What is Awareness?

Sunset over sea

You may have heard terms like “awareness” or “being conscious”, “mindfulness” or “living in the moment” being mentioned quite a lot these days, but have you wondered what it really means? Put simply, it refers to our mind and concentration being observant to what’s happening right now, both externally in what we’re doing and our surrounds, and to how we’re feeling and thinking inside.

Nature has an amazing way of helping us get a glimpse of awareness thanks to its priordial beauty. Consider a time when you’ve witnessed a striking landscape: a dazzling sunset casting pink and purple hues over the sky, or a shimmering ocean sending gentle waves to the shore – remember that sense of inner stillness you felt as you simply observed the view, and nothing else mattered? All worries and thoughts of the day faded away as you marvelled at the beauty of what you were seeing and feeling? Perhaps the impression of nature in all its splendour even humbled you for a moment, as you felt at peace to witness and be part of such a moment. This is a really simple example of awareness, inspired by nature, and it can happen spontaneously.

Awareness versus being in ‘Auto-pilot’

Person driving to work

It is in this “auto-pilot mode” that we tend to spend most of our time, thinking or worrying about the past or the future, rather than paying attention to what we’re doing right now.

Compare this to a typical weekday morning as you wake up and get ready for work. No sooner has the alarm gone off and you’re already struggling to get out of bed, thinking of the phone calls, emails, and meetings waiting for you at the office. As you go through the daily motions of showering, dressing, and eating, you’re already planning what you will start doing when you get to work. By the time you enter your office, you’re feeling anxious as you’ve already spent the last hour at work in your head!

OK, so perhaps your day doesn’t start exactly like this, but this description just gives an example of what the opposite of awareness is. It is in this “auto-pilot mode” that we tend to spend most of our time, thinking or worrying about the past or the future, rather than paying attention to what we’re doing right now. When there’s disconnect between our own inner world and the reality of the moment or situation we are living, then it’s typically described as not being aware of ourselves. It’s in times like these that we may become easily stressed or overreact to things. However, when we come out of the thoughts and emotions clouding us, and just be “there” in the moment, we can become more centred, calm and clear, and notice things about ourselves and situations, or how we do things, that we would have normally missed.

Awareness Benefits

Watching sunset in the hills

Through awareness, we gain inner clarity and we’re able to see things in a more objective way, and are able to respond naturally to what happens there without preconceived ideas or prejudice.

So what’s all the hype about awareness for? Well, by shifting from our default state to deciding to practice awareness or mindfulness in our daily life, we gain inner clarity and we’re able to see things in a more objective way. For example, instead of thinking about a work meeting when you are preparing breakfast, you get off that train of thoughts and simply pay attention to pouring the cereal and eating it. By the time you reach work, you’re much calmer and able to respond naturally to what happens there without preconceived ideas or prejudice, and you may find you enjoy yourself more and do things better. Sounds quite basic, and in fact it is – the trick is to keep going with it after the novelty of trying something new naturally fizzles out.

Awareness activates consciousness. In the long term, developing consciousness forms the basis for effecting lasting spiritual change within ourselves. Awareness gives us insights into our psychological make-up, helping us identify any behaviours or inner states that cause suffering to us or others. This knowledge can help us to overcome obstacles we face and enable us to live happier, peaceful, and more fulfilling lives.

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