Mindful Awareness

philosophy from the mind of steve:

Not what you do, but how you do what you do determines whether you are fulfilling your destiny. And how you do what you do is determined by your state of consciousness.

Eckhart Tolle

                Humans seem to bask in the light of sharing woes with one another, and in fact, media news outlets specialize in this money-making penchant in the minds of the multitude. Most folks I have ever known are continually engaged in blaming, complaining, and the judgment of others, while they do not pause to contemplate their own shortcoming. I used to be that way, and still am to a much lesser extent, yet I have decided that I was not content with my existence in that mindless loop of pitiful wallowing and proving myself right and others wrong.

                The self, or ego, is at the bottom of all the negativity. The self is necessary for survival, so it may not be advisable to attempt a move totally beyond it, but what is a positive step is mindfully assessing the self on an ongoing basis to regulate its excesses. The tool I use to do this is mindful awareness, a phrase now popular in the realm of those who wish to evolve into a higher state of spiritual enlightenment – I am speaking of spirit in the sense of an inner essence of who I am, not in a supernatural or mystical manner of any sort. Mindful awareness is very simple to explain. It means that one is aware of what the mind is thinking at every moment of wakeful time, and uses that awareness in the service of achieving a better state of existence, both for the thinker and for those with whom the thinker has interaction. It is a like having an impartial committee overseeing one’s thoughts and actions, and providing feedback with no lapses in time. You are the committee.

                Some might, humorously or otherwise, refer to this notion as “mind police” who are always right there with you to let you know when you mess up, perhaps akin to the little angel who sits on one shoulder and the little devil who sits on the other in cartoons, both continually whispering in your ear to do this or do that. It may be similar to one’s conscience, which is supposed to tell us all to always do the right thing for the world, but I believe mindful awareness goes far beyond that concept of righteousness. Following the dictates of the conscience is not something that most of us do all the time, a case of conveniently allowing that little red devil his due when it works best to support our own self centered needs. This dynamic is called hypocrisy or bigotry, which runs rampant amongst our species, on all levels in all walks of life. It is only invisible to the ego. Blind self.

                Mindful awareness is light years ahead of that construct. As a person who is mindfully aware of my self, I choose to willingly and happily monitor my thoughts and actions because it leads to a deep feeling of inner satisfaction to act in compassionate and altruistic ways during my days in this form. Mindful awareness is a tool used by people who profoundly want to employ it for their betterment, and although few humans seem to utilize it, or even be aware of it for that matter, the ensuing joys of mastering it are indescribable. Well, you might say, Steve, you have not mastered it because you are still living in the past and complaining. Mastery does not indicate perfection, for none of us truly reach that level in our thoughts, rather, mastery means that even when I do slide back into the past, do not share peace, or fail to respect life in some way, I am indeed aware of my shortcoming. Every moment of every day, the sentient awareness within me keeps me on track for achieving the goals that direct my thoughts and actions: Respect Life – Share Peace – Live Now.

                With rare exception, human beings are found to regularly be expressing their self righteous beliefs. I see this all around me daily, and you see it all around you daily. It is one of those inborn traits of the human mind, as evidenced by its prolific existence. Who among us does not complain about something frequently throughout the day? Complaining, which is essentially a state of inner suffering, is such a normal species-wide occurrence that nearly everyone is blind to it. We just accept it as as an absolute reality to which we give no conscious thought. Everyone has an opinion, and is quite up to the self perceived need to defend that opinion to everyone else. My way, or else – I am right – you are wrong. Ego!

                When a person genuinely becomes mindfully aware, out of a powerful belief that longs for lasting self improvement, that blindness of self convenience evaporates forever. For one on a dedicated path of inner awareness, reaching a place of mindfulness, where the negative aspects of complaining are predictably eradicated, is the goal that will supersede all others. And that means all, not just those that happen to support the ego at the time. This is not easy to accomplish, requiring a constant monitoring until it becomes second nature. The expert at anything was once a beginner. Like learning any new skill, practice is necessary to understand and functionally utilize the concept.

