Conscious Awareness (Mindfulness)
Conscious awareness is commonly referred to as mindfulness, but that name is misleading because it isn’t primarily about the mind – it is about awareness. Our soul’s awareness of the mind, of the heart and of the body.
Conscious awareness is observing the mind without getting caught up in thoughts, it is observing the heart without getting caught up in emotions and it is observing the body without getting caught up in sensations. It gives us the power to notice our thoughts, emotions and behaviours without identifying with them or defining ourselves by them. We don’t need to hold onto our identities, roles, limitations, stories, beliefs, emotions or feelings to be that which we truly are. In fact, to be that which we truly are, we need to let go of all the stuff that keeps us from realising our true nature.
The ego typically identifies with thoughts and emotions on a conceptual level whilst remaining disconnected from them on a visceral level. Basically it clings to thoughts and emotions, but avoids feeling them fully. Expressing emotions (i.e. acting them out) is one way to avoid feeling them fully (because it dissipates the emotional energy) and repressing them is another way. Conscious awareness enables us to do away with these ego strategies and simply allow our thoughts, emotions and body sensations to be:
- Thoughts: When thoughts arise, notice them but do not engage with them.
- Emotions: When emotions arise, notice them and feel them fully, but do not get caught up in them.
- Sensations: When sensations arise, notice them and feel them fully, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
When we widen our focus and expand our awareness throughout our body, we discover a fuller, deeper and more direct experience of the present moment. This gives us the perspective we need to dis-identify from the ego-self, and the space we need to re-align with our true-Self. Conscious awareness helps to free us from the bondage of our critical thinking, reactive emotions and conditioned behaviours. It gives us the opportunity to respond appropriately rather than react automatically.
Once we have achieved conscious awareness, it can be difficult to stay with it. The most common difficulty is inadvertently moving from directly experiencing awareness to thinking about awareness, and subsequently getting caught up in a running commentary or critical thoughts about our (now indirect) experiences. When we notice this happening we simply need to shift our awareness back to our body; to our physical experience of the present moment. The worst thing we can do is to judge or criticise ourselves because this keeps us in the mind – away from the direct experience of presence.
Other common difficulties include trying to change an experience that we have judged to be unpleasant (e.g. I must stop getting stressed), or trying to fix an issue that we have judged as problematic (e.g. it is wrong to get angry). This only occurs if the preceding thinking, commentating and judging steps have gone unnoticed due to a lack of conscious awareness. We can easily slip from Directly Experiencing > Thinking > Commentating > Judging > Changing or Fixing, but the more we practise conscious awareness the quicker and easier we can identify and interrupt this subconscious chain of events.
When we are feeling a powerful “negative” emotion such as anger or anxiety, we must be careful not to become overwhelmed by it or act it out. This can be done by expanding our awareness to include our entire body (not just the area where the emotion is centred). This gives us enough space to feel the emotion fully without it filling our entire field of awareness and overwhelming us.
Some people subconsciously keep their centre of awareness outside of their body because it is an effective way of avoiding the painful emotions that are held within the body. Being “out of body” keeps them detached from their pain but the lack of psychological grounding can cause them to become psychologically unstable. If their consciousness is absent, it is not present, and without presence they are unable to face their issues, let alone heal and reintegrate them. Such people should practice body awareness (sensing their entire body) as often as possible. In fact, that advice applies to everyone – we will all benefit from this simple practice.