It just occurred to me that I’ve been writing all of these posts on things I think are important, but while doing this, I’ve managed to completely forget about the most important part of a warrior’s training and of life itself: Awareness.

“Without awareness, we can’t function in the world.”

The greater our level of awareness, the more we’re able to interact with our inner and outer environments. We can see this in the cycle of life and death; a new born baby will have very little awareness of the outside world, and for that reason her ability to interact with it is very limited. But as she grows and her senses begin to awaken, she gets better at interacting with her surroundings. So instead of only being able to cry, which can mean she’s hungry, tired, in pain, etc., she starts to point at food, or she holds her knee when she falls and hurts herself. As she grows into a young girl, she begins to talk and interact even more, enjoying her sensory experience of the world around her. But as she matures into adulthood, her senses gradually diminish in their capacity to recieve information from the world. This continues until, eventually, she grows into an elderly woman taking her last breath. As she leaves this world, her senses start shutting down. And as her awareness is drawn inward, her connection with the outer world fades. This cycle can be seen throughout nature, in every aspect of life.

Have your cake and eat it

You can think of awareness like this. Imagine, in front of you, a beautifully presented plate filled with the most delicious food you ever set your eyes upon. If you’re completely devoid of awareness, you won’t even know the plate exists, and you’ll miss the best food tasting experience of your life.

But let’s say you have some level of awareness, just enough to recognise that there’s a plate of food in front of you. Because your awareness is so low, you won’t appreciate the aesthetic beauty of the food, nor will you appreciate its taste. This is because we have two types of awareness, one being inner awareness and the other outer awareness. Inner awareness tells us about the inner environment of our body and mind, while outer awareness tells us about our surroundings.

So, looking at the example of the plate of food, as our awareness increases our experience of the food deepens. We start to see colours, which become more and more vibrant, various aromas are revealed to us, which keep increasing in their complexity, and bursts of flavour explode in our mouth with each bite we take.

“Increased awareness deepens our experience and appreciation of life. Deeper appreciation is expressed as gratitude. And as we experience Gratitude, we draw new, positive experiences into our life.”

Although the plate of food example is a good one, it doesn’t quite demonstrate the importance of increased awareness to its fullest. To do this, let me use an example from the warrior traditions.

Don’t just stand there!

If I have no awareness and someone decides to punch me in the face. I’m not going to move, I’m simply going to stand there and get punched. Worse still, because I don’t have any awareness, I’m not going to feel any pain. So, if that person decides to punch me again and again, I’m going to let him do it until my body can’t take any more punishment, at which point, it shuts down and I die.

The more awareness I have, the better are my chances of surviving a punch, or multiple punches to the face. In fact, if my awareness is deep enough, I’ll never even get into a situation where someone is going to punch me. This same idea applies to all situations in life. The deeper our awareness of our inner state of being and our outer environment, the better we become at navigating our way through the river of life.

Flex your awareness muscle

Developing better awareness is as simple as developing stronger muscles; you just have to exercise your mind. So how do we do that? We focus our attention on what we’re doing. Most of us aren’t very good at that, you know.

By focussing attention, I mean really focussing. That means getting out of autopilot mode, and actively engaging in what we’re doing. For instance, if you’re driving, pay more attention to the road, the other vehicles around you, your reactions to traffic, etc. Focussing in this way takes more practice than you might imagine. Just try sit for a few minutes while paying complete attention to your breathing, focussing on the air flowing in and out of your lungs. Notice how distracted you become, and how your awareness begins to drift, as you start thinking about what you’ll have for lunch, or how you forgot to feed the cat, etc.

If you focus in this way regularly enough, your awareness will grow and your experience of life will become deeper and richer. Enjoy.

For a nice look at the yogic understanding of awareness take a look at Jenni Burke’s Blog.