                Let us suppose for a moment that I am a psychologist working under the auspices of a county mental health organization, and I include helping others with achieving a genuine level of successful mindful awareness as part of my practice. I understand the concept, and realize that it has already helped me tremendously, and I want to share the good news with my clientele. My supervisor endorses this concept as productive to the human good. Through teaching this to others, I become more adept at using the tool in my own life.

                Let us further suppose that another psychologist in my same department, one who has less time with the agency than I do, receives a promotion, moving into a higher paying position. I look at this and wonder why he was promoted over me, for my evaluations have all been excellent and I have a proven track record. After work that day, while walking home with a friend, I begin telling how unfair this was, and how I should have had that promotion for a number of reasons I perceive as legitimate. If I have not yet mastered mindful awareness, then I would most likely continue on with the conversation, venting my frustrations to my buddy, and he would likely commiserate and tell me how life is unfair. When I arrive home, as I am preparing dinner, my mind swirls with the injustice of it all, and I have trouble sleeping that night. I am resisting life’s reality in my tiny realm of existence, not accepting what is, and consequently I am suffering emotionally.

                If, on the other hand, I have mastered mindful awareness, if I have internalized it to the point that it is a true facet of my being, then the story would have proceeded differently. Yes, I might ponder the why of the other psychologist’s promotion, but I would also be aware of when I began sharing the situation with my friend on the walk, and that I was complaining based on my own perceptions of the incident, which may be based on insufficient knowledge of the underlying facts. Upon arriving home, I would be aware of my continued mental unrest as I prepared my dinner, and also that I was not sleeping well due to my mind’s thoughts telling me that this promotion was not right, that I should have been the one. I am right, the selfish little self says. With mindful awareness in place, the suffering vanishes in the bright light of reality and enlightenment. I use my thoughts to build, not destroy.

                Mindful awareness is a state where one catches oneself as soon as one crosses into the complaint mode of humanity, asserting that someone else is wrong. The reality is as it is, and I can choose to allow my thoughts to destroy my inner peace, or I can accept what is, and move positively into whatever direction I think best. Perhaps I will begin seeking other employment, or perhaps I will simply be happy that I have a high paying position already, that my life is a good one, and that ruminating over my perceptions, and sharing my distress and self pity with friends, is a waste of my time in a finite physical body in a universe where keeping a healthy perspective on reality shows my little concern to be ultimately pointless. By remaining mindfully aware it becomes easy for me to detect my inner unconscious thoughts as they occur in real time, which is always now, and to alter my behavior as necessary to avoid falling into the senseless traps of the suffering.

                I mentioned how this incident was a pointless exercise when viewed in the totality of life, yet I am sure many people would say that the other fellow being promoted (imagine a similar situation in your own personal life) was not a fair action when viewed from a seniority vantage point. How could I say it does not matter? How could I put a stop to my suffering? And make no mistake, when one complains, lays blame, or judges, it is indeed suffering, for the self is asserting a view that must be maintained. We believe that we are somehow made less of a person if we are not successful at getting our way. Of course, this is not accurate, but that is what our thoughts force us to believe if we are not mindfully aware of what is transpiring on the stage of our life.

                Imagine the Earth in the Milky Way galaxy as we use this image to achieve certain goals, one of which is to reveal from an extended and emotionally disconnected viewpoint the reality of where we exist in the scheme of things, which, when fully understood as a member of a natural world, clearly demonstrates that our personal problems are so utterly unimportant, so incredibly fleeting in time, that it is sheer folly to fall into mental agony over such things. Just as our minds cannot even remotely comprehend the immense time frames of universal, galactic, solar, and planetary evolution, neither can they grasp the little blip of an eye blink that we are alive in our corporeal bodies – just as the mayfly lives for only one day, and humans average 28,470 days by comparison, we are nothing in the 13 billion years our home galaxy has been around. When we leave our sentience, none of this will matter in the slightest, but we sure think the world is coming to an end now because something “really bad” happened at work.

