The tasks in this post: the development of awareness (task #1) and discipline (task #2).
The work of change may seem massive, but really it’s just one step after another, and once you know the steps, you simply keep stepping (and find ways to keep yourself stable in the meantime).
However, it is easy to get into despair and/or overwhelm. What follows are primary skills, both for personal growth and for getting out of feeling overwhelmed.
Awareness is “attention to my spontaneously emerging experience.” Awareness is NOT thinking — it is experiencing, noting what is actually happening, especially in my body. Fundamentally, I can be aware of three areas:
- what is happening outside me (my so-called five senses),
- what is happening within my body, and
- third, the story I am creating as a result of these two ongoing experiences (generally what I call my thinking).
Awareness allows me to be present NOW, HERE! My story is usually about the past or the future — potentially useful, but not awareness, and not with any of the power of awareness.
Discipline is “doing what I want to do, even when I don’t want to do it.” I want an outcome, and yah, it takes work to get it. Discipline is doing the work because I want the outcome, recognizing that often I don’t want to do the effort, but I do it anyway.
The skill is to make it easier. For example, I practice yoga. I enjoy it, I want the benefits, but often I don’t really feel like doing it. So my discipline is to do “two minutes of yoga.” Not much, eh! Well, every day, I do my two minutes of yoga, even when I don’t want to do it. And, by the end of two minutes, I often feel better; I like how I feel, so I do 45 minutes, because I like it. But, if at the end of two minutes I don’t like how I feel, I stop, and congratulate myself — I have kept my commitment. No self-criticism, ever.
For 20 consecutive minute each day for the next week, sit quietly and repeat the following: “Now I am aware of …” and name a body sensation. Don’t describe it, just name it (one or two words), and move on to the next sensation. “Now I am aware of … my fingers tingling … the coolness of my toes … the tension under my eyes …).
You will lose track. You will drift off into thoughts, day-dreams, etc. That is what the mind does. When you notice you have done so, gently come back to NIAA (now I am aware of …).
As you get used to the process, lightly give attention to various components (mainly to sharpen your skill): external body sensations (what you feel at skin level), internal body sensations (those truly within), external sounds, internal sounds (including talking to yourself), external visual (with eyes open), internal visual (with eyes closed, including mental images). I say lightly, and I mean lightly — no one does this practice perfectly. The nature of the mind is that it wanders, and the discipline is to gently bring it back, without criticism of self.
If you will do this for 6 months, I guarantee you will change your life. This skill of awareness is subtle, and powerful. Essentially as you become aware of what you are actually doing, there will be occasions where you don’t like what you are doing. You will choose to stop, and you will change your life for the better, a little bit. The results accumulate over time, and eventually you are in a much better place.
In a later email when I describe the skill of knowing your own truths, I will say more about this. For now though, how do you know when you are speaking your truth, and how do you know when you are telling a lie.
Ideally, you will continue this practice of awareness for the rest of your life — because you want to! You may eventually change it to what is today called mindfulness practice or vipassana meditation, all just variations on a theme.
My personal choice is a vipassana retreat (I suggest 10 days) — largely because I can recommend such a retreat to anyone. Vipassana is a Buddhist practice, but as compared to other “religions,” Buddhism does not emphasize belief systems, only practice.
Vipassana also operates from a principle called dana — the teachings are free. If there are any changes for a retreat, they are minimal, and only to cover costs; sometimes the entire retreat (days to months) are free, and costs are covered by donation. If able, sign up for a retreat.
Coming next: How We Function — The Triune Brain