sunrise in rhode island on the providence river

cultivating mindfulness & self-awareness

“The outer situation of your life and whatever happens there is the surface of the lake. Sometimes calm, sometimes windy & rough, according to cycles and seasons. Deep down, however, the lake is always undisturbed. You are the whole lake, not just the surface.”

– Eckhart Tolle
photo by jfb

For many of us, the chaos and clatter of everything happening around and within our minds sometimes feels like all there is. We live in a constant state of anxiety and reactivity, being taken in one direction and then the other by the thoughts and emotions we’re experiencing in any given moment.  

We’re controlled by a voice in our head that criticizes us for everything we do wrong, and feels guilty or angry with everything that has gone wrong already.  This voice interprets every experience immediately, and we don’t question it just like we don’t question our breathing – it happens subconsciously. And then we feel and act based on the voice’s interpretation of the experience.  

there are actually 2 of you

Everyone has this voice in their head.  Some people’s voices are more of an asshole than others, but everyone’s voice tends to have the same dysfunctions.  This might sound dismal, but there is a bit of good news – that voice is not who you are. For some of the people reading, you already know this very well.  And for others, it might be the first time you’ve heard it or the first time you’ve truly understood it.  

If you’ve ever argued with yourself or you’ve noticed yourself thinking about something ridiculous or you’ve ever talked to yourself in your own mind, then you’ve experienced that there are two of youThe one that’s doing the thinking, feeling, and reacting, and the one aware of thoughts, emotions, and reactions.

You are the presence that witnesses the voice, you are not the voice.  Knowing this allows you to observe what your inner voice is doing and thinking – aka self-observation.  As you become more and more aware of what’s always going on beneath the surface of your awareness, you become conscious.  You wake up from the dream (or nightmare). The process of developing this awareness is mindfulness.  

Until you develop self-awareness and mindfulness, you’ll join the millions of others living most of their lives on auto-pilot, having little control over thoughts, emotions, or life.  The truth is that unless you know what you’re thinking, feeling, or doing, you have no way of changing it. Simply developing this awareness is the key to unlock your inner power.  Cue evil laugh.

photo by franz

becoming the witness

Start by listening to the voice in your head as often as you can. Become the witness.  Pay extra attention to any thoughts that tend to repeat themselves over and over again – there may be a realization hidden in there somewhere. 

Be the observer of what is happening inside of you, both the surface of the lake and the depths.  See if you can find and feel the deep calm at the bottom of the lake, even if the surface is rough.  

As you practice mindfulness and observe your thoughts and reactions, you’ll be able to recognize even more clearly that the witness is the true you.  When you observe yourself feeling angry, you’ll see that the part observing and the angry part aren’t the same. This is important because the witness (you) is always equanimous.  A neutral place to return to, just like the breath.  

Your higher self is untouchable, unfuckwithable, and knowing it’s always there means you can seek it out at any point. Think about it – when the sun dips below the horizon, you know it still exists even though you cannot see it. (If this is not the case, I think there are support groups out there for you). 

There’s this part of you that’s always there even if you can’t always see or feel it in the moment. If you begin to pay attention with a sense of curiosity to discover what your inner voice is up to, you’ll notice the interesting things it does.  

You’ll notice when you’re behaving in a way that aligns with goals and values and when you’re not.  You’ll notice when you’re smiling when sad or saying fine when not. You might notice you’re pretending to be angry when you’re not because you’re trying to influence someone else’s behavior.  Or maybe you notice you’re thinking negative thoughts about yourself and making yourself insecure. Maybe it’s that you’re relaxed and happy.  

woman standing in a field during a sunrise with epic clouds in a tiedye skirt and wide brim floppy hat

keep returning to the present moment

All you need to know is that access to all awareness is through the present moment.  Most people’s minds have a strong habit to spend time thinking about the past or imagining the future.  The past is usually remembering things we regret or fucked up, and the future is often imagined in either a fantasy or nightmare scenario.  But the power to observe and redirect your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors is only accessible when you’re focused in the present moment.  

When you’re paying attention to what’s going on in this moment, you can then notice the mind remembering and experiencing the past or worrying about the future.  But, if you let yourself go with your mind to these past or future places, you lose your sense of awareness. Bring your attention as often as you can to what’s happening right now.  

Pay attention to each step you take, to other noises that are going around you, or to your breathing.  All of these things bring your attention back to the present moment. Returning to the present moment gives you an opportunity to become aware of what you’re thinking.  

woman crouched down on rocks in bermuda taking a photo of horseshoe bay beach

what seems like a failure is actually a success

It’s also important to know that the next time you notice yourself experiencing a negative thought or emotion, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed, it means you’ve succeeded.  If you can’t become aware of them, you have little power over them.

Celebrate each time you notice yourself in this negative thought process. Because you know it’s not who you are.  You are the one in charge.


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