“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment” – Lao Tzu
Those are powerful words from an enlightened master of self awareness from the 6th century BC! Clearly, people have been giving this topic some thought for quite awhile. But, self awareness doesn’t seem to come easily to us all of the time, and can feel completely elusive when we’re under stress. I believe self awareness is a practical set of tools and skills that can support us in achieving our dreams and our goals.
What kind of self awareness habits do you have? Do you find yourself reacting emotionally first and thinking about it later? Or do you think first and perhaps find yourself reacting too late, or not at all? Do you avoid thinking about what you are doing or feeling? Or do you analyze every thought, feeling or action over and over again? Most of us live a bit on both sides of the scale, depending on the subject. What kind of self awareness habits would you like to have?
Cultivating self awareness can be especially challenging when life doesn’t go the way we want it to go! For me, it means giving myself the gift of questioning my initial emotional impulses. It means pausing to get my internal bearings so I can separate “reality” from ”reaction.” It also means looking at a situation from another perspective — like trying on a pair of glasses, I can “try on” seeing things from a different viewpoint. If I can think about what I’m feeling, or feel about what I’m thinking — even for a moment — then I’m on the right track.
As with all skills, practice becomes habit over time. The good news is that this practice is also a lifelong journey — there are always deeper layers of self awareness and, by Lao Tzu’s definition, even more enlightenment to find!
From C. Pete Lee:
When I was growing up, I heard all sorts of things from relatives, friends, family members, acquaintances and even strangers, about who I was supposed to be as an adult. I thought about what I wanted, but my mind was constantly bombarded by opinions of others, as if they knew me better than I knew myself. ”So-and-so says I’m supposed to do this.” “Mom said it should be this way.” “Reverend what’s-his-name said God might not approve.” For many years, I never thought to question my own thinking.
I don’t remember where I first saw the phrase, ”YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS.” Just like that. All in capital letters. This phrase struck a chord within me. In 2004, a friend of mine suggested I check out Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is. This incredible teacher teaches a wonderful process to question your own thoughts. One of the questions she asks is “Who would you be without your thoughts?” That question reminded me of the phrase “You are not your thoughts.”
So if I’m not my thoughts, who am I? The first time I asked myself that question, it took me into an experience of pure silence. I didn’t respond intellectually. I went into the feeling of what it would be like if I didn’t have any stressful thoughts… or anyone else’s opinions of me…. It felt so spacious and roomy. I was there, but who was this “I”? It was a deep moment. I realized I was not my thoughts, but I was the awareness of my thoughts, feelings, and opinions. That was a huge moment!
Self awareness to me, is a constant, direct experience of noticing my thoughts, feelings and emotions. Notice the word “notice.” It means not identifying with every thought and emotion that crosses your mind. It means learning to become the observer of the thoughts that cross your mind and the feelings that hover nearby. When I learned to observe from a place of stillness, I realized that my mind is an amazing computer, a thought processor that doesn’t stop doing its job. But, instead of believing every single thought, I could let them pass like clouds in the sky.
So go ahead, close your eyes and take a nice deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Take two more. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Simply notice what you’re thinking and feeling. Notice you noticing. Keep breathing and notice your breathing. Keep noticing and allow whatever comes up to simply be there and notice that… and that… and that…
Welcome to self awareness.