Shifting from thinking to awareness-based living

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart.”

— Helen Keller

Aware silence at sunrise

Awareness is the alive consciousness of our experience. Our attention moment by moment is usually occupied by the objects in the foreground of our experience – people, places, thoughts, feelings, senses… so that we miss the awareness that is always here. On first inspection this background awareness can appear empty or void of any purpose or value. However with greater familiarity, living from awareness brings flow, clarity and balance to the mind and body.

Awareness vs Attention

Attention and awareness are different capacities. Research using fMRI has uncovered that attention and awareness “deferentially affect nerve cells”1. We can attend to an object and be unaware of our surroundings; and conversely, we can be aware of our surroundings, like a busy marketplace, without needing to pay attention to the movements of each person.

Attention is focused, object-orientated; while awareness is expansive, floating, field-orientated.

 

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness means the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. With practice and using attention you can continuously witness objects in awareness, and gradually your mind will settle and you’ll notice the qualities of awareness.

With this website the approach is more about directly experiencing awareness and then increasing your familiarity with awareness. Awareness experiments/hacks can be done anywhere, anytime; you don’t need to be sitting in a quiet place. Loch Kelly calls this effortless mindfulness2 and defines it further in his book (excerpt) Douglas Harding calls this the Headless Way

Now if your really want to know awareness, its time to experiment! Words just don’t do it…

Aware silence at sunrise

A simple awareness hack can create ripples of awakening
In the computer science field, a hack is a way to gain direct access to something that was previously either impossible or difficult to achieve (or illegal). Once you know how to do the hack, it’s usually repeated easily. An awareness hack is a direct and simple ‘trick’ that turns awareness onto itself. In that moment, the process of experiencing becomes apparent, rather than the objects within experience. This stepping back out of object-orientated thinking immediately brings clarity. The clouds part and there is blue sky. Awareness hacks provide a way of singling out awareness from the noise of our thoughts and sensations, so that it can be studied and we can become familiar with its liberating nature.

Effortless

Discovering awareness only requires good directions and observation. Directed awareness shifts, expands and reveals itself effortlessly. If we find it hard work, we are probably trying to do a third thing – following the directions, observing and critically analysing our performance, all at the same time. That’s hard work.

Familiarity

We are already aware. We don’t need to become aware; its happening now. However we can grow in familiarity with awareness. As we do, our core reference point begins to change. Our sense of identity shifts from being centered on our thoughts, beliefs, memories and reactions, to an expansive sense located in a field of openness and potential.

Practice

As with learning any new skill, neural pathways need repetition to strengthen the connections. Donald Hebb, a Canadian neuropsychologist famously said, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”. Each time we rediscover awareness, in different circumstances, neurons fire together. When we can return to awareness in difficult circumstances we get the double bonus of increased clarity / reduced stress, and the strengthen of the neural connections for future access.

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

— Steve Jobs, Bloomberg Businessweek, May 12, 1998, “Steve Jobs on Apple’s Resurgence: ‘Not a one-man show’ “
  1. Attention and awareness uncoupled. (2011, November 10). Retrieved from https://www.mpg.de/4637517/attention_awareness_uncoupled
  2. Kelly, L. (April 2018) What is Effortless Mindfulness? Garrison Institute. Link