teacher from India—talks about how humans live like robots. “They are asleep”, he says and adds, “You and I as children were given a drug. It was called approval, appreciation, praise, success, acceptance, popularity. Once you took the drug, the tentacles of society got into you and controlled you. The drug is addictive; you can’t live without it. So we become robots, reacting mechanically – feeling uplifted by praise and deflated by criticism.” And it’s this programming that keeps us in a reactive mode, where the main driver of our actions and decisions is fear. “
For sure, we are not always “asleep at the wheel.” We’ve all experienced moments of acute awareness during critical times in our lives. Sadly though, what we experience mostly is the teeter-totter between flashes of awareness and surrendering to our automatic programming—those shoulds and musts, and all their negative forms—that stand in the way of fulfillment and joy.
When it’s your programming that drives you; you get caught up in the nagging mindless mental chatter of your subconscious mind. And when (as is inevitable) people, circumstances and even you yourself don’t live up to your expectations, how do you feel? Probably, you become frustrated, disappointed, angry, maybe bitter; and you struggle to change whatever thing/person it is that you think is not right.
But reality doesn’t change. The only thing that can change is your stance towards reality and you can do that by waking up, ditching Robotic You and becoming AWARE. When you are no longer tied to the way you think others should or do see you or behave towards you; when you can be aware without judgement, that’s freedom. It’s the freedom to let the unique and authentic you shine. And that’s how it feels to be fully awake and alive, from moment to moment. For me, one of the ways I experience this, is when I’m in session with a client. That’s when my awareness is deep, expansive and laser sharp.
So how do we rid ourselves of our programming? It’s not quite as easy or as natural as sloughing off your skin as a snake does. It’s more of a process; a process of continuously bringing your awareness back in the flow of this moment. And sometimes it can happen faster than you think, as it did for one of my clients.
A unique kind of artist, Christine creates beautiful works in the rarified world of Bindery Art. She is well-known amongst art collectors and her work is sought after. Yet, she had reached a point where she felt empty and aimless. She had recently become a permanent resident of the United States and in the process of moving here—new language, new customs, away from her friends and family—she had lost her focus. She came to me with no clear vision of the future and a deep longing to redirect her life. But how?
In the course of our four months coaching engagement, she gradually began to move away from her disabling worry by uncovering her own harmful programming. As our weekly sessions rolled by, her awareness level kept expanding. Now, she was exploring what the real her felt and wanted. She listened, heard, and received the wisdom of her internal voice and in the process – an exploration that took her on an expedition into the Amazonian jungle—her new path was revealed. She is now focusing on her old love, bindery art, and her new one, photography, and looking for ways to merge the two.
So, what did it take for her to go from a state of unrelenting anxiety to a place of knowing her path? Yes, it’s worth repeating - awareness. And what will it take for you? The same of course: the awareness that comes from watching yourself as you react to people or to whatever’s going on around you. That means noticing how you are feeling - in your head, heart and gut - without judging or trying to change anything. It means observing yourself, and learning to understand the source of your emotions and reactions. In the case of Christine, the great life disruption created by her move to the US threw her into a personal storm. This was her wakeup call; her STOP sign. Without her usual points of reference and routines, she was forced to re-think her life and her own “robot”—a sibling of the one that kept me unaware of the road—was suddenly unmasked.
She witnessed her feelings in the moment—happy, sad, angry, bored, excited—and explored their source. Where did those feelings come from? How often did she find herself upset or blocked by external circumstances, or by other people’s words, actions and expectations? Eventually she realized that being in a reactionary mode occupied valuable space in her thoughts and kept her preoccupied, thus amplifying her sense of worry.
Worry, anxiety, inadequacy, insecurity, dissatisfaction and all those incredibly destabilizing feelings come from us, prompted by our conditioning rather than what’s real. Two things are real: one is that we will probably be unable to change the circumstances; and the second is that, though it sounds strange, we see people as we are, not as they are. So we often choose to interpret what we see or hear according to our own personal perception. When you think someone’s hurting you in some way, then, it’s often because that’s how you choose to perceive it. The upset comes from inside you, not them.
So why are you giving others the power to upset you? It’s not they who need to pivot, it’s you. When you choose not to be disturbed and upset, you become much more effective; you keep your power and you feel good, not bad.
The more you witness your emotions by staying in the flow of the moment, the more you’ll recognize your recurring behavior and the more you’ll flush out the hidden programming that drives it. In doing so, you’ll drop the barriers you have erected and let the authentic you blossom. When you’re aware of something, you’re in control; what you’re not aware of controls you.
Of course you will continue to have negative feelings and life will continue to throw tough stuff your way. But you can change how you react to these hurdles through awareness; getting less caught up in the background chatter of your mind and more attuned to the breadth of your perception. Changing patterns and habits is always a risk, but when you’re willing to take that risk and look at something in a new way, transformation comes. And with it that feeling of being awake and alive!
So remember, mind the STOP sign. Let it be the mental icon that gently reminds you to refocus on the current moment whenever you suddenly catch yourself absently going through some motion. There is clarity of vision on the other side, free of confusion and full of the good things life has to give you. Awareness is the key; it is how you can really, truly live a mindful, meaningful and fulfilling life, free of the robot.
I help people “raise the bar” and find clarity — in their career, business, personal life. It’s what I’m here to do, and it’s what I love to do. Indeed, I am dedicated to guiding people along their own unique paths and thrive.