I consume a lot of information about how to live a better/happier/calmer/more fulfilling life. I read books, listen to podcasts, read blogs, watch interviews, read magazines, and watch videos about everything from happiness to meditation to creating the life you want. In all of this consuming, I often get caught up in this practice and that practice, this new idea and that transcendent philosophy. This frequently leads to me trying to follow a million philosophies at once (head spinning) and/or desperately chasing whatever new idea comes along in an attempt to finally find THE KEY to being peaceful and happy all the time.
After trying the one million philosophies (and every time I pick up a new book, I still keep trying them—old habits die hard), I have begun to realize that there is one practice that cuts through everything. With this practice, you do not have to try to be: good, happy, virtuous, loving, peaceful. You just have to be with yourself how you are right now. The practice is: kind awareness.
I’m betting that you have probably heard of awareness. It is a very old practice—one of the core practices in Buddhism, which is where I learned about it and started practicing it. Awareness just means to be present to what’s happening, to take a deep breath and look into your current experience. I use the word “kind” in front of awareness to overemphasize the fact that awareness is not judgment, it is kind attention. This doesn’t mean you must force yourself to be kind, the kindness (or just a simple warmth) is inherent in awareness—when you look with curiosity at anything, there is a warm interest to it.
Maybe this just sounds like one more practice to try and force yourself to do. But here’s why I think it’s the practice that cuts through all other practices: when you are kindly aware of whatever is going on inside and outside of you right now, all of the other things come along on their own (happiness, calm, understanding, love, generosity). And on the flip-side, when you’re being kindly aware, it doesn’t matter so much if you’re happy or angry because you’re not judging how you feel, you’re just being aware of it. It’s like taking one step back, creating a bit of space (as if you’re standing in a supermarket watching someone else’s child throw a tantrum. You see it happening, and you feel compassion for the parent and the child, but you don’t get caught up in it. You keep on moving through your day).
Kind awareness simplifies things for me. It occurs to me every day, over and over again, that if I just put my effort into being aware, then everything else will take care of itself. This is often harder to do than I would like it to be. It’s not a flashy easy quick-fix, but then, really, it is. The moment you come back into awareness, there you are. The peace of it opens up. Even if you’re angry, you can begin to find some humor in it, or at least a bit of stillness.
To practice kind awareness, you do not have to spend hours meditating. All you have to do is take one moment, take a deep breath and turn your attention to what’s going on right here, right now. Watch the thoughts spinning in your head, feel how you feel. Let it be OK. Let it be just your experience.
I also like to remember that it’s called a “practice” for a reason—because we’re just practicing. There is no “fail.” There is just the continual honest attempt to return to awareness.
There are many people out there that talk about awareness (also referred to as “mindfulness”) much more profoundly than I do; Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Thich Nhat Hanh, to name a few big ones. If you check out any book written by one of these wonderful teachers, you will be sure to find awareness laced through and through.