Awareness: Using your Senses not your Stories

I avidly observe dogs because they are present-tense creatures. I find their instinctual logic both useful and inspirational for my own sense of awareness. Sure, dogs occasionally bark, cower or growl but these are behaviors bourne out of real-time awareness – immediate responses to situations that are actually occurring.

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We humans, on the other paw, are typically lost in thought – rarely in-the-moment, and often disconnected from our environment and each other: We dejectedly wonder why someone has rebuffed us or we sleeplessly toss and turn, worried about the next morning’s work presentation. Unlike dogs, we function from an almost constant state of non-awareness and non-objectivity – preferring to prioritize, and then ruminate about the stories we spin.

Awareness versus Stinkin’ Thinkin’

More troubling, this dynamic of cyclical thinking typically becomes more emotionally taxing as we age. According to research published in The Journal of Current Biology, our abilities to suppress irrelevant information decreases as we grow older, leaving us more susceptible to confusion and forgetfulness – all due to our habitual prioritization of the stories in our heads and our lack of emphasis of what’s actually happening around us.

The axiom “coming to our senses” persists in our culture for a reason. Dogs are great illustrations of this because they navigate life using all of their senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Canines situationally adapt by drinking-in and then reacting to what’s unfolding before them. For example, if it’s a hot day, they’ll respond by spreading themselves across cool floors, if it’s cold, they’ll ball up, nose-to-tail, to conserve their 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 subjective and often unhelpful what was or what might be perceptions.

Here’s How to Drop It!

Here’s a handy exercise that’s especially useful in breaking “lost in thought” habits:

Set a 5-minute timer, find a comfortable seat, and then close your eyes. Focus your attention on your listening abilities by noticing the sounds around you and quietly take note of them: perhaps you pick up the traffic outside your window, the “whoosh” of the room’s air-conditioner, the murmur of people down the hall, the ticking wall clock… Acknowledge that your mind wants to judge, craft stories about these items or shift your focus to what happened earlier of may soon occur. Instead of allowing this, Drop it!  Refocus your intention by challenging your brain to hear even more. Keep going back to this ear-focused listening, allowing the environment, not your thoughts, to envelop you and direct your attention.

Once the timer sounds, open your eyes and ponder the following:

  1. Compare/contrast how you’re now feeling to how you were feeling before the exercise: Are you more/less relaxed? More/less centered?
  2. Were you surprised by all the sound input available to you?
  3. Can you use any of this new awareness to make healthier considerations about how you think and act going forward?

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

Sit and Stay with Awareness

Train your brain not to be distracted by your life’s hustle and bustle: Sit long enough to observe and utilize what’s unfolding around you. Decide to stay connected to your senses. Then use these simple awarenesses to extract the truths from any given situation and respond appropriately – if you need additional guidance, look to your dog

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