The Practice of Becoming Self-Aware

Self awareness is harder to come by than we realize. We think it may be a moment of noticing our breath, when we note breathing in or breathing out, but that is only one form of self-awareness, mindfulness of the body. We may find that we need to talk to someone, so that we can learn what we are truly thinking and feeling, a self-reflective awareness, as found in psychotherapy. Or we may see something in a book, a movie, a song, a story we hear, or an interaction we observe, and have a flash that I am like that too.

I thought I was teaching people how to develop a higher and more trustworthy self-awareness in meditation, and then I realized, all too painfully, that it can’t be taught. Meditating, in whatever way we do it, does not necessarily lead to greater awareness and understanding of ourselves. When people would ask me if it was a good idea to let certain thoughts and emotions run as they did in meditation, I would say that if you are kind and interested in them, you will begin to explore them. That is, become self-aware regarding those thoughts and emotions. But most of us, most of the time, are not at all interested in the thoughts we want to get rid of or the feelings we can no longer bear. We just want them to go away.

It is hard work to become self-aware on your own. These days, I don’t find meditation doing it for me all that often. It calms my mind, provides relief, but most of my recent insights about myself come from writing. Without the meditation, I would probably not be able to see things clearly when I write. And it depends what I write—not everything I write opens me up to an insight.

What kind of writing brings about self-awareness for me? You might think it would writing down whatever comes into my head, as that might seem compatible with an open meditation practice. But that’s not the kind of writing I do. Instead, I become self-aware when I write fiction. I step outside of what is going on inside of me and see myself as a character in a story. When I can be a character to myself, my faults are easier to tolerate, and I begin to explore how they work instead of how to correct them. I want to understand that character better, so that I may express his pain, his struggles, his joys, his loves and hates. But I am not satisfied with just that knowledge; I need to know each state of consciousness, from lowest to highest, and what perceptions and feelings dominate those inner realities. I explore the chameleon-like changes in mood and attitude, the overtones and emotional sub-frequencies of the various inner monologues, and the intellectual acumen that can shred a recently acquired belief in an instant before it constructs a whole new network of ideas. That is but a fraction of what can be known, and yet it is more self-awareness than when I began.

Sometimes that is all I need to find my way back on track. Isn’t that what we are looking for in our practice, whether it be meditation or something else?

A way to get back on track.