Tag Archive: Gratitude


Awareness: life’s master key

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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.

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When we begin to harness the feeling of gratitude, we become capable of changing the world around us.

When we experience an emotion, our brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides. For every emotion we have there’s a specific neuropeptide. So love, gratitude, anger, joy, resentment, are all represented by specific chemicals in the brain. When these chemicals are released from the brain, they travel through the blood stream and attach themselves to receptor sites located on cell walls throughout our body.

When a neuropeptide locks into a receptor, it changes the behaviour of the cell to fit with the emotion represented by that specific neuropeptide. This is why, when we experience an emotion, it’s not just a mental process, but rather, it’s experienced as a physical feeling in the body. So, for example, when you feel nervous you get a feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Or you get so scared that you go weak at the knees.

Relating this biological process to how we see the world, think of it like this. You perceive something in your outer environment. Let’s say it’s a shadow in the corner of your room. Based on how you perceive that shadow your brain will release chemicals that will create a reaction in your body. So in this case, let’s say seeing the shadow makes you feel scared because you think it might be a burglar that has broken into your house. Your brain releases fear neuropeptides, which lock into receptor sites in your cells. Your body then reacts by generating physical symptoms associated with fear.

Emotional Feedback Loop

Once your body reacts in a specific way, it sends messages back to your brain saying, I’m afraid, which enhances the initial response of fear. So we now have a feedback loop between the brain and body, which is very difficult to break. This applies to all emotional reactions.

How does this relate to positively changing the world around us? Well, reality responds to the way we perceive it. That’s to say, if I see the world as a happy place, my experience of life will be a happy one, just as if I perceive the world as a sad place, my experience will be a sad one. So by changing our perception, we change our experience, and this is where gratitude comes into the equation.

Most of us experience gratitude as the effect of something positive happening to us, and this is perfectly fine, however, if we only experience gratitude in this way, we’re missing out on a powerful tool that could transform our lives. What if, instead of experiencing gratitude as an effect, we experienced it as a cause? What would happen then?

So let’s say we want to have a really amazing, happy, fun-filled day tomorrow. To make this a reality, we imagine the gratitude we would experience in response to having such a day. You can try this for yourself right now. Imagine that you’ve just had the happiest, most fun-filled day of your life. Now try to generate a feeling of immense gratitude for that experience. What do you think is happening in your body right now? Your brain has released gratitude neuropeptides. In response, your body is beginning to experience gratitude. Now a positive feedback loop is being generated between your brain and body, enhancing your feelings of gratitude, which in turn, changes your perception of the world around you.

In effect, you’ve turned your body into a kind a magnet, designed to draw positive experiences into your life. We can use this powerful tool in every aspect of our lives.

Gratitude is the key to creating positive change.

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