Path To Self Awareness
Awareness One, Two, Three
I am told that Buddhist sutras open with the word Nyozgamon, which means ‘I heard it like this.’
What I like about these five words is that they make room for the listener to reflect back what was heard while still adding new depth and meaning.
Many years ago I heard a wonderful talk by the Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax on the ten steps toward self awareness. These steps are hidden from the eye but available to everyone. We can practice each step separately but when joined together, they become powerful tools for transformation.
The first step to increased self awareness is ATTENTION.
What kind of attention?
Attention to an inward watchfulness. When we practice this form of alert behavior, we bring awareness to the flow of feelings, thoughts, moods, fantasies, and sensations that lie within us.
Our interior life is a kaleidoscope of mental, emotional, and spiritual activity constantly in flux. How can we be self aware if we do not honor this activity? Of course if we are only inward, self absorption can be a danger, but attention to our inward emotions can lead to positive choices about how we want to be in the world.
The second step is AFFECT.
What kind of affect?
Affect that has a bias toward pro social emotions such as kindness, understanding, joy, and curiosity. These are the positive emotions that bathe us in pleasurable feelings and attract similar energies in others. These are not false or forced feelings, though they can be. Self awareness allows for choice and the choice to be curious, kind, understanding and joyful in the face of rigidity, meanness, confusion, and hatred are some of the most difficult and courageous choices we can make.
The third step is INTENTION.
What kind of intention?
Intention that has a high regard for unselfishness. Often, we are unconscious of our own motives, going through our day reacting to people and events with habitual behavior. We smile at what amuses us and frown at what frustrates or annoys us. Certainly we pay attention to others, but not with any particular intention to listen, comfort, or care for them.
When we set our intention to be considerate of others, remarkable things can happen. Possibly it is in small steps, like letting someone go ahead of us in line or preparing a meal for a friend who is ill. Sometimes it can have larger consequences. I know a business executive who said his life was changed when he approached his staff with a “generosity of intent.” Setting an intention for unselfishness creates a tension, balancing our own needs and perspectives with the needs and perspectives of others. This tension makes us wake up to a higher purpose in life and directs us down the path of compassion.