Tag: awareness

Creating a Consciously Aware Life

 

How do you define consciousness? The medical definition of consciousness is the state of being awake and aware of your surroundings. But there is a deeper more symbolic definition of consciousness that transcends the physical and the mental.  The ninety-three-year-old Buddhist Monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh describes consciousness like a stream or river, it is always continuing and evolving. And like running water there is the shallow surface to the still silence in the depths below. Like many who have studied consciousness in the physical (brain/mind) and its effect on the body and perception, they all have found that you can shift your consciousness once you raise your awareness and focus.

If you think of consciousness as layers imagine the first being that which is more primal or automatic and connects the brain to the body; your physical needs; hunger, pain, pleasure. You are aware if a room is hot and stuffy, if you are nauseated, or feeling relaxed from a massage. This is surface consciousness.

Let’s think of the next layer as your thoughts and perceptions, how you evaluate your experiences and how they impact your decision making. Here lies what you have learned from both a formal education, absorbed from your culture, as well your past experiences and how these affect your emotions. Your emotions and feelings though are liable to be subject to moods of others unless you learn to listen within.

There is another layer. Learning to listen to the awakening of that layer, that transcends all the other layers, this deeper level of consciousness that can elevate your awareness, heal your mind and your body, and bring you a greater sense of peace and joy. Ah, this is what we all want, right? So how do we get there?

For a moment, create in your mind’s eye your favorite place in nature. Whether it is at the ocean hearing gulls and the sounds of waves crashing on the sand, or in the mountains with the scent of pine trees and the moist dirt of a mossy forest, breathe and be there for a moment. Open your eyes and notice how you feel. By bringing your awareness inward, you can choose what it is you want to focus on. This is a step in the direction of creating consciousness. Being aware. If you are meandering through a beautiful park, with the fall leaves surrounding you, yet rather than admiring their beauty you worry about an upcoming business meeting, your mind is not engaged, you’re distracted. Creating consciousness is letting go of those distractions and reconnecting to the quiet within.

Living consciously helps you with negative emotions. It gives you the ability to deal with negative feelings differently, to not be rote with reactions. Creating consciousness builds empathy towards yourself and others, because you have a deeper understanding. Think about when you were four or five, learning to count, then learning to add, subtract, multiply, divide, etc. As your awareness grew, so did your understanding and appreciation for numbers. It is the same with cultivating an expanded life that is fully alive and conscious. And like learning math, it takes practice.

When you are feeling angry, rather than lashing out, notice the anger, shake hands with it, acknowledge it. Then breathe, long slow steady breaths. Make a conscious choice to handle your anger differently, not allowing it to consume you.

Spending time in silence, bringing your awareness to your breath or meditating is a powerful way to increase your consciousness. By withdrawing from outside stimuli on a regular basis you can begin to create a calm interior. Physiologically, when you slow your breath, your body relaxes. Rapid breathing is associated with fear and anxiety. Consciously, focusing on breath, allows you to relax.  When you practice this, eventually you learn to quiet your thinking mind, the one that makes assumptions and passes judgements.

Living with purpose or living fully, is the same as living consciously. Bringing awareness to yourself helps you to be a more loving human being as you begin to see that you are interconnected to all living things. You need the warmth of the sun, the shade of trees, the oxygen from the plants, the love of another. By raising your awareness and centering on the self that is beyond definitions (mother/father, employee/employer) you can tap into the truest essence of you. That spirit or energy that is kind and loving can grow, once you bring your consciousness there and spend time stripped of pretense.

Opening your awareness liberates you from patterns of thought. Thoughts that have biases towards yourself and others. It gives you new perspectives, like wearing a pair of glasses that help you see better. You may not be aware that you treat certain people with disdain, like wait staff at a restaurant or the janitor at your children’s school. When you awaken your consciousness, you may see the humanity in all people. You may get to know that janitor and realize he is an artist or a single father working several jobs to provide for his children. Awakening removes veils allowing you to see the beauty in all things, a flower, an old man, a cloud. It gives you a sense of appreciation for the life that is all around you.

Lastly, living a conscious life is indeed like the stream that flows into the river that eventually finds freedom and flows into the ocean where all embankments and confines are removed. You don’t have to go on long extended or expensive retreats to create an expanded consciousness. You simply have to practice, be fully aware of the beauty around you, take time to notice your child’s sweet chubby hand that brought you a fistful of daisies, or the stranger that offered you a smile. Know that the sweet place of consciousness dwells within you. Listen to Podcasts, read books, find a favorite poet or philosopher, try guided meditations, nourish your consciousness, and then watch it, like the one seed of a sunflower, grow and bloom.


Living in the Moment

sky diving

“Forever is composed of nows.”
― Emily Dickinson

 

“Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.”
― Albert Einstein

In a world where we are encouraged to analyze our mistakes of the past and plan for a successful future, it can be challenging to live in the present and enjoy the moment.

All we really have is now. The past is over and can’t be changed; the future is to come and can’t be predicted. The only time we are experiencing in our bodies is the present moment. Have you ever spent a vacation taking pictures so you could remember it, only to lament later that you didn’t fully enjoy the moments you were so eager to capture? Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself from a time you were unhappy and with hindsight and wisdom realize you had much to be grateful for but didn’t recognize it? When we live in the past or the future, we don’t appreciate what we have, who we are, and that we are a part of the NOW.

