Awareness is one of the most important qualities that can be cultivated. If I could go back and give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to develop awareness.
If I had the chance to explain this to young Huan, I would tell younger Huan three key things: why he should do this, what it feels like, and how to go about it.
I’d tell him that a lot of the struggles he faced – and ones that a lot of his peers faced – come about through a lack of awareness, both of self and of others.
It’s a given that every generation stretching back to time immemorial has adults lamenting lessons they’ve learned and wishing those darn millenia- I mean youngsters would just listen, because they think that youngsters following their advice could save themselves a lot of time and tears. I still think that a lot of lessons can only be learnt personally, because a person’s capacity to truly internalize a lesson emotionally and intuitively by hearing or reading it is pretty limited.
I’m aware that the same can be said about learning to develop certain qualities like, say, awareness. It’s different in my mind: awareness doesn’t stem from a single experience that one wishes to re-do; rather, it’s a general quality that is transferable to nearly every situation, starting from when one begins to be capable of abstraction and metacognition – the former to understand the lesson, the latter to apply it.
Being aware of oneself allows one to pierce the curtains of self-delusion and of self-ignorance.
If young Huan had been more aware of how he felt about different parts of his life that were mutually exclusive and requireed a commitment, he would have gone through less turmoil in the decision, and gained more wisdom out of making it than he did. Agonizing between two wonderful things and picking one of them is a stressful experience, but really grasping why is a bittersweet pang that comes with the self-esteem and confidence stemming from clarifying where one stands.
Being aware of the external allows one to: 1) understand people who don’t carry the same values, and 2) reduce self-delusion and ignorance about the world. Both lead to being able to perceive the world as it is and not how one wishes it to be. Whether one sees it as better than reality (through optimism or delusion), or worse (whether because of mental health or external pressures), the ability to balance what one wants to be true and what is actually true leads to being able to bring into being more of what one wants to.
If young Huan had been more aware of the world around him, he would have understood how his actions and desires impacted the world and people in his environment, he would have understood how theirs impacted on him. Even a rudimentary understanding of this would have been incredibly beneficial to a teen boy who didn’t yet understand just why some people behaved the way they did and who he really meshed with and didn’t. The ability to affect one’s environment positively and choose which influences to affect oneself stems from this awareness, and would have greatly increased his and various others’ well-being.
Awareness of self and others makes resolving conflict simple – not easy, but simple. Awareness greatly increases one’s ability to form mental links between concepts and experience and learning and more. It really becomes not only a characteristic that improves general well-being and quality of life, but a multiplicative bonus to learning and growth of all sorts.
That kind of learning and growth feels different, on an intuitive level. As mentioned before, one reduces stress and confusion and gains the kind of clarity and confidence that comes from such a reduction in the cloud of uncertainty. One knows where one stands, and where others do; that brings confidence in knowing where to go and what to do – maybe not exactly what and where, but more certainty in direction, and the accompanying sense of purpose and conviction.
It’s hard to directly describe the feeling of awareness, especially in times like inter-personal conflict. An analogy would be knowing how to resolve the conflict, or at least make steps towards resolution, in the same way one instinctively knows to decrease the heat when a pot is boiling over. The way one knows how to start moving towards certain goals or people in the same way one knows how to walk back from the grocery store.
Developing that kind of awareness is a little tough, because of the catch–22 there: you have to be aware to know that you’re becoming aware. Sounds strange.
What I would tell young Huan to do, if he was interested after hearing me explain why to develop it, would be to forget about measuring progress by being aware of being aware.
I would tell him to meditate. DOesn’t matter which one of the many, many methods both simple and esoteric out there. I would tell him that his older self has found some insight in sitting down, setting a timer for five minutes, breathing the nose and trying to just focus his physical awareness on the sensation of breathing (the same way he can focus his awareness into, say, his foot or his hand).
I would tell him not to worry about trying to be aware of being aware; he’ll recognize the sensation when it comes.
By that time, he should already be feeling better than usual in life, more focused at work, and more cognizant of emotion, whether he decides to express them to an intense degree or a small one. He doesn’t have to know everything, but he should already have some conscious sense of things he wants to avoid, and things he wants to move towards. He should feel less like he’s treading water in a featureless fog, and more like he sees islands in different directions, some of which look inviting, others not so much.
He would carry that through time, and it would be applicable nearly anytime and anywhere. He would be far less confused and lost at times, for all he has to do is search his feelings; he already knows it. whatever it is, to be true.
And then he would make it so.