Awareness in Practice
Awareness in Practice
“Awareness” is a word used more often now with the discussions around social challenges in this country. Subject matters that may have been ignored are now being openly discussed. These discussions help many become more “aware” of social issues. They help provide a clearer understanding for many who may have had "blind-spots" to the challenges that other individuals and groups face.
More often than not, the “Awareness” that is being discussed is the understanding of a particular person and/or subject matter. In this context, awareness means understanding and having insight into other people’s suffering and challenges, helping to create more compassion and humanity in our world. Hopefully, at the conclusion of such interactions, people can understand each other and ultimately find the deeper connection to our common suffering and humanity.
The awareness we practice in yoga and meditation is slightly different. The skills we work on are all “sign posts” that lead us to spiritual awareness.
At an elementary level, awareness in physical yoga practice is about being sensitive to the body. Practicing “ahimsa” in yoga philosophy extends to our yoga practice of not introducing pain and suffering by pushing beyond the body’s capability. Ahimsa means non-violence and this non-violence includes our behavior towards ourselves and all beings around us.
Awareness during meditation practice takes us one step closer to spiritual awareness. While we practice meditation, we practice witnessing our life and our habitual reactions to our suffering in life. We become witnesses of our mind-made concepts and stories, and understand the negative effect on our physical health. A thought that we cling to will create tension and fear in the body. This tension and fear in the body that is now connected to a thought creates pain and suffering in our mind, our emotions, and our body. The root cause of all our suffering is the thought about the particular situation. If we can learn through our meditation practice to allow the thoughts to come and go and focus on what is real, our essence, then we can help limit the amount of suffering.
Rather than remain caught up in our thought process, through self-reflection we help dismantle the stories that we create and have been taught since early childhood that perpetuate throughout our lives. We can either choose to believe the “story” or we can identify that it is just a story or a thought process that we believe. At some point in our lives, we start to drop, let go, or dismantle the story to find greater peace within ourselves.
In this country, one of the the stories we have all been conditioned to believe is that youth is valuable, and aging, the aging process, and being elderly has less value and should be fought against and feared.
If we can learn to break this cycle, then much of our suffering can be surrendered. We have to remember that all of our lives entail birth and death and that this too is a natural process. There are challenges as we grow up, challenges in mid-life, and a different set of challenges as we get into our later years.
Through meditation, we learn to observe the effect of these challenges, practice surrendering and letting go, and come back to a place of balance and peace. We learn to recognize that throughout our lives, the deepest suffering is either from “clinging too hard” or “resisting the unwanted”. We get caught up in our ego and it makes us feel less worthy or valuable. The ego is a mind-made concept of self. Once we learn to let go of ego and know the deeper self is eternal and unchanging, we can begin to let go of those stories.
What causes our deep suffering is the attachment to the “Person” that we think we are. To make use of our suffering, through each challenge we peel back the layers of our conditioned thinking that create prisons for ourselves. Each challenge helps us break down the walls and learn to accept the challenges. Learning to love and accept ourselves from a deeper place will allow us to be in an Awakened State.
Life is an ebb and flow of challenges and calmer times. We cannot grow without challenges and these challenges appear throughout our lives to bring us closer to Awakening to the present moment, learning that the present moment is the only real thing; past and future thinking and concepts are just thoughts.
So finally, the Awakening we work towards in our practice is the awakening to our deeper self — the self that is consciousness and is present. Not the self as the person, but the self as the presence. This presence is timeless and is the witness to our lives.
The suffering we experience is usually connected to a thought and the thought can create a strong emotion. We become aware of the subtle sensations in the body through yoga and meditation practice. This observer perspective helps us see the suffering play out. From a thought, to a physical reaction to perpetual suffering.
We continue to build a stronger practice by focusing our attention to the breath and ultimately this consistent practice will help lead us to the place of liberation. The breath helps us root down into the present moment and the present moment can only be experienced with the absence of thought.
As long as we can learn to be present, focus on the breath, break the stream of thinking, we can reduce the level of suffering and discover liberation.