Developing Self-Awareness: Traveling the Landscape of Your Mind
It is a challenge for me to ask you to become more self-aware by paying attention to your mind as a separate entity from your body, and to study your body as a separate entity from your mind. They aren’t separate.
I will say it again—the mind and body ARE NOT separate.
The history of the mind-body problem is one that I cannot possibly explore or teach about in this course, yet I want you to know that it is implicit in all of Self-Study in general, especially within self-study for self-realization and self-actualization, and it is implicit within and informs ALL of these Humanistic Self Study Courses. We have a tendency to not take the body into account and listen to it as seriously as we should when we have “mental” problems. We talk in therapy as if language and the prefrontal cortex will heal all of our problems. Ever try to “think straight” or “be reasonable” when you are experiencing strong emotion or fear? Exactly my point. So when you are observing in a healthy detached sort of way in this practice and the awareness of mind practice, you can’t help but notice that you are noticing all of your physical and mental happenings in both exercises.
I include this same video from the Awareness of Body Lesson because it is applicable to the Awareness of Mind study here. Feel free to skip it or watch it again for added emphasis to guide your self-study!
The Mind, Embodied
Becoming more aware of one’s mind is part of the process of becoming more self-aware. If you want to know thyself—then you’ve got to observe your own mental experiences. You are the only one who has unfiltered access to your own mind and its contents. Through healthy detachment and metacognition, you can get to know more about how you think and what you think and if you are lucky, you will enjoy some surprises about the stories your mind tells that aren’t always true, useful, healthy etc…And what I think is the BEST part of practicing this observing the mind, nonjudgmentally, on purpose activity is that you do NOT have to BEHAVE in accordance with your mind and its thoughts and stories! Your goal is just to observe while holding in the space of present moment awareness. IT WILL BE A CHALLENGE TO SIMPLY BE WITH WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE MOMENT. If you haven’t noticed already, this is the core practice of this entire curriculum!
In the self-awareness practices regarding the mind, I am simply going to ask you to get to know your own mind by paying more careful and focused attention to it. Your mind is embodied, so it is easy to get confused about the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of thinking and feeling. It’s okay. Expect that to happen and keep circling back to observing your mind’s thinking and observing how thoughts come and go.
Explore your mind, its thinking behavior, and notice its content—which are its thoughts. Of course, you will notice the content of thoughts and perhaps memories and projections about the future will come up along with the feelings and bodily sensations these conjure. It’s all ok because this is human nature. Just watch the process non-judgmentally and if you get distracted and lost or feel strong feelings, simply notice, and try to refocus.
If you need to calm down, take breaks, whatever, then do so. Breathing consciously in the way your body needs to is always a good idea for re-setting and re-grounding in the present. Feeling your feet on the floor or focusing your eyes on something in the room are other helpful ways to get back into the present moment too.
Consider mind observation this way:
Could you report to others objectively, as if you were a reporter following a mind, about what your mind is like?
What does it do?
How does it behave?
What does it produce?
What’s happening with and within the mind in your direct observation of it?
(Notice I don’t ask when, where, with whom, and why questions– they don’t matter in this practice.)
Write about your experiences and what you are learning about your mind and the process of observing your mental self.
Getting Carried Away
It’s very challenging to NOT get caught up with or carried away with the content of your thoughts. Rather than getting carried away with the contents—the thoughts––you are merely NOTICING THEIR PRESENCE WITHIN YOU and observing their nature. YOU DON’T NEED TO DO ANYTHING WITH THEM. You are looking at thinking and thoughts not from them. You don’t have to evaluate, analyze, criticize, compare them to anything else, use them to solve a problem, and so on…
It’s also challenging to avoid controlling your thinking—directing it here and there on purpose, to achieve some end. You will likely find yourself resisting thinking or suppressing thinking and thoughts. Just notice these processes as they occur. Maybe you say to yourself, “Huh, I noticed I am trying to STOP my thoughts from coming! How about that?! I am observing some resistance there…” and so forth.
You don’t have to JUDGE how the mind works by labeling it crazy or jumpy or out of control or busy or calm—just simply notice what’s happening and observe these thoughts as they come and go. Watch thoughts go by as clouds passing in the sky or as leaves floating on a stream…they are there, moving, coming and going. Where the heck did they come from? Who knows? LOL.
Almost as if dreams that happen while you are asleep, notice this entire process of mind as it manifests within your awareness.
Later, you can record what your experience was like and report to yourself about what you learned about your mind and its thoughts. Please don’t make this an assignment you have to do correctly. Don’t be aggressive or overly ambitious. Just “be with.”
No expectations, No hope, no fear…
In each moment your mind is here and now, the brain does what it does—it processes experiences outside of the body and within. Your mind does what it does—participates in perception, thinking, imagining, interpreting and so forth… Your task in this MIND awareness practice is to Notice. Avoid entering into this observation of your mind with expectations about what you may or may not discover, what you’d like to experience or not. Don’t worry about having something to report on later. Allow the mind to do its thing and just notice it.
No agenda except to notice the mind thinking. Be with whatever happens.
Potentially Challenging Discoveries
Getting closer to the nature of your suffering is good! Then we can learn to suffer better when we know what we are dealing with! When you discover more about your mental processes, you MAY find that your thinking or your thoughts cause you to suffer. Notice the suffering. You won’t be able to suffer better, if you don’t first discover the nature of that suffering, whether in your mind, body, or both. The discovery process itself IS the foundational piece upon which you can learn about the specific nature of your suffering and then address this challenge to suffer better and gain more wisdom and wellness. Very often, the mind causes suffering. It’s part of being human. You are interested in learning more about the particular suffering that manifests in you, as opposed to any other person. Perhaps your mind’s behavior causes suffering—notice if or when that is happening with you.
How to Study your Mind
The yogis and mystics and loads of fully realized humans studied their minds before modernity, pre-internet, pre-self-help, pre-science and pre-psychology. Keep it simple. You can be mind-focused anywhere, anytime, moving or still, indoors or outside, upright or lying down. You can try out lots of ways, choosing to do some forms of mind-attentiveness and observation at one moment and another for other moments. It’s totally up to you to realize what seems to allow you to learn about your mind. I would say, simply find a quiet space where you will not be interrupted and deliberately pay attention to your mind—look at your thoughts and thinking not from them. Later, write about what you learn!
* Alan Watts, in this guided meditation, can help you consider what you might observe within your own mind when you focus on your breath and/or the senses. Our goal in our practice here is not to “get into a meditative state” but that may be a result of observing your own mind. Bon voyage!*