The Magic of Awareness

When  Am I?


            An experienced Rolfer observed a new client walk into his treatment room and over to a chair near his desk. “What did you do to your right leg?” asked the Rolfer. “Why, nothing!” the surprised client replied. “Think about it…” said the Rolfer. After a few moments the client responded, “Well, I did have a bad sprain about 20 years ago, and was in a walking cast for a couple weeks…” This person had briefly been forced to walk in a very different way because of that cast, but the movement patterns he had created in doing this had become so deeply entrenched in just that brief time that – even 20 years later - they were still quite evident and easily spotted by the Rolfer, even though they were no longer needed, or even helpful. This demonstrates the amazing persistence of a learned habit.

            Though this describes a learned physical habit, we also acquire, at very early ages, habits of thinking and perceiving the world around us – and within - us, that can be equally invisible, and surprisingly unhelpful, even harmful. As Fritz Perls - developer of Gestalt Therapy - put it, we easily put great amounts of our energy into “the [mental] computer, the fitting game… all this figuring out by which many people replace seeing and hearing what’s going on. Because if you are busy with your [mental] computer…you don’t see and hear anymore.”[1] As a result of this disconnection, Charles Brooks (author of Sensory Awareness: The Rediscovery of Experiencing) then observes, “we are forever manipulating a world which we do not directly perceive and therefore cannot know.”[2]

            Of course habits and routines are essential for our daily living. But they can so very easily - and quite invisibly, yet profoundly - cloud our judgment. Fortunately there are ways to help us identify many of these less-than-obvious habits, which then enable us to re-evaluate them and develop more helpful ones, new ways of becoming more present in the present. And it doesn’t usually take industrial-strength detective work to discern many of these questionable habits and shift them to more helpful ones. As Swami Beyondananda (a comedic spoofer of New Age ideas) put it: “I have bad news – the keys to the Universe have been lost. But the good news is – the Universe has been left unlocked!” So we are looking for some relatively simple ways to move through the unlocked door of the Universe and begin learning to more clearly hear – and eventually trust - what Perls called the “wisdom of the organism” – the profound and vast intelligence, based in awareness, that’s hard-wired into us all; this intelligence can enable us to become more fully alive: more clear, perceptive and present.

Everyone’s aware, right?  If we weren’t aware, we’d be bumping into trees, buildings and each other.  True… but there’s another, different kind of awareness, too.  And it’s not mystical or esoteric, but actually a very basic quality of life. However, it’s usually quite buried under our habitual ways of thinking and observing.  By taking some time to intentionally connect with it, we can engage a potentially very useful, wise and vast dimension of our own consciousness, one that is almost completely missed in our normally rushed and busy world.

            What we usually consider to be ‘awareness’ – of an object, a person, even of ourselves – is often, to a surprisingly large degree, an idea about that object, person or ourselves.  In our desire to understand our world, we quite unconsciously put most aspects of it into familiar mental pigeon-holes (mental habits) and, without realizing it, we no longer have a full and direct contact with what is actually present and happening right now in this always-changing, moment-to-moment world.  By experimenting with deliberately slowing down and temporarily putting our focus entirely into just sensing only what is right here and now, surprising revelations can often start coming to light.

            Slowing way down in this way - even for just a little while, and getting into a more mindful approach, is really just like learning any other new skill, such as learning to ride a bike. It might seem strange, awkward and possibly even difficult at first, but typically becomes a good deal more comfortable as we practice. Charles Brooks describes how he and his wife cultivated that increased sense of mindfulness in their Sensory Awareness workshops: “We merely work…toward an adult version of the quiet, open curious attitude which healthy children have to the world they are born into – a world they never tire of investigating.” [3]

            A variety of fairly simple activities can help us discover this difference between genuine here-and-now sensing and what it is we usually do.  For instance, instead of saying, “I hear a truck going by,” we can slowly and intentionally begin to let all our ideas about the sounds we’re hearing slide away, and after a while we become able to simply observe, “I hear a rumbling sound going by.”  Noticing the sensation, and letting go of the concepts associated with it. While this might at first sound really bland and boring to do – or perhaps even a bit challenging, if we practice doing this for awhile, we can actually start to really notice this other important aspect of our own being - our moment-to-moment living awareness.

            Again, Dr. Perls: “…our potential is based on a very peculiar attitude: to live and review every second afresh.”[4] By intentionally cultivating this process of awareness as a practice, we may soon begin stumbling into some genuine surprises, such as: re-gaining that totally alive sense of child-like wonder at very simple things, opening up quite unexpected avenues of inner creativity, seeing even a very familiar person in an entirely new and much deeper way.  Everyday activities that are normally experienced as dull routine or drudgery might take on quite engaging qualities. 
It can also become an effective means of short-circuiting what the Buddhists call the "monkey mind," when our thoughts just go on and on, looping along one after another, without really yielding any useful result. They simply run along on autopilot, occupying our attention, and distracting us away from being really present. The results of a mindfulness practice may become unexpectedly deep and richly rewarding. Again Charles Brooks: “…to know what one is doing with life, it is no use to consult authorities … We must recover our own capacity to taste for ourselves.”[5]

            Once practiced a bit, this way of being and noticing could eventually become an easily-available tool for enriching our “normal,” everyday lives in countless ways. In short, we may come to find that the Universe really has been left unlocked!      

I’m not [fully] here…  I am typing. I see the typewriter [now], and my fingers hopping around, tapping the keys. As I notice that I see them, I begin to feel them, as I hadn’t, before. They dance more lively now, and I am enjoying this – feel lighter as I do it… [A]ll that I did was pay attention… - nothing more - no attempt to do anything with it…[6]                -  Barry Stevens

[1] Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Frederick (Fritz) Perls, MD, © 1969, Real People Press, p. 22

Sensory Awareness, Charles Brooks, © 1974, Viking Press, p. 7

[3] Sensory Awareness, Charles Brooks, © 1974, Viking Press, p.14

[4] Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, Frederick (Fritz) Perls, MD, © 1969, Real People Press, p. 29

[5] Sensory Awareness, Charles Brooks, © 1974, Viking Press, p. 7

[6] Don’t Push the River (it flows by itself), Barry Stevens, © 1970, Real People Press, pp. 125 - 6

Website Builder