Have you ever been going through the motions and can’t even remember what you were doing? Have you ever felt so busy and depleted, yet couldn’t think of one thing you “did”?
Have you ever heard had a thought about someone else’s behavior- “I don’t even think they’re aware they’re doing it?” This is because, like most humans in today’s life, awareness seems to be a luxury. Or something foreign to most people. Something that only the Dali Lama can have. It’s true, it is a practice that needs to be continually stretched and strengthened. The plus is that it is accessible to all, even those who may not want to meditate.
Awareness can enter in our lives in many different ways. We can read articles or listen to podcasts or ads that tell us how we “should” be doing something. That something we are doing is bad. Other people provide feedback that we have certain unhealthy behaviors that are not only having an impact on us, but on them and the world around us. We may want to make change and can’t understand why we keep ending up in the same rut. It can be something small or something large. In can be something new or an age-old pattern.
I’ve been there. I am a Yoga Instructor which is a huge passion of mine. I get to share and serve something that has been a positive in my life. It also offers me a way to be creative, express my personality, and use of skills of teaching and training. Recently, because of COVID-19, our Yoga Studio started offering online yoga classes to our students to continue to connect. This was exciting and a change. It was also very vulnerable. Recordings of me speaking and doing yoga by myself in front of a group of people in my messy home; yikes! When I was finally able to put my cringing aside, I non-judgmentally watched one of my own videos. A mentor, Megan, of mine had offered feedback in my instruction that I was using some unnecessary words I could cut out. I had already tried to make change, but watching the video brought even more reality and awareness of where exactly in my instruction I could make these improvements by noticing when I said these “filler words.” It was very helpful. Then, awareness came that I didn’t expect. I’ve been experiencing lower back pain on and off recently (welcome to the club). In watching my practice, I realized I was continually doing a pose I thought I had perfect alignment in incorrectly each time which can lead to low back pain. I honestly thought I nailed this pose every time. Clearly, I was not. Now that I had the awareness, and overcame my ego that I thought I was nailing it, I was able to be more conscious in the pose with my alignment to take care of my low back.
No matter how we receive awareness externally- from a mentor, family
member, doctor or commercial; we need to feel and recognize the awareness within ourselves. All of it helps, but really knowing and connecting with our own awareness is important. We can’t make change without it, or else we will have no idea where to start. So how can mindfulness support change?
We become aware and present with ourselves. When we have those foggy moments of our unrecognized actions and behaviors; the reality is its because we’re just not present enough to be aware of them. Even if someone tells you that you are doing something, you may not even believe them. Can you think of a time when you had a light bulb go off on something you didn’t even realize about yourself?
We become aware of the cycles. We are humans and despite what we’d like to think; pretty dang predictable. We are natural creatures of habit; healthy or unhealthy. We live and behave in cycles and patterns. When we are aware of our actions, we can then become aware of the full cycle. For example, when I stay up all night binge watching crappy TV; I don’t feel rested the next day, I’m less patient with myself and kids, and I have less energy to be productive (but was The Crown worth one day of this???). In reverse, I know that I have a cycle where I go to bed early, get up early, feel rested, and have more energy and kindness in my day. What is one of your cycles?
We become present and aware of barriers or challenges. Whenever, we are making any type of change in our life, we encounter barriers and challenges. That’s life. It’s also because we are breaking cycles that we have been doing for a long time. When we first take an initial action in the change in our behavior it feels great, but then we seem to keep hitting the same roadblock. When we have awareness of our roadblock, even after a healthy behavior comes first, then we recognize the next part of the cycle to focus on. When I started to make a change to have better alignment in my yoga pose to avoid back pain, I became more conscious of the pose, held my navel in and scooped my tailbone. It helped, but still wasn’t seeing the full result. Once I made that adjustment, I became aware that I was hitting the roadblock of rushing through the pose to offer time to make the adjustment properly in my body. I realized I needed to also slow down. What is a roadblock you keep encountering when making a change?
