Thursday, October 31, 2013

Self-Awareness: Can it be Developed?

Success in the spiritual journey depends on one's level of self-awareness. Okay, suppose this is true: how does one become more self-aware? The first step is to recognize and accept that there is more to our minds* than we realize, more, in fact, than we use on a daily basis.

One way of developing self-awareness is to consider pain.

When I have a pain, I feel it as separate from myself, therefore who is it that is feeling the pain? If I was the pain, I wouldn't be able to observe it and see it was separate from me, therefore who is it that knows that it is separate? To begin to grasp this is the beginning of self-awareness. Awareness of the Self — which is not the ego self but is another Self, the Self that is constantly watching everything that is going on. Not the self that is having a constantly running commentary about what is going on — that is the ego self. So who is it that is watching the constant commentary from a neutral position — just like a mirror reflecting everything without adding or taking away anything? There is something that is watching, not judging. It never judges. It watches dispassionately. Begin to ponder on what it is that is watching and you have made the first breakthrough into Self-awareness. Buddhists have termed this watching "witnessing or the witness consciousness."

Don't despair if your efforts to experience this witness consciousness seem futile. In the early days it's like this. I can remember feeling very frustrated because the moment I came out of mind and connected with the witness, a thought about that connection broke the contact. Keep going and there will come a day when the witness consciousness is permanent and won't require meditation to experience it. Another good practice for cultivating this relationship is mindfulness; in fact, mindfulness is the same as the witness consciousness.

Another effective practice for developing self-awareness is to constantly monitor every thought, feeling and action. When somebody says or does something to you, notice what effect that has on you. Don't judge the reaction you have as being good or bad, just notice that it is there. On the spiritual journey the goal is never getting carried away by what someone else says or does, but in recording your reaction to it. The constant question should be: "What is this situation or person showing me about myself?"

Reaction is never about the other, it's always about the ego self. In the past, people used to tell me that I was too hard on myself because I never projected out onto others, I always took it within to see what I could learn from it. Instead of projecting or defending I used it to develop my own self-awareness.

I took this to the limit. Not only did I identify what it said about me, I judged what I saw as wrong. I judged myself as not kind/generous/patient and then used that to beat myself up and consider myself wrong. This is not the way.

Yes, watch your own reactions, but don't add to those reactions. They are just reactions. You can learn from them, but don't judge them as being right or wrong or meaning anything about you. Not indicting yourself is the biggest challenge. It leads down a cul de sac of needless suffering.

a third bird that is watching both

I have learned to examine my reactions to events in my life dispassionately. I am an observer watching everything that happens, but reacting to none of it. And yet...I'm not dead! I have a vibrant love of life and enter fully and completely into what I do. There's nothing vapid or morbid about me. I respond to events rather than react to them and that makes all the difference to my self-awareness and quality of life. 

Mooji tells a story of three birds who are on different branches of a tree. The bird on the first branch is busy building a nest, totally engrossed in what it is doing. The bird on the second branch is doing nothing simply watching the first bird being really busy; and then there is a third bird that is watching both the bird that is doing and the one that is watching. He directs those who are listening to him to the third bird and asks, "What is that bird?" Which suggests to me there is something beyond the second bird — the watcher.

In my spiritual journey I have experienced the second bird, and as I only speak and write about what I have experienced, I will leave the significance of the third bird for later.

* Perhaps the Sanskrit term, Atman, conveys the intention hereatman–has many meanings in Sanskrit that include: soul, breath, the Self, one's self (as a reflexive pronoun), mind, body, the Supreme Soul, etc. 

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