Yoga Is Challenge Day 7- Awareness
Awareness is a faculty of mind that you can cultivate. Defined as the ability to perceive, feel, know, or cognizant of, or in other words, the state of being conscious or aware. Awareness is happening in you right now. Just reflect for a moment and you will see that you are aware of many things that coalesce to create your perception. There is a device upon which you are reading this blog. These are the words of the blog. There are the ideas that I’m communicating to you. And there are countless things you could take notice of in your immediate surroundings, the space which you occupy, the temperature of your environment, the level of light, the cleanliness, and so much more. There is the realm of your body, its feelings, temperatures, textures and general sense. By the fact of your human nature you are by definition a sentient being and therefore aware of both yourself and your world.
Awareness is not, however, the same as the judgements or qualifications that you make on what you perceive. That is an entirely different function of the mind. As soon as you begin to qualify what you are aware of as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral the mind has shifted gears. Instead of merely noting what is happening as it is happening in an objective, clear manner, when you begin to qualify that which you experience as good, bad or neither, the mind operates from a framework most often rooted in past perception and future anticipation. It can be useful to graphic this out so that you can clearly be aware of the difference between pure awareness and value judgements placed on that which you are aware of. Take this example below.
An external event generates a stimulus of some type. Your awareness registers it. Then, based on your past experience you then label the experience as positive, negative or neural. Finally, any action taken from within this loop is rooted in the past and will most likely lead to a perpetuation of the past.
1. External stimulus—for example, a strong fan is turned on and pointed towards you.
2. Awareness registers the feeling of air from the fan passing over the skin.
3. Memory of catching a cold surfaces and mind judges the fan as bad.
4. Action, called karma in Sanskrit, is taken to turn the fan off.
Pure awareness happens prior to the value judgement placed on your experience. Divorcing the faculty of awareness from cycles of reactivity is a crucial step in the cultivation of the yogi’s mind.
In the ancient language of the Buddha, called Pali, awareness is referred to as “sati”. Sometimes also taken to mean mindfulness, sati is listed as the first of the seven factors of enlightenment in Buddhism. The Satipatthana Sutta is written entirely about the practice of developing pure awareness. Here meditators are advised to be aware of their breath, of the quality of their thoughts, of the emotions, and of the feelings and sensations that arise in the body not only in practice but in every moment of your life. Keeping the mind focused within the realm of inner awareness, free from reactivity, is a kind of liberation from the cycles of the past. Instead of acting and reacting based on value judgments or experiences, the practice of awareness trains the mind to be calm and equanimous.
Moment by moment we are all aware. The body especially constantly registers sensations and reacts without our conscious awareness. Just think about the last time you had a itch. Most likely you were only tangentially aware of the itchy sensation before your hand had reached over to scratch the itch. The tool of yoga seeks to heighten your powers of awareness so that there is no break in the flow of consciousness. Moment by moment you train in how to be consciously aware of all that unfolds without the chains of the past.
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