                Cliff Baxter, the distraught Enron corporate executive who ended his life in the early morning hours as his wife and children slept at home, surely believed his thoughts that life was not worth living anymore. He chose a permanent solution to a temporary problem by sending a bullet into his head, and ruined many lives besides his own with his selfish action. What could have proven a positive turning point in his life instead ended in an action showing total disregard for life. Yes, this is indeed suffering, and while you and I may not chose Cliff’s solution, we still suffer if we are not mindfully aware of our thoughts during times that typically bring stress to us.

                My worldview, or should I say universal view, is one based completely on the natural world. I am a naturalist. Based on statistics, most readers of this book will likely be supernaturalists however, and they may wonder if what I am saying will work for a supernaturalist also. Does mindful awareness have a place in the supernatural paradigm? Yes, it certainly does, although most theists would not refer to this mental strategy as mindful awareness for a couple of reasons. It is likely many Christians will see the terminology I am using as what is referred to as “new age” rhetoric, and thus believe it is not of God, but rather a method used by satan to trick the careless faithful, as I was once informed long ago by the Focus on the Family organization when I asked about humanistic models of existence. Additionally, from the Christian viewpoint, assistance in life’s stressful times comes mainly from God, and thus psychoanalytical methods are not necessary. As a Christian, I evoked the name of Jesus to keep my thoughts off of self, and on the betterment of mankind (which I now refer to as humankind to remove the traditional sexist views from the picture). God had the power to do what I now do on my own through mindful awareness and other ways of seeing the life before me for what it truly is.

                The written holy books of religions essentially command the followers of that religion to not get tangled up in meaningless issues of the world, and in our psychologist promotion example, would demand that the deity has a reason for all things. Each God tells those who believe to walk away from such trivial things, telling the faithful that he or she will take care of them. The creator states not to be angry or take vengeful actions, so the good news is that regardless of whether you happen to be a naturalist or supernaturalist, the message leads to a similar end result, that of letting the small stuff slide off your back, of rising above the petty jealousies of traditional human behaviors. For a believer of a God, the task is mandated behavior. The unfortunate reality I see in the world however is that many believers, if not most, are not successfully following their creator’s instructions, as they still go home at night complaining every bit as much as the naturalist does.

                For supernaturalists and naturalists alike, the challenge is the same: putting the desire for spiritual enlightenment in a prioritized position on a minute by minute basis, continually being aware of one’s thoughts and actions. Only through a concentrated effort, a Herculean effort I might add, can one hope to overcome the pettiness of human emotional issues where egos do battle. Returning to the psychologist’s example for a moment more, an altruistic and compassionate approach might be suggested as one where we are happy for the other person’s promotion. We see the benefits for that person, and realizing we are all one of the same power of life, understand that we were not made less in any way by the occurrence. If we take a hard look at this, it becomes apparent that only two things are at play here, namely money and pride. All we did not acquire was more money, and all we think we lost was self centered pride, neither of which are important.

                The Christian Bible tells us that pride leads to destruction, a profound wisdom worth embracing, as are countless other tenets of the scriptures. These meaningful solutions to life’s problems are worth all of us following. Are money and pride that important to us that we will suffer emotionally, just allowing our egotistic thoughts to trample a deeper awareness of truth? I imagine that you just answered no to that question, so starting right now, be mindfully aware of your thoughts and actions during the next week and see if you remain true. Does the self get the better of you? The instant you become mindfully aware of your shortcoming, change the course right then and there – right now!

                As I changed my life around, and began to mindfully assess each interaction with other people, I was very amazed at how little it took to raise my indignation. I quickly discovered that I was blindly reacting to what was going on around me, a hopeless little pawn in the chess game of life, being outwitted over and over again by the invisible adversary – I was playing chess with my self, and losing most of the time. I was like an out of control nuclear reactor, melting down every day, and loading my system up with dangerous levels of stress hormones, similar to receiving massive does of radioactive fallout. This stuff kills us, leads to all kinds of well known health issues, and is most certainly not respectful of life, sharing peace, or living now.

