Are You Fully Awake to Life?
Children seem to have no trouble being wide “awake to life.” Neither do puppies for whom every walk involves unbounded enthusiasm and sheer ecstasy at the wonder of it all. The boundless joyfulness and inquisitiveness they show is inborn. It is a natural endowment for being born into this world. Where does that sense of wonder and awe go with time’s passing? Is it recoverable? What is the path by which we can recover it?
A Personal Journey to Being More Awake
One time-tested path for re-generating the wonderfulness of being alive is to learn to connect to the wonder-fullness of life. Awareness of just how full of wonder my days truly are is inspiring but also fear-inducing. I feel a mix of excitement and worry. For example, right now, one of my children is working through a major life decision that is simultaneously awesome and terrifying for me as a parent. Holding both possibilities in my mind and heart is difficult but at the same time strangely comforting and even satisfying. I strive to hold this space that is filled with my conflicting and contradictory feelings and thoughts. They flit through my mind like butterflies in a spring garden. I am both confused and calm. I may even be beginning to trust that the future – his and mine – which I clearly can’t foretell, is going to be alright.
My passage through this experience has already produced a greater sense of being “awake to life” as I look around my overall life circumstances with a new set of eyes. This experience got me wondering. What are the essential elements of “waking up?” We know the science says that people who live their lives more fully “awake” tend to have less anxiety and depression, healthier hearts, brains and bodies, more deeply connected social networks, and longer lifespans. If there is a way to wake up to life more often, the benefits are abundantly clear.
Pema Chödrön, a beloved teacher, offers us this deceptively simple suggestion for waking up.
5 Steps to Waking Up to Life
I’ve expanded on her thoughts by offering 5 steps to creating the awakened mind that is the foundation for waking up to your life’s full possibilities.
1. Learning to Pause: If you’ve ever tried to focus on something nearby while looking out the window of a fast-moving car or train or plane, you’ve noticed how blurred the scene is. To see something clearly requires slowing the body and stilling the mind. Develop a slowing down practice, even if your reduce your speed for only 20 minutes at a time each day.
2. Focusing Attention: Slowing down and pausing is great, but knowing what to focus on and being able to sustain that focus is the next step. Maintaining focused attention involves using the 4 S’s: selecting a proper focus, sustaining that focus over time, suppressing the influence of competing attention-grabbers, and shifting attention only when something more important or compelling is at hand. Learning to focus attention also involves being discerning about what matters most. Explore translating slowing and pausing into being more discerning and selective about where you direct your attention.
3. Recognition of Options: Now that you are pausing and focusing, learn to bring greater awareness to the object of your focus. This involves being more “present” to what you notice. Within that present-focused attention, you can begin to notice a range of possible options that may have been there all along as though hiding in plain sight. While habitual responses may be easy and feel justified, a mind that is slowing down to the speed of focused awareness begins to see a wider range of options from which a particular response can be made. The first impulse, the learned habit, or the righteous reaction can begin to give way to the “right” response.
4. Expand Awareness: Victor Frankl, the great Viennese psychiatrist said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Learning to hold the space of expanded possible responses enables us to link available options with “right” choices. What makes thm “right” is how we align our actions with cherished and enduring values, and our expanded awareness with our higher purpose.
5. The Power of Choice: The ability to choose is liberating. But, with that liberty comes fear, possibility and responsibility. Moving toward that liberation over the course of our lives has rested at the core of the world’s wisdom traditions for millennia. In Judaism, for instance, personal liberation involves engagement in “tikkun olam” or actions that serve to repair the world, whether through thoughtful kindness, simple but noble action, or selfless giving to improve another’s lot in life. The power of choice often leads to some form of caring for others.
Currently, I am working my way through these steps. I notice how I am responding to my son’s options and choices. Rarely is the “right” choice the easy choice. Often, the right choice ultimately reflects a complex mixing of trust and doubt, hope and worry, optimism and remembered disappointment, and excitement and loss. Combining these elements involves a complex alchemy and requires courageous patience. But, the reward is being able to regain the boundless wonder, awe and authentic engagement in my life that brings out the best in me. I wonder if these steps can help you to generate your best, too.
An invitation to a FREE & exciting mini-course to help you create a New You this New Year
The New Year is a perfect time to begin anew. Here is a link to my FREE 7-Day Challenge, a week of short videos, guided practices, and various exercises designed to help you grow a Youthful Brain and to enlarge and enrich your future. http://bit.ly/7DayBrainChange