Developing Self-awareness

Self-awareness — Self responsibility is never about self absorption. I use the term self-responsibility to describe self awareness. This requires diligent focus on what is going on inside of us, as opposed to endless focus on externals

self knowing

Last article, I mentioned the idea of “burning, passionate, self-responsibility.” It seems to me that that the definitive word – or perhaps the essential word, is “self.”

Self responsibility is never about self absorption. I use the term self-responsibility to describe self awareness. This requires diligent focus on what is going on inside of us, as opposed to endless focus on externals.

We find ourselves, by finding ourselves.

As we endlessly say, we were brought up to look outside of ourselves – for how to act, what to think, and to discover what’s going on.

For example, many clients, when I ask them how they are or what is going on for them, immediately begin to tell me what other people are doing. How other people are causing them distress, or confusion. How other people are making them feel something, as if that is possible.

One client recently reported a conversation with a relative she hadn’t seen in years and years. She then speculated on why he had made contact, and then asked me what I thought the relative’s motivation for making contact.

I was curious about all of it.

looking down

I barely know what I’m thinking… how could you?

She was there, and participated in the conversation, and yet could only know her thoughts and motivations about her side of the conversation. And I could only know what I thought about what she told me. I’m unsure about how I could ever know anything about another’s motivation, let alone the motivation of someone I’d never met.

But here’s the point. If she wanted to know what his motivation was, all she had to do was ask him!

This is what I mean by self awareness. A self aware person does not speculate about externals, but rather examines how “I” am in relation to externals.

Self awareness is all about identifying who I am, and how I am, as I live my life fully, deeply, and with passion.

Passion is about enacting or engaging with what is important for me.


From my college sketchbook…

Because the word is typically linked to sensuality and sexuality, we mis-think about our passions. Many think passion is self indulgent, or self absorbed. Others think that passions are sort of like hobbies, to be engaged in as time permits, and always after the real stuff happens. Others distract themselves from their passion by creating drama, or by collecting stuff to mess around with.

I said to a friend the other day that she seemed to be buried under boxes of “collected crap.” Old, unresolved issues and relationships, stuff packed away and dragged out inconveniently, strange things that have no practical use. This stuff, hidden in the metaphoric basement of her mind, (as well as tucked away in her actual basement) was the distraction, the focus, the thing that drew her away from self awareness.

Of course, the joke is that she is distracting herself from self awareness be being self absorbed.

She is focussed on past issues, and in that, misses the precarious, yet passionate pull of the present.

My goal, personally and professionally, is to endlessly promote the present as a really great place to live. My focus on presence lets me be fully engaged in seeing myself operating with moment-by-moment awareness.

Self awareness is paying attention

kneeling meditation pose

Let me use meditation as a description of what I’m talking about. Many people expect that meditation will lead to something else – peace of mind, calmness, tranquility, or “no problems.” Yeah, right. Meditation leads to meditation. In other words, meditation is an activity, in and of itself.

Now, within that activity, much is going on.

Your legs or back might be hurting, you will be thinking thoughts, and you may smell incense, hear outside noises, find the light too bright or dim. In other words, as you sit, you experience.

What you are experiencing, if you let yourself, is the moment-by-moment awareness of being you. In other words, you are experiencing yourself, being yourself.

Now, if you do have ideas about how the experience ought to be, then you are no longer in the experience. You have drifted off into your head, and are comparing the actual experience with your imagined one, and finding reality lacking!

I would suggest that this is precisely what we are doing, almost all of the time.

Just like my client in the story above.
She is having a real experience with her relative, and is in her head, wondering what is going on. Then, she creates a story about why he is there, talking to her, and thinks that her story is either real or true. The story, however, has nothing to do with the actual experience. The actual experience was: she was feeling her feelings and thinking her thoughts, and also speaking words to her relative. For her, that was the entire experience. Until she decided to exit the experience and start thinking about it.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we stop thinking. That’s impossible. What I am suggesting is that, just like in meditation, we notice what’s actually happening. In this case, thinking. But here’s the key. Noticing that I am thinking, and then shifting to the next thing I do, is different from thinking about what I am thinking about!

If I start thinking, by definition, I am “out of the experience and into my head.”

Passion is active and total engagement in the present experience. This flies in the face of the cultural norm of endlessly analyzing everything, (playing with the stuff in the boxes.) The wise soul noticies the pull to fiddle around, and then moves on.

No matter what you think you are accomplishing, up there in your head, it pales in comparison to actually doing or producing something.

Passion is engagement with the now. Even such a simple act as “sitting” is ripe with meaning and depth. As you watch, moment by moment, you see yourself, and you see what is up for you. This process is an opening, and what opens is your eyes, your voice, and your heart. You become real.

I mentioned meditation (zazen) for a reason. I think that this practice, daily, is what begins to open the door to passionate engagement with life. I’ve heard a million reasons why establishing a daily practice is impossible (I’ve used some of those reasons myself) and what I’ve discovered is that when I do not sit, I do not have very much focus. It’s therefore not one of the things that I make optional.

I encourage you to start meditating.

I also encourage you to start paying attention to the stories you tell yourself. Presence and passion require that you notice the stories, feelings, evasions, and games that you are playing, all without projecting any of it on to other people or circumstances.

Once you notice that you are not noticing, you can, well, begin to notice.

Each and every time you turn your attention to others, and to stories and fantasies, simply name the process, “Externalizing!” and come back to you and your present experience. This is harder than you think. However, it is the key process for finding and engaging your passion.
Do it, now!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

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