“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” Eckhart Tolle
There are two fish swimming along and they meet another fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and says, “What the hell is water?”
Most of the time we are like the fish. We are swimming in a sea of possibility, but its too close for us to realize. Awareness is to personal growth as the Hubble Telescope is to space exploration. We zoom in and see the spaciousness of our inner life. We go deeper in order to see clearer whats right in front of us. Awareness is seeing life from a depth of 30,000 feet, where vision and purpose are born.
Without awareness, we flounder and drift through life. With awareness, we learn to see the potential and beauty in each moment. Like the fish, we need to both recognize who and where are now, and explore new edges of this reality.
There is a famous Zen saying, “You are perfect as you are, and you could use a little work.” The essence of an authentic life is to fully accept yourself AND seek to be more of who you are at the same time. There is always more YOU to discover and become. The same is true in relation to the world. It is what it is, the perfect culmination of all that led to this moment AND it needs a little work to become all it can be. So the challenge is to accept all that is AND to participate in creating a better future for all. The key step to discern the difference between surrendering to what is and change is awareness. Awareness is the first A in the AAA plan to effective change management.
Awareness Asks Why
Awareness is powerful. Awareness helps you to see both the strengths and weaknesses in yourself and in systems. Awareness reminds you of what makes you happy, what makes your blood boil and what gets you out of bed in the morning. Awareness enables you to see the dysfunction in a system, the inequalities and injustices both small and large. In terms of change, wisdom is knowing what to do next, awareness is knowing why it’s important, skill is knowing how to do it, and integrity is following through and actually doing it.
Why is a powerful question. Why creates a frame for all your whats, whens, wheres, whos and hows. Think about the power of why.
If your why is clear, you WILL find a way. ALWAYS
If your why excites you, you WILL find a how. ALWAYS
If your why is clear AND excites you, you will solve any what, trust every when, meet all the right whos, find all the right wheres, and overcome any challenging how.
And if you feel like you’ve been clear about your WHYS, and the whats and wherefores have not gone your way, this itself is likely taking you to a deeper WHY.
Kids understand this well- why, but why, but why, but why…… Kids understand something that we easily forget as adults. The power of why.
Why can be used for good or ill. When its used for good, its directed forward. When its used for ill, its directed backwards. An insatiable why that is directed backwards wants answers to questions that only lead to suffering- like why me? Why then? Why did he do that to me? These whys lead to anxiety. A persistent why that is directed forwards seeks answers to questions that open up new questions- like why do I feel this? Why am I feeling this NOW? Why is this important? And why do I care? These whys lead to clarity which gives you peace of mind.
The power of whys is that they make you wise with awareness. They take you close to the essence of WHO you are, maybe even to the source of life itself.(read on for more about the power of awareness)
Awareness and Vision
When Martin Luther King spoke, he didn’t say I have a plan. He said I have a dream, and millions of people intuitively GOT it. The problem with politics today is that there are too many plans, and not enough vision, which is how you get to the WHYS. Politics today lacks vision and awareness. Malcolm X said,
The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.
Change without awareness leads you to aim for the wrong targets, fight the wrong battles, attack the wrong enemy and make rash and inauthentic decisions. The point of awareness is not just to know information and facts. Facts and knowledge are awesome. Action and passion are exciting. But to act passionately, out of a deep awareness of why certain causes give you goose bumps and why change is essential, is true mastery. With self awareness, you learn to see your own part in the problem, where you can make a difference and why you want to be involved. With self awareness, you learn to see the possibilities and pitfalls of change.
Awareness comes with firsthand experience. It comes with feedback from others. It sometimes comes out of the blue. And most importantly it comes when you get up close and personal with yourself in the mirror of self reflection. Lao Tzu said, “Knowing others is wise. Knowing yourself is enlightened.”
Awareness is often subtle when it first arrives, like a tap at the front door because it doesn’t want to wake you up too suddenly. Occasionally when I lived in an apartment I heard a knock at the door late at night and resisted getting out of bed. I convinced myself that it was a knock at the neighbor’s door. Without self awareness, it’s always the neighbor isn’t it? It was only when the knocking became more insistent that I finally got up to answer the door. Awareness usually has to take up a sledge hammer before we let her in the front door of our consciousness. Early signs of awareness might include a physical feeling of unease or a general sense of restlessness. Later signs of awareness might be more vocal like a palm slap to your forehead and a sigh- “Ah. I see! Of course!” Deepak Chopra even describes awareness at a cellular level. “Cells know when you are unhappy, anxious or stressed. A cell’s awareness is expressed in chemical reactions instead of words. Your existence is based on feedback loops. Body listens to mind; mind listens to body. Awareness is the link.”
Awareness comes in stages. After it arrives, it often retreats in a fog of denial and self righteousness. Then when it comes in full force, it is like a blinding flash of realization that changes you deeply from the inside out. Some day you will be minding your own business and awareness will strike you like Archimedes running naked out of his bath when a new truth struck him, shouting “Eureka, eureka” (“I have found it!”).
What new and exciting awareness is tapping at the front door of your consciousness? Answer the call. Be the change and enjoy the transformation. Awareness is the first step to being a healthy and conscious change agent. The beautiful thing is that YOU are the one who is changed, and starting with you, the world becomes a more hopeful and humane place.
Awareness is powerful and full of possibilities. It makes you a better leader, a better friend and a better citizen. It improves your intuitive decision making skills, and decreases your anxiety. Awareness also transforms habits that may or may not be serving you. Shine the light of awareness on a habit and it becomes a choice. Awareness is the mother of all choices and empowerment. In short, awareness is good for your health and good for the health of the planet.
I end here with a segment from David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005
The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.
It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:
“This is water.”
“This is water.”
It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.
Its hard, but not impossible. Start by pausing to feel this very moment, become aware of who you are and who you are becoming. Wake up. This is it. Life is right here and now. Make sure you are living it fully.