Awareness Has Many Benefits…
Awareness is a word you hear a lot these days. Also commonly called mindfulness, it’s a quality of paying attention to yourself (your sensations, thoughts, reactions, etc.) and your surroundings in the present moment.
This kind of awareness has numerous scientifically proven benefits, including lowering stress, reducing pain, lowering blood pressure, improving impulse control, etc. For me awareness conjures an image of calm, centeredness and fluffy white clouds in an expansive blue sky. Ahhhh…
…But It’s Not Always Comfortable
Sometimes awareness sucks. Awareness can bring inspiring insights or harsh realizations, pleasant memories or traumatic ones, comfortable sensations or painful ones. When you really tune into yourself, you notice how things are in this moment—not how you want them to be, what you think they should be or how it was better when you were younger.
The things you uncover when you pay attention usually aren’t limited to that specific moment or aspect of your life. If you’re open to it, you begin to see the ways it shows up throughout your life. “The catch-22 for many individuals is that often the very attitudes and habits that are doing them the most real damage are the very ones that are for them the most cherished and ingrained.”* The realization you may need to change a well-worn routine, have a difficult conversation or take a break from an activity you love isn’t likely to feel good.
Why Cultivating Awareness is Still Worth It
Staying unaware is safe—it creates a feeling of normalcy and a stable sense of self. But there are real costs associated with not paying attention. For starters, “To consistently ignore it [the body] requires enormous repressive energies.”* And when you cling to a habit, you repeat it without choice or opportunity for growth.
Self-observation may not always be blissful or flattering but I believe the benefits far outweigh the downsides. Awareness helps us become more accepting of and to become more of our true selves. It can strengthen our adaptability and resilience in the face of life’s challenges. And awareness helps us see reality with a little more neutrality. Given that most of us are our own worst critics, a more objective view of reality can be a big relief!
Treat Yourself with Kindness
So what do you do when awareness presents sensations and insights you don’t like?
Treat yourself with hearty doses of patience and compassion. You (and everybody else) will never be perfect and that’s okay. See if you can observe what’s happening with curiosity.
If you notice aversion or judgement coming up, thank those voices for sharing their opinions and then move your attention to something else. “The right thing is only that [a] person is capable of enjoying his life—it means acting easier, better, lighter, increasing his ability.”†
And if those patterns you make an effort to shift return, know this is completely normal. Instead of feeling disappointed or that you’ve failed, celebrate when you notice when a habit reappears. Before you weren’t even aware this was happening, so recognizing it is a big success. In the long arc of learning, this is an excellent start!
Even “when our consciousness is distracted by a disturbing physical symptom [or something you don’t like]…it is still our most intimate friend, and often the only source of the information most useful for our recovery.”*
* Deane Juhan, Job’s Body
† Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, San Francisco Training, August 7, 1975