Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~ James Thurber
Frenzied blurs, animalistic reactions, repetitious routines.
If you have ever found your life feeling plastic and hollow, you are most likely a puppet of the dream many of us live while we’re awake. You’re a victim of lifeless living, a plague so widespread it would be called a worldwide pandemic … if only we were aware of it. The problem is, we aren’t. In fact, we’re not aware of many things these days. Before we know it our hours, days, weeks and years slug by like forgotten remnants down the drain.
We feel, but our lives are unfeeling. We see, but we walk around blindly, and we hear, but we are deaf to the amazing vibrancy and miraculous intensity of life. In most cases, we walk around like the living dead, dressed up as stale and spiritless mannequins living life in a vacuous vacuum of emptiness.
Why do we fall so easily in to the trap of lackluster living? And more importantly, why do we feel the pangs of hollowness that make our lives feel meaningless, purposeless and expendable? The answer is that we aren’t aware. In other words, we have no focused and mindful attention of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves.
Awareness is a rich reward of practicing solitude. Below we’ll explore why.
A Crime Against Humanity?
Why? Why do we carry such little awareness through our days? Why do we struggle so much to practice awareness in our daily lives? Some people say that there is far too much stimulation and busyness in our daily lives to be capable of such a feat. Some say that we fear the awareness that comes with solitude. In it we see ourselves for who we truly are, and what our lives have become. Who would want that? Who would prefer reality over a cut off and comfortable dream?
Perhaps we like to run from truth, perhaps we prefer safety and comfort? Or perhaps we have never known that we are awake, yet constantly dreaming? We were never taught awareness and mindfulness by our parents, education or society. They were never even aware that it needed to be talked about, or practiced in the first place! Instead we were fed information about maths, science, art and a whole bunch of intellectual rubbish which would never help us grow mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
We were never taught what awareness was, or how it could be practiced, or how it could transform our lives into constant states of joy, appreciation and acceptance. We were deprived of the very thing we needed to live life alive. I rather think this is the reason why we lack awareness to this present day.
Hearing But Not Listening
From Eckhart Tolle, Osho and Lao Tzu, to Alan Watts, Buddha and Henry Thoreau, awareness has been shown to be the key to living wholly and fully. As Thoreau said “you must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” If you were to stop and think you would realize that most of us have forgotten how to simply be.
We don’t know how to do the simplest, yet most difficult thing in existence: to watch and listen right now, in complete awareness of this moment. In solitude, awareness provides us the space to be still, to listen instead of superficially hear. It even allows us to overcome pain.
3 Gifts of Awareness
Awareness allows us to:
1) Appreciate the subtleties of nature. Awareness allows us to notice and cherish the small miracles in nature. A gnat in a spiders web, the color of Autumn leaves, the smell of a storm approaching, the glow of the moon on a Winter’s night. There are an infinite number of small, seemingly irrelevant things we appreciate when we become aware of our surroundings. Usually we miss them in our daily routines, and therefore miss the gift of perceiving life as it happens around us. Awareness allows us to develop a high level of sensitivity to our surroundings and thus experience more wonder, fascination and joy.
2) Awareness allows us to overcome pain. This is possibly the greatest aspect of the virtue of awareness. When we adopt a state of awareness we are able to develop the ability to “observe” and detach ourselves from our emotions and thoughts. When we realize that we are not our thoughts or emotions, they are simply things that come and go, we are able to transcend them, and cease suffering from our unhealthy involvement. Awareness in this case, is essential for first acknowledging what thoughts and emotions we have, and then later, letting them pass.
3) Awareness allows us to be more objective. This can be demonstrated in a situation I recently, and embarrassingly, found myself in. I had caught a public bus, and a man had come on and sat behind me. I had observed him walk in and judged him instantly to be a basket-case psychopath (something about his face and clothing … I dunno). I started to feel more and more anxious as the minutes ticked by, wondering if he had a knife. Then I stopped, re-evaluated the situation objectively, and soon forgot my unfounded fear. Awareness allows us to be objective by helping us to watch without reacting. When we react, we impose our own preconceived beliefs and ideas on to the situation, elevating it into a horrific ordeal. Often times, we forget to see the reality of the situation, causing ourselves to suffer from irrational fears and anxieties. The objectivity that comes through awareness allows us to develop an inner equilibrium and calm which is impossible to find with mindless reactions.
Awareness is essential for experiencing childlike wonder and inner serenity. It is an important and extremely beneficial element of solitude, that leads to the next virtue of appreciation.
This article is part of The Virtues of Solitude series.
You can read the previous article on Aloneness here. And the next article on Introspection here.