“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”~Henry Miller
I recently wrote on the importance of being present to the unfolding moments and opportunities of Life. As I wrote, it became very clear that it is almost impossible to discuss presence without also addressing awareness: they belong and resonate together.Exercising awareness pulls you into the present moment and when you are very present, there is a radical awareness of all that surrounds you, and a greater ability to respond to what is at hand.
I once was required to do an exercise with a partner where we stood facing one another and, for a five full minutes, one person spoke aloud each and every thought or sensation or emotion that crossed his awareness. The other partner remained present to what was being said, responding with “thank you” to each statement. If you think this is no big deal, I invite you to try it for two minutes, let alone five. It is an intense experience of both presence and awareness, and underscores just how much is happening in each moment of our lives.
More recently, I was relaxing on the couch when I became aware that I was tensing my entire body; my breath was so shallow that it seemed to stop high in my chest. Becoming aware of this, I could relax and breathe deeply. More importantly, remaining present to my breathing (a hard task for me) and being aware of the way that I constrict my body allowed me to move into the deeper, underlying thoughts and emotions that created the constriction. Awareness leads to greater consciousness and, ipso facto, to an expansion of the Self.
I must emphasize a crucial point: being present and aware is not about blissing out. Although the individual is deeply affected by the practice of awareness, the really invaluable gift of being fully present and aware is a connection to others and a move beyond selfish interests to more compassion and service. It enables us to recognize that other people are not just walk-on characters in our personal play: they, too, have a present reality, a point of view, and a life purpose.
To live with radical awareness is to expand in connection with Life; this includes not just the awareness of what is beautiful, but also what is terrible. So it is becoming aware, as I recently did, that thirteen million children have been orphaned in Africa because of a totally treatable disease called AIDS. It is being aware of the suffering of animals, 570 of which are killed in shelters every hour of every day in this country alone. It is becoming aware that 13 million children go to bed hungry every night in this, the wealthiest, most bountiful country in the world, while we pay farmers to store and destroy their harvests to boost profits. (And yes, I am aware that this is a political and economic issue, but it is, above all, a moral one.) However painful such things are to take in, our awareness of them is crucial, because it is precisely the lack of awareness and presence that created them in the first place.
Expanding awareness and allowing yourself to be fully present to whatever presents itself leads to all sorts of intriguing questions. Who or what is waiting for my awareness? What might be the consequences of moving just one step beyond my current, comfortable, small cocoon? Where might an increased awareness lead me, and will I have the courage to follow it? Can I expand my awareness to take in not only the beauty, but also the pain and the suffering I find? And in taking it in and being truly present with it, can I offer myself in service to it? This is really the central core of soul work: to open your awareness and to listen deeply to whatever comes. You never know: you may just find the purpose of your life.