Awareness – The catalyst for change & mindfulness

I spent some time yesterday thinking about awareness and what it brings. There are different places that awareness appears in our lives and how it affects us. I wrote before, but have considered even deeper how we are the most critical of the things in others that we are critical of in ourselves. It takes awareness that you’re being critical to be able to shine the spotlight on why it exists and let you become mindful of it. I love the idea of mindfulness but it can’t exist without awareness. Similarly, awareness is a powerful piece of information that has tremendous potential but if you never become mindful of the things you’re aware of then it may be little more than a daydream. The key to change in yourself and the world is to become aware, then become mindful of that awareness. There is a third component here, I’m only just becoming aware of the connection between these two so I’ll have to ponder more what that component of change or action is… allowing that maybe it’s just Will.

Yesterday, when pondering awareness, it was under the guise that “change can be invisible” and that we sometimes shift without really noticing. The anecdote that sparked it was as recent as the past few days, and here it is:

Over the weekend, my family participated in preparing and staffing a float for our local beekeeper’s association to present at the parade opening the county fair. My son, creative and hilarious, wanted me to be a flower so he could be dressed as a bee and smack me with a honey wand to pollinate me. He was excited about this, but we didn’t find a way to make that costume happen. However, one of the beekeepers had a box full of various costume parts and on Saturday pulled out a bee costume with a cap. This didn’t and doesn’t seem that odd to me and when he handed it to me as an option, I put it on and really didn’t think any more of it. I was with my family, we were having fun, the spirit of the event supported the idea of me in a bee costume. Well since then, as the pictures my wife shared with the world surfaced, family and friends (even one of the beekeepers) commented, asking “how she made me do it” or “they’re happy to see a man confident in his masculinity” and for some reason I was completely unaware there was anything remarkable about my costume wearing. I still find it unremarkable, but see this as a mindfulness and self-awareness shift in behavior.

In the last year, as I’ve become much more mindful of myself, others and myself-and-others. This is to say, I’m increasingly aware that the way I feel and react is all within myself, regardless of other’s opinions about me. When it came time to wear a costume, I was thinking first of my son who wanted me to wear a costume. Alternatively, as my mindfulness about myself has shifted, I realize that the way others see me is less important than the way I see myself. This all feels like common sense, or maybe it’s age talking, but it was a fresh perspective for me. I have changed, to some degree, in the last year (and every year really) because that’s just what happens, we get new information, we get different priorities and we change.

So, bringing this back to awareness, my thoughts yesterday were about change but I woke up this morning thinking about awareness and how that drives change and how that empowers us to make decisions or choices. Every thing you become aware of has the potential to be a thing you can make a choice about. If you’re aware of your critical behavior, you can change it. If you’re aware of how eating junk food makes you feel, you can change it. Awareness by itself is already a great thing, it lets you speak out on injustice, it lets you react to others feelings and needs. Mindfulness by itself, also amazing… and non-existent if you’re not aware in the first place. These two together are what leave you poised for change so the next step is translating it to action


Be Considerate

I happened to utter that phrase this morning. I was thinking about where to place things and said that I needed to “be considerate” of the things that were already there and where they would go, specifically these were tools that had a purpose for their positioning. As I said it, those two words struck me as a parental phrase offered when trying to teach our kids to be decent human beings. Of course, I was talking about considering the environment, a totally different use of the words, but it still struck me. To “be considerate” is a very mindful thing to do.

To consider something is to think about it, to weigh the outcome. “Consider the consequences” when you are about to make some rash decision. This is very focused on you and the outcome of your actions. “Consider” in this case is to think about and weigh the results of an action. In the case of this adage, mindfulness is necessary to stop and think before you act. If you can “consider the consequences” every time you make a decision then you’ll be living mindfully with regards to yourself and how the choices you make will affect your immediate or even long-term future.

Being considerate of others, that’s still considering an outcome, but in this case, it’s more about walking a mile in their shoes. If you can be considerate of someone else, you can awaken your own empathy and start hopefully save someone else from their negative emotions. By being considerate of someone’s feelings, you’re stopping before being mean. By being considerate of someone else’s actions, you’re allowing that there might be some decision or purpose behind what they’ve done. Again, these are mindful acts. Empathy is one of the most mindful traits you can really embrace and luckily one begets the other. The more you consider how someone else will react to your actions, you give yourself a reason to continue to do that for other people. Especially when you see that your consideration has a positive effect. When you’re considering why someone did something, you can head down the rabbit hole of how it affects YOU or you can see that maybe there’s another side to the story that is completely based on them. By letting THEM have their own reasons, and accepting them at face value, you can save yourself from stress and anger.

There are so many things to consider about consideration. To my original thought, considering where you place thing is an art form? a science? a practice when it comes to interior design. The Chinese concept of Feng Shui is all about considering where things are placed for optimal flow of chi in your house. In my example, where I place a drill press may get in the way of placing boards when I want to use my miter saw. There is a flow, be it something as ephemeral as Chi or as literal as a board, and consideration is again a mindfulness when planning and when doing.

The big consideration, one that I’ve spent much more time considering in my 40s than in any previous decade, Death. Considering that you, your loved ones, your enemies all face that inevitability can sometimes bring consideration for how you treat them now, and how you continue to treat them. Either by considering that someday you may lose them or one day you’ll be gone, either is a heavy weight to let sit. I know it’s a hard one to think about but I’ve found tremendous strength in remembering that ultimate end. Some folks will do anything to avoid thinking about it, leading to different mindless pursuits as a result. By knowing that it’s always out there can hopefully give you some peace instead.

I’m adding some footnotes, a new thing for me, as I thought of examples through my writing and wanted to give some bonus reading.

