Tag: self-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.


Coach Yourself to Freedom by Letting Go

What does letting go mean to you?

To me it means not allowing events from the past to influence your life today. When you let go, you learn to be in the moment, and experience what is happening right now. Buddhists refer to this as mindfulness or being fully immersed in what you’re doing. Mindfulness allows you to let go of everything going on around you and concentrate on your own actions. Mindfulness lets you to be free from passing judgment or expecting a certain outcome.

Your beliefs and attitudes may be keeping you from letting go and being present in the here and now. When you coach yourself to identify the beliefs that are holding you back, so you can let go of them and your emotional attachment to them. As you let go of the past you will be in the present. If you stop trying to control what happens, you may notice that you also stop criticizing and judging others. It’s simple, coach your mind to shift your words to view the world as the cup is half full and you will not only accept what is, but you will enjoy life more.

Life is a series of choices, many of which we make automatically, unaware of what we choose or why. When we are afraid of criticism or judgment, we are unable to learn from our choices. To be able to simply be, by learning to let go of judgment and ideas of what should be. Replacing your judgments with a sense of self-worth will allow you to develop the emotional intelligence to live in the present instead of dwelling on the past.

Our expectations also cause us to hold on to the past instead of letting it go. You may be disappointed, based on what you feel ‘should’ have happened, or what you think someone else ‘should’ have done. But when you free yourself from your expectations, you will heal yourself and those around you. Just think about how differently you respond when you feel judged, versus when you feel accepted as you are.

An exercise to practice when learning to let go is to ask yourself if you will feel stressed about a situation in the future, whether it be tomorrow, next week, next year, or in five years. The answer, if your honest with yourself will be no; because we do not really know how we will feel when the future becomes the present.

When you allow yourself to be in the moment, you can live your life simply because it gives you joy. Experiencing joy in your life is its own reward.


Practicing Gratitude

“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” -Zig Ziglar

Building a practice of gratitude and positive thinking is easy for some people, but for others, it is a struggle. It may be challenging to break the habit of looking at life through a pessimistic perspective at this particular moment in time, as the world grapples with a pandemic and social unrest. However, through consciousness and practice you can change that. When your thoughts begin to move towards the positive spectrum, your eyes will naturally open to gratitude. In other words, it is almost impossible to be a negative thinker and have gratitude.

To grow your gratitude, look at how you feel about yourself and the people in your life. Do you gravitate towards trust, kindness, doing the right thing? How is your self-esteem? When you feel good about yourself, you can feel good about others. Positive thinking begins from within. If this is a battle for you, try repeating affirmations. Veer away from overly critical people in your life. Read uplifting material that encourages you and allows you to let go of fear. Recognize negative thoughts as soon as they pop up. Focus on your breathing, consciously slow it down and imagine with each exhale, you release negativity.

Implement noticing all the little things that are good about your day, your life. To change the hole in the bucket syndrome (no matter how much you have it’s never enough) redirect your focus to what you do have. Health, friends, a flower growing in your yard, your loving pets, two hands, a working mind. Make a gratitude list.  Once you get started you will see there is a lot to be thankful for!

Gratitude is active. It champions goodness, sincerity, earnestness and is meant to be shared with others. The more you give it away, the more it is like the one seed that grows into a field of flowers. Walk away from anything or anyone that is toxic in your life. You don’t need it. Most people that are negative about others are expressing their feelings about themselves

Positive thinking and gratitude reinforce each other. As your gratitude grows your belief in the goodness of others and the universe grows. From that point of view positive thinking is only natural.

This may sound sharp, but when you indulge a pity party for too long you may forget that you can leave at any time. Life is made of ups and downs, ride them out and learn the lessons. Let go, and move onward, don’t overly chastise yourself for mistakes. If you got a raw deal, it more than likely had nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person. Realize the good in a bad situation, things could always be worse. Find those little thank goodness’s that didn’t happen and be grateful. Practicing gratitude during difficulties builds stamina and helps you grow stronger and more positive.

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” ― Lao Tzu This is a simple, yet profound reminder of being awake, being mindful. Paying attention to positive thinking, words, and actions has a ripple effect and over time influences every aspect of your life. When your inner dialogue begins to judge, complain, or criticize yourself or others, stop them in their tracks. Gently remind yourself, that you are learning to practice positive thinking and gratitude.

Gratitude begets gratitude. The more you express it through actions, the bigger it becomes. Be grateful for the lessons learned while you worked through a challenge, gratitude comes in many shapes and sizes. Practice acts of kindness, smile more, say hello, receive the day with an open heart thankful for another chance to learn and love. Then watch as your positive grateful living, blossoms into powerful changes.

