Awareness: Use Your Senses Not Your Stories

I avidly observe dogs because they are present-tense creatures. I find their combination of instinct and real-time logic both useful and inspirational. Sure, dogs occasionally bark, cower or growl, but these are behaviors bourne out of real-time awareness: they are immediate responses to actual issues-at-hand.

We humans, on the other paw, are rarely in-the-moment. Typically lost in thought, we function from a state of disconnection from our surroundings, preferring to ruminate from the stories we spin: wondering why someone rebuffed us or sleeplessly tossing and turning worried about the next morning’s work presentation. Unlike dogs, we function from an almost constant state of non-awareness and non-objectivity.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

More troubling, this dynamic typically becomes more problematic as we age. According to research published in The Journal of Current Biology, our abilities to suppress irrelevant information decreases with age, leaving us more susceptible to confusion and forgetfulness – all due to our habitual prioritization of the stories in our heads and not enough emphasis on the awareness to what’s actually going on around us.

The axiom “coming to our senses” persists in our culture for a reason. Dogs (again) are great illustrations of this adage: Touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Canines adapt by drinking-in and then responding to what’s unfolding before them. For example, if it’s a hot day, they’ll spread themselves across cool floors, if it’s cold, they’ll ball up, nose-to-tail, in order to conserve body heat. Learning how to “shake-hands” with our circumstances (as a dog would) reconnects us with “what is” and trains us to avoid defaulting to what was or what might be.

How to let go of what’s on your mind

Here’s an exercise that my clients have found especially useful in breaking the “lost in thought” habit:

Find a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Focus your attention on your hearing. Begin noticing the sounds around you and casually note them to yourself: Perhaps, it’s the traffic outside your window, the air conditioner, the murmur of people down the hall from you, the ticking wall clock…. Your mind will want to craft stories about these items or begin thinking of things that happened earlier of may happen. Instead of allowing this, STOP, and, refocus your intention, challenge your brain to hear more. Keep going back to this ear-focus and allow the environment to envelop you.

What are your surroundings telling you?
Are you acting in harmony with this information?

As realization takes hold, sensible decisions will become obvious. With practice, appropriate responses will become second-nature and uncluttered life paths will become more likely.

Sit and Stay

Train yourself not to be distracted by life’s hustle and bustle: Sit long enough to observe what is unfolding. Stay connected to your senses. Use the awareness to extract the simple truths of any given situation and to respond accordingly.

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