Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Attention and Awareness - a path to a better life

I have just returned from a week long Yoga conference. And while we all went there specifically to practice our Yoga or to become better teachers of Iyengar Yoga - we spent a lot of time in our breakout sessions discussing our consciousness. Consciousness when we perform asanas (poses), in our bodies, in our daily life, in our spiritual life and so forth. But what really began to resonate with me was that we as humans mostly spend our human life "unconscious" - unaware of how our actions or better yet - reactions, affect others and ourselves.

To many the word unconscious conjures up pictures of someone laying on the ground unresponsive - but I found a definition that better communicates where I am going with this:

The unconscious mind (or the unconscious) consists of the processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to introspection, and include thought processes, memory, affect, and motivation. It contains thoughts, memories, and desires that exist well under the surface of conscious awareness but that still exert a great impact on behavior.

These unconscious thoughts manifest themselves through what Yoga practitioners call Samskaras - impressions formed with each life experience. Some even believe that we are born with these samskaras from previous lives. To a more western mind this is called the "old brain". Every experience - no matter how minute leaves an impression in our mind and our brain uses these to judge/experience/react to our present occurring events. Herein lies the problem - with our unconscious thought, we do just that - react - and often times not well. These reactions affect our relationships, careers, and more importantly our relationship with our self.

How do we change that? These samskaras are embedded deep into our unconscious - some are good and some are bad. To really affect change we have to pay attention and be more aware of our unconscious thought patterns. 

Birjoo Mehta -(Sr. Iyengar Teacher from India) facilitating at the conference described attention and awareness as this: Attention - an action directed towards a specific point. Awareness is what happens after you bring your mind to that specific point. 

By practicing these two mindful actions, we can begin to facilitate positive steps in changing our behaviors and lessen the affect of past samskaras (impressions) so that we may participate more fully in the moment instead of letting past impressions color our  present experiences. 

We can start practicing attention and awareness very simply. If you're a yoga practitioner - start by bringing the attention away from that part on your body that is talking the loudest to you (hamstring or lower back in forward bends perhaps) and then bring the attention to the opposite part of the body - the area that is quiet. Notice (awareness) how the mind and the body react to this attention and awareness. Often times a peacefulness arises and thus a new  awareness/consciousness in the pose. If you're not a yoga practitioner, but maybe you practice another sport (golf, cycling, running, etc) you can do the same but coming at it from your sport's perspective. Become aware of any new feelings, sensations etc. and by doing so, say hello to a new consciousness!

So how do we practice this attention and awareness in our relationships? Much in the same manner. In everyone's  life there are people who challenge us - naysayers, victims, complainers, polyannas, children (!) - you know what I'm talking about. The best place to practice attention and awareness is with them. These people need us to be present with them. When we are not, we actually create more of what annoys us about them.  When this person starts to exhibit the behavior that sends you over the top - bring your attention to that feeling you have about them (judgement, annoyance, irritating, mayhem - haha) and then bring your awareness to that person. Listen to what they are "really" saying. The behavior exhibited by this person is really deeper than what is on the surface. What are they really looking for? Love, compassion, trust, acceptance? Can you just be there with that person in the moment? You may become aware of a new understanding, a different side to that person (just like a different side to your yoga pose or golf swing). A new consciousness that brings you into the moment - and really no other moment matters - but this one right now.

Remember - practice is just that - practice - no one gets to perfect the first (or thousandth) time. But each practice gets you closer to a more fulfilled life