We become aware of our emotions. Not only are we creatures of habit, we are emotional beings. Some of us more than others. When we are experiencing any change; even from cleaning out our closet to a large break up, emotions are going to come up. And many of us fight, stuff, resist, or resent them. Emotions are natural, and when we are more aware of them, we have the ability to feel and acknowledge them. We also recognize that if they are a huge barrier in changing a cycle, we can seek help and support in processing them. When I make a change, I go through cycles of emotions- grief, resistance, anger, helplessness, or fear. Sometimes this happens in a quick minute and then it releases. Sometimes it lasts for weeks. What emotion is coming up for you in your change right now?
We become aware of when we feel good. We are naturally wired as humans for a negativity bias. We focus on the bad (um, thanks for that?). When we flex our mindfulness muscles, we also have the ability to be aware more often when we feel good. We can pause and bathe in it. When we know we feel good, we can then reflect on what led us there. That will be motivation to do it again when the time comes and support positive change in the direction of feeling good. Reflect on the cycle or behavior that got you there and use that as your blueprint to try again. What makes you feel good down to your soul?
We become aware of when we don’t feel so good. There are things that make us feel good down to our core that lasts. Then there is that feeling of good that wears off and leads to not feeling so good. Like the example before; binge watching a show can be good to zone out if you’re needing a break from life and to take your mind off of something. Sometimes I watch something sad on purpose with a bowl of ice cream (can we say PMS?) just so I can cry. We may even choose to do it, knowing we might not feel that great the next day. Perfection can be overrated. However, balance exists. The goal is to change patterns and cycles. If you binge watch a show all night long and own feeling crappy the next day, do it and own it and enjoy it if it works for you in that moment- we all probably do. If you become aware that it is developing into a pattern and feeling crappy is a daily thing- you have the ability to raise the red flag on yourself and say this felt good last night, but I’m sick of feeling crappy the day after. What behavior or cycle do you have that feels good and then doesn’t feel so good?
We become aware of our thoughts. Wow, can I be the biggest bitch to myself or what! The biggest barrier to our own change, is usually in our thoughts. We can have some pretty big inner critics that hold cruel and offer ourselves either compassion or the permission to tell them to stay quiet and move ahead. Judgement can melt away and we become more open. The first time I watched that yoga video of myself? As soon as I heard the critic come out and tell me how horrible I and the class were, I shut it off. I had to come to a place where I could view the video from an intention of awareness and just be curious for finding feedback to improve; not rip myself to shreds. What does your inner critic say to you?
We can take responsibility. Being a victim can seem easy. It’s a hard pill to swallow (ugh!), but science will prove to you that our life and health is a direct result of our behaviors, cycles and patterns in our body, mind, spirit, and emotions. Sure, we’ve had some major influence in our lives that help shape who we are now. Before we get down a shame and blame cycle (or after you’ve gotten that out of your system), we can be empowered. We all make mistakes. We all also have the ability to become aware of who we are and what we want to change. Science also proves that. I would get so frustrated when at the end of the night my house was a scene full of clutter which stressed me out. I, of course, blamed my kids for not putting anything away. I finally had the awareness that they had zero expectation of putting anything away because I would just clean up after them. I took responsibility for the fact that I could ask for help, stop doing all the work myself, and express to my kids that the clutter caused me stress and how could we work together to clean up (this took a few attempts, of course). Once I owned and expressed my part in the problem, it was a much better approach than angrily telling my kids the house was always a mess. What have you taken responsibility for that you blamed someone or something else for?
Ok, so you need awareness to really make sustainable change in your life. Now
what, how do you do that? As a coach, I am generally going to ask you; what works for you? Mindfulness is a true practice that is scientifically proven to cultivate a life of (or even moments of) awareness. Meditation is a modality that is also scientifically proven to result in mindfulness. And it may not work for you. I believe and have experienced that meditation and mindfulness can come in many different forms. I personally do a variety and balance of a lot of them. So really, you have to find what works for you by asking some questions. What do you do that brings you clarity and peace? When do you have your most peaceful thoughts? When do have epiphanies? When have you had those moments of awareness right down to your core? Perhaps its through meditation or yoga. Maybe its after a bike ride, talking something out with a friend, journaling, writing, dancing, painting, cooking, listening to a podcast, working out…there are many ways! Try one that works, or find a few.
Whatever works, the point is to find awareness. Your own awareness of you. Without awareness, there is no change. In actuality, without awareness; we just live in our own cycles and patterns in denial. Ignorance is bliss, until we realize knowledge and awareness is a superpower.
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