Everything about me has changed, except the feeling inside of being me.
I don’t feel any different now than when I was twenty-five, until I look in the mirror! How can there be so much change on the outside and so little on the inside?
Welcome to the superhero within, our immutable awareness.
Awareness is unphased by the ravages of time. How else could the I am me at twenty-five, feel the same as the I am me at sixty-seven? What we are aware of changes constantly, but awareness itself is unchanging. It is a light switched on at birth, that burns until our last breath.
Let’s take a closer look at this superpower. To begin, there are fundamentally two ways to experience life:
1. To surrender emotions to the winds of circumstance. Or,
2. To allow a watchful awareness guide our experience.
The choice we make moment by moment has an enormous impact on our lives. An example will clarify the point:
Back in college, I took a road trip with my buddy Don. Neither of us had ever swam in the ocean, and we decided to correct that.
Unbeknownst to us, an off-shore storm in the Atlantic impacted our destination. When we arrived at the seashore, 6-8 foot rollers crashed onto the beach. I was a strong swimmer, but the waves looked intimidating! Body surfing would be epic, so we got our twenty-year-old macho on and ventured into the waves.
Once in deep water, we quickly found we could surf a wave all the way in, when we got it right. But when we got it wrong, all hell broke loose. The ocean violently slammed us underwater with barely enough time to surface and catch a breath before the next wave hit.
After several hours we were exhausted. On the way back to the hotel, I told Don this was the gnarliest swimming I had ever done. Don looked at me and said, “Really? I thought it was cool. I’ve never been swimming before.”
“Yeah,” Don replied. “I don’t know how to swim.”
Don was highly analytical. He told me he was initially terrified when he saw the waves, until he remembered an 8th-grade science class when the teacher demonstrated that an egg floats in salt water. From that he assumed he would float as well, so he simply relaxed when he entered the waves.
I don’t recommend following Don’s example, but it demostrates the power awareness plays in our lives. Most non-swimmers in Don’s situation would’ve panicked and drowned. Don chose to calmly watch what happened once his feet could no longer touch the bottom.
Sooner or later, life serves up terrifying waves to all of us. We can choose whether we succumb to upsetting circumstances or, like Don, be peacefully attentive to the moment.
Awareness is a superpower we generally ignore.
Personal development usually focuses on mastering facts/skills to control circumstances. That’s important to be sure. But knowledge and control have little impact on our experience of joy. Giant waves in life need not destroy our peace.
Circumstances change, but awareness is constant. When I practice bringing watchful awareness to difficult circumstances, I am far more at peace than when I allow situations to command my emotions.
Let’s try something. Rather than reading on, pause right here. Let go of your thoughts and take five deep cleansing breaths, like this: Breath in deeply for a ten count, then slowly exhale for a count of ten………………….
Feel any different? This exercise releases pent up tension and prepares us to center our attention on awareness. Most people find this helps, even if for only a moment. How about you?
Peaceful waters run deep. Awareness practices allow us to probe those depths. A watchful awareness may not teach us to swim, but it can help us navigage some pretty choppy waves.
If you are so inclined, I recommend picking up a book on mindfulness practices like this one and giving it a try. Alternatively, you might explore the sections of this blog titled; Silent fitness and/or The Anatomy of Peace.
Deep below the stressful surface waves of existence, there lies a superhero within. The American Tibetan-Buddhist nun Pema Chodren nicely sums this up:
“You are the sky; everything else is the weather.”
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