If you would like to be more present in your life, here are some ideas:

Focusing on an object to connect with the present. Look closely at an object. It could be anything—a leaf, stone, book, chair, piece of fruit—but it is best to choose something that is easy to study intently without disturbing you or the object. Look at the object and note your initial impressions. If the object is small, hold it in your hand; if the object is large, get close enough to see details. Study it’s color, texture, weight, shape, if it has a smell, how it compares to others like it. Notice if your feelings or thoughts have changed from when you first looked at the object.

Ignite your senses. Choose a place that is rich in stimuli—different noises, movement, smells, etc.—where it is safe to sit and close your eyes, and use all your senses to tune in. Be curious with what you are taking in. What do you hear? Where is it coming from in relation to you? How would you classify the sound—melodious or harsh, soft or loud, smooth or staccato, continuous or intermittent? Experience all that is happening around you, allow all of your senses to focus on whatever attracts their attention. Recognize that as you are listening, watching smelling and feeling you are a part of the NOW.

Practice gratitude for what you have right now. This is a valuable daily exercise to ground you in the moment. Take a few minutes to mentally list all you are grateful for. Nothing is too small, too silly, or too common. Additional benefits you might notice from practicing gratitude are lifting your mood and putting things in perspective.


Emotional Awareness

Desert

Let’s say elevating your level of positivity and happiness is a daily intention for you. You utilize mantras, affirmations, and/or other tools on a continuous basis. You are letting go of unsupportive thoughts and adopting supportive ones. But there are many moments, or even days, that you are far from a state of bliss. What gives?

Well, we’re not robots, so it’s perfectly normal to experience unexpected emotions even after a lifetime of positive focus. No one is a happy, smiley person 24/7. Nor should that necessarily be the goal, nor a marker for successful personal growth. A more helpful goal is to achieve emotional awareness, or being conscious of how we are feeling and why.

Here are some points to keep in mind regarding our emotional experiences:

Emotions are not destinations. They are road signs. Your emotions are a result of your thoughts. So if you recognize you are in an uncomfortable emotional state, take a look at what you are thinking. For example, if you’re feeling despair the thoughts creating that are likely defeat, hopelessness, and powerlessness. Once you’re alert to your thoughts, you can start shifting them to ones you consider more positive and higher energy. “Happy people” are not always happy and “unhappy people” are not always unhappy…they just engage in more of that particular kind of self-talk and, therefore, resonate the corresponding emotion.

All emotions are the same. Yes, you read that right. Emotions are neither “good” nor “bad.” They are just different from each other, and some we prefer over others. However, being able to identify what kind of emotion we are experiencing gives us the opportunity to shift our thinking in another direction. We can create more of the feelings we like (referred to as “positive” feelings) by changing or shifting the language we use in self-talk from words that create emotions we feel badly about to words that create feelings we feel positively about.

All emotions are useful. Emotions like despair, fear, anger, and frustration may be uncomfortable and undesirable, but they are signals that something isn’t sitting well with us. Uncomfortable emotions can nudge us into awareness and can help us define what we want in life. As we work to move on to preferable emotions, we may see beneficial results we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to experience in the absence of that initial unwelcome feeling.

Recognize and accept all of your emotions for what they are. Emotions are part of the human experience. Take comfort in knowing it’s ok to feel unwelcome emotions, and feel confident that you have the power to change your thoughts, and therefore your emotions and your experience, at any time.

 


Are Your Thoughts Making You Sick?

Flu season is upon us, and we are all trying to be as proactive as possible to avoid getting sick. Coming down with the flu, a cold, or any kind of illness is not pleasant, nor convenient in our busy lives…especially with all the holidays approaching! So we might get a flu vaccine, try to eat right and exercise, get enough sleep, stock up on vitamin C and hand sanitizer, and stay away from people who look sick. We’ve done everything we can. Or have we?

One very important factor we might not have considered as contributing to sickness is…our thoughts! We know from numerous news reports that being in a constant state of stress has negative health consequences, but what about our thoughts in general? Can the way we think make us sick?

Studies show that our thoughts are so powerful they can affect our physical well-being. Try to recall the last time you came down with a cold. What was going on in your life? What was the gist of your inner dialogue the days leading up to your sickness? Were your thoughts focused on worry, fear, anxiety, guilt, anger, or resentment?

Our health can also be compromised when:

  • We keep our feelings locked inside, instead of dealing with or expressing them.
  • We don’t speak up for ourselves and then experience feelings of powerlessness or other energy-depleting emotions.
  • We can’t let go of past experiences that brought us pain, distress, or tension that continue to affect us as we relive the experience in our minds and through retelling the story to others.
  • We think negatively about others, and ourselves focusing on faults and mistakes instead of positive traits or actions.

While thinking negatively or in an unconstructive way will not necessarily make you sick, it can play a part in it. If that kind of thinking can make us sick, then thinking in a way that is positive, loving, and caring toward ourselves and the world around us can contribute to our well-being. So why not add, “wellness thinking” to our regimen of healthy living?

Here are ways to break the cycle of thoughts that can harm our health that you can incorporate into every day:

  • Be aware of the focus of your thoughts. When you bring awareness to what and how you think, you can change or redirect the inner chatter as needed.
  • Think about what the consequences might be to you by continuing to think or feel a certain way. Will they benefit or harm you?
  • Try laughter yoga, meditation, breathing techniques, or other methods to center you emotionally/ spiritually/mentally. Even a few minutes can act as a reset button.