Accepting things at Face Value

If someone says you look nice/pretty/handsome, don’t deny them or downplay their statement. Accept what people tell you as their truth, acknowledge it positively, and move about your day. By downplaying other’s intent we’re just re-investing in our own negative self-talk and devaluing ourselves and them for saying something.

Recently my son entered a crafting contest and as we dropped off his entry, the lady taking entries commented on how nice it was and even commented on parts she liked. Grudgingly he acknowledged her compliment, but he wasn’t super happy or positive in his response. As we were leaving, I commented that she seemed to like it and he said: “She’s just saying that.” Now, this kid isn’t generally much of a pessimist and he wasn’t disappointed with his project before we got there, this was enough out of character to make me pause. Often I get the most insightful WHILE I’m explaining something, so I just responded with what I was thinking, luckily with enough mindful filter to not just lecture or negate his feelings.

As I asked him why he thought that, I tried to allow him to have his feelings while also help him and myself realize, assuming someone’s intent when they say something is just negating THEM while also feeding our own judgments. I suggested to him, as I now do myself and others, that the best you can do is accept someone’s compliment honestly and presume them to be telling you their feelings. Now, you may say that to the complimenter by way of being modest, but your best bet is to accept their kind words with a smile. Whenever possible, shut up the chatter of your “monkey mind” which relishes negativity and incorrect assumptions.

Accepting things at face value can go a long way in different directions with different topics. In this case, my son had negative self-talk regarding his creative efforts. It can also happen in how you’re viewing yourself, that pain in your side may be “side cancer” or it might just be a sore muscle. If you stub your toe on your way out the door it might be because it’s Friday the 13th and there’s a day of bad luck coming your way, or you might have just been rushing and didn’t pay attention to your footing. That person may have cut you off in traffic because they’re mean or they hate you, or they might have failed to see you and then cursed themselves for their idiocy for the rest of their day. We don’t always know the other person’s story, we don’t always know the full circumstances of each event in your life.

Rather than presume the worst, try instead to assume the best or at a minimum just go with the neutral result. Maybe the compliment about your hair is genuine and the person making it really likes it, maybe its more than that, maybe that person is having a bad day and your effort to beautify yourself has uplifted them. Maybe that person has been admiring you from afar for months and just worked up the courage. Maybe when you stubbed your toe it will remind you for the day to slow down and pay attention, maybe that little misstep causing pain in your morning will make you mindful when merging on the highway and not try to dart in front of a fast-moving truck. Maybe if youl’re going to go past face value, you can just spin it to be better than your initial assumption.

Of course, presuming something better is at fault, is just putting a positive spin on the same thing… the assumptions we tend to make. You’re switching negative self-talk into positive assumptions or even wishful thinking. While that can be good for self-esteem, it can be dangerous on it’s own as well. Your most healthful, mindful approach will continue to be to just acknowledge that the thing happened, then release it from your mind. A compliment? “Thank you.” and move on. A pain? “Ouch”, and move on. A random disruption in your flow? “Dang. Darn. Whoopsie.” and move on. Mindfulness is being present in this moment, it isn’t ruminating on past events leading up to it or dwelling on events for the rest of your day. Pretend you’re just a stick floating down a stream, just float and be present.

Expectation vs Reality

Everything in our life, for most people, is based on expectations. We expect people to behave in certain ways. We expect results from specific actions. We expect our life to turn out the way we planned. Unfortunately, these expectations are often wrong or worse, they’re wreaking havoc on our mental health. Sometimes our expectations cause discomfort while they’re still expectations, and sometimes the results are what cause the pain. In either case, these are completely states of mind causing grief in your life.

This whole battle with expectations really strikes me as I consider my place in life, my family and how I’m spending my time with them or with my work. While I’m not in the throes of a mid-life crisis, I can definitely identify with reaching a point in life where I consider what I’ve done, what I thought I’d be doing and what I can reasonably expect to still do. It wasn’t long ago that I WAS properly battling with what I expected of my life and being disappointed, depressed even, that my plans of 20 years didn’t all bear fruit. With a bit of perspective and introspection since that realization, I’m actually quite happy with the results.

In my youth, I had 2 goals really, to have a family and to be a millionaire. I’m happy to say I’ve achieved one of them and honestly pretty happy that I failed on the other. While I’m not saying that to be a millionaire is a bad thing, I’m not sure what my path through life would have been or if I’d have managed to be who I am today. I’ll never know for sure, but I think my finances have left me good footing for growth.

Expectations about my life are one thing, but it’s big, overarching and hard to really see whilst in the thick of it. Expectations vs Reality on a day to day basis can be easier to spot and definitely easier to use as a mindful practice. As I was contemplating this post, I was driving to work and dealing with the stress or non-stress of a 30-minute commute. I took the opportunity to observe my drive, the other drivers and my reaction to them, and the various uncontrollable conditions which I was dealing with. As one driver moved into the right lane to pass me, I was irritated that he was “driving carelessly” to gain 3 seconds on me in the race to work. Of course, I sped up so he couldn’t get back over in front of me. As I accelerated I realized what I was doing and chuckled. While the other driver might be driving dangerously, they also may have an emergency to deal with… or maybe they were already angry and I was just adding to that by trying to block them. I eased up on the pedal, even changed lanes, and let the whole thing go. A little less stress for me AND probably for them as well (I’ll never know.)

Driving a car is full of expectations and our chance to be irritated by what we expect to happen and what we don’t expect to happen. I often find driving to be one of my best mindful times, there is so much happening and so many different ways I’m handling life summed up in a simple drive. That’s probably an entire blog all by itself.