 

 


Connect Within

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The unfolding of a new year gives us a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with ourselves, that part within we perhaps call spirit or essence. As we take stock of our physical health, it is equally as valuable to get a psyche check-up, to quietly enter that realm of your being that is unique authentic, unspoiled. You may ask the questions: Where am I on my journey? Does the direction I am moving in match my intention? You may also contemplate your life’s purpose, which may be many folds. To realize yourself more fully takes courage and reflection.

Once you take the time to travel inward, stay for a bit. Clear away all of the stresses and influences that don’t really represent your true feelings or passions. How can you simplify? What practices can you begin that will move you closer to the vision of your best self?

Science tells us it takes twenty-one days to create a habit. What positive habit do you want to implement into your life? For example, maybe you want to stop reaching for your phone or device first thing in the morning. You would prefer to start your day reading reflective material to set an encouraging tone for you day. Place the materiel you want to read where your phone would have been, do this for 21 days and reap the rewards. Connecting within will help you realize these missing bits of your life that can have a profoundly positive impact.

Begin to listen to your inner voices, those aspects of you that may feel neglected. The artist, the writer, the reader, the contemplative. Modern society has most of us conditioned to keep moving, we are sold the idea that stopping for an inner break costs too much time and money. Saadi of Shiraz one of the major Persian poets and influential literary men of the medieval period wrote: 

Things that come easy don’t last long

In China it took forty years to make a porcelain bowl,

while a hundred a day pour out of a kiln in Baghdad.

Which is worth more?

A chick fresh out of the egg pecks its own food,

while an infant remains helpless for many years.

The first never raises its gaze from the ground,

while the second can find stars and galaxies within.

In other words, exploring your values in your inner life takes time; there is no app to click or short cut, which is why we often call life a journey. By checking in, you see how your navigation is going. Have you gotten off course or has your desired destination changed, altered with the wisdom of time? Similar to a marriage or relationship with a partner, to keep it healthy you need to hear one another. It is the same with the self.

How then do you go about connecting within? How do we practice presence from that heart space all of us have? One simple suggestion is to carve out time for stillness. Rather than pile more on your daily to do list, take something off and replace it with meditation. If you are allergic to the word meditation, you can talk a walk, without your headphones. Or if you live in the city, walk with quiet lulling thoughtful music that beckons your inner thoughts. Listen a little less to news. A fifteen-minute reflection can refuel your commitment to living a life that you yearn for rather than feeling as though your destiny is in the hands of others. Read reflective books and let the works marinate into your psyche. We often over expose ourselves to harsh corrosive stimuli, how about swapping that out for books, podcasts or CD’s that support our inner growth?

As 2017 evolves, give yourself the gift of time. Time for inner perspective to hug that person waving from the vista of your true self and enjoy the delightful discoveries that shape your life’s happiness and purpose.

 


The Total Self

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In the post, Life Balance, I discussed the most prevalent areas of our lives that need balance and why each is important. The life area called Self is composed of our emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual needs and desires. Due to the complex nature of Self, I’d like to explore each component separately.

Emotional

The emotional aspect of Self determines how we feel about our inner and outer world. What do you need for a full emotional life that serves and supports you? Do you want to be more focused and grounded? Approach life with a more can-do attitude? Radiate more love and joy? React to challenges calmly and confidently? Once you decide the emotions that are important to you, ask yourself what actions to take or habits to adopt in order to bring them into your everyday life.

Intellectual

This is the part of us that needs mental stimulation and growth, and goes well beyond the classroom. It could be learning a new skill or hobby; increasing knowledge about a topic that interests you; challenging your brain with intellectual games or philosophical discussions. Consider what you need to keep your mind alert, interested, and challenged. What do you want to learn, discover, and explore?

Physical

The physical aspect deals with what it takes for you to look and feel your best. What does it take to be strong, healthy, and confident? How do you need to physically care for yourself and others? How would you want to be physically cared for by others? This includes nutrition and exercise; sexual needs; physical contact (a hug, pat on the shoulder or arm, etc). Some people crave a great deal of physical connection—giving and/or receiving—and some people not so much. Either end of the spectrum or anywhere in between is perfectly valid…it depends on what feels right to you.

Spiritual

This is the part that yearns to connect to something bigger than us. While connection to a higher power certainly occurs in religion, it is also possible to achieve through meditation, being in nature, and by practicing the arts…however you can come to a place of reflection, contemplation, and inspiration. Some questions to ask are: What fills your spirit and soul? Gives you comfort, guidance, and support? How do you want to grow spiritually?

Everyone is unique in his or her needs and desires. Awareness of what you require and desire will help you achieve those qualities that bring you balance within the life area of Self.