                What being mindfully aware allows us to do is become what I term proactive in our daily happenings. We no longer go out into the world around us and let it dictate our emotional state. We are actively and automatically monitoring our ego-driven self, and keeping it in check when it would have normally reacted negatively in an unaware mindset. At first, this is difficult, because the self keeps insisting and shouting that we are right and we must, as a matter of pride, have the last word and assert our dominance over every situation. I will tell you that this transition from reactive to proactive takes a lot of dedicated work on our part. We must quiet the self righteous self, see our place in the bigger cosmic picture of life, and proceed through all situations in a humble manner that bestows peace upon all who interact with us.

                If we truly want peace, we must first be peaceful, full of peace so that it eventually flows naturally without thinking. With each now moment we can be this peaceful person of mindful awareness if we make each moment count and be the best we can be during it. This is VERY important, because the present moment is all we EVER have in our life. We do not have the past, nor do we have the future. Only our thoughts keep us chained to the past or living in dread of the future. Everything happens right now. Think about it.

                Mindful awareness is a key tool for moving beyond self, into a world full of love. We can use this tool to undo much of what we were taught along the journey of our life. In our journey, the culture in which we were raised trained us to see individual differences in all the people we meet. Immediately when we first interact with someone new, our thoughts begin to judge the “other” in an attempt to determine how the person is compared to me. Is he smarter, better looking, stronger, richer, poorer, happier? Can this person be helpful to me, or is he not worthy of my time? We categorize everyone we meet, assign cultural labels, and then treat them according to our learned methods of dealing with those people.

                Essentially, others are viewed as separate from us. How great would it be to look for the similarities instead of the differences? The essence of each of us is the same. We are part of the same life power that led to us being here on this planet, and at some level within our thoughts, we have similar fears, motives, and desires. We use mindful awareness to move into this favorable new paradigm shift of human interaction, and in so doing, realize the age old appeals to categorize and judge according to racial, sexual, religious, nationalistic, and social class stigmas may be vanquished in the name of selfless peace.

                Mindful awareness leads to a new inner consciousness, one that understands life on Earth and throughout the universe as a single organism, and allows us to clearly see that an organism at war with itself is destined to fail. Our hidden personal fears of the “other” keep us from exploring the oneness of life. The other person might hurt me. The other person might take what I want or need, leaving me with less for the future. The other person might say something that hurts my feelings, making me think less of myself. Becoming aware of what the mind is thinking each present moment allows us to expose our deeply troublesome prejudices and bigotry, providing the opportunity to offer respect, unity, and peace to all those we meet, instead of suspicion, division, and discordance. It’s just a choice between fear and love, the choice between remaining in a prison and walking into total freedom.

                Through these techniques of self awareness, we realize that being a force of division is to wound life, whereas being a power of inclusion is to heal life. Driving wedges between ourselves and other people further erodes the sanctity of the power of life, whereas uniting people strengthens the fabric of sentient existence. People of Earth are all one, with common needs and desires, and for evidence of this, we need look no further than watching “foreigners” at family gatherings or on vacation in our own countries. We all love, all have fears, hopes and wishes for ourselves, families, and friends, regardless of which political container we call home. We only learn to fear and distrust common citizens of other countries because our governments convince us that they will take away our unique ways of life. We are all part of life on the planet, and in reality, are citizens of Earth, not of politically motivated nations that perpetuate differences and wage wars, nor fragmented religious groups that claim tolerance but are in reality wholly intolerant.

                The core of being mindfully aware operates on the principle of thinking about what we are thinking about. This is the awareness, called by some metacognition. As humans, we are nearly always in a state of thinking, even when sleeping in the form of dreams, so we are experts at thinking thoughts. Becoming aware of our thoughts is the step that few of us truly master, or if we do become aware of them, we fail to act compassionately, altruistically, and lovingly. We return to the old ways of suspicion and fear. Mindful awareness is being aware of what we are thinking, and using that awareness to respect life, share peace, and live in the present moment harmoniously with all we meet.

 If you find my ideas here personally helpful, you may enjoy the 332 page book in which I detail my philosophy of life, Bioform.

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