Monday, June 28, 2010

Fortune Cookie - Recapture Your Awareness

“Normally, we do not so much look at things as overlook them.”
- Alan Watts, American philosopher (1915-1973)

One of the benefits of living in the Texas Hill Country is the thriving Farmer's Market we visit every Saturday. My wife and I get most of our organic produce there, and it makes shopping for groceries a lot of fun.

At the end of our last visit, I was loaded down with bags of produce. But my wife wanted to take pictures of the musicians, so instead of standing behind her in the hot sun, I found a shaded picnic table in the middle of the thoroughfare.

When she was finished, she turned around to look for me. She looked at the row of booths to my right, then she looked at the booths to my left. But she didn't look right in front of her, so she didn't see me. When I realized that she wouldn't notice me, I waved and called out to her. Of course then she saw me.

It was a good example of how we limit our perception. She had assumed that I must be at one of the booths. She looked, but she did not see.

Without a doubt, we need more mindfulness in our lives. We're born with the ability for unfettered awareness, but as we grow up, the people around us fill our heads with opinions, rules, attitudes, beliefs and other thoughts that explain what we’re seeing around us. And when we’re young, we’re desperate to know what things are and what’s going on. By the time we’re adults, we're taught how to look at the world, and our ability to perceive the world directly is mostly trained out of us. What we’re left with is an interpretation, a gloss-over of reality instead of reality itself.

This “education” about life isn’t the problem. It’s a necessary part of growing up. The problem is that it has a bad side-effect—we lose the ability to be charmed by the wonders of life. Also, if something important is going on around us, we may not notice it. It might be something happening in a relationship, whether personal or professional. It might be a small problem growing into a big problem or a dynamic that could eventually blossom into a crisis.

The only cure is to relearn the skill of awareness. And the only way to do that is to learn by doing. Learn mindfulness by being mindful and getting better at it with experience.

One huge pay-off will be recapturing your sense of wonder—the difference between another boring day and one filled with miracles.

Another payoff is with relationships. If you need to work well with others or influence others, one thing that will hold you back is a failure to be aware of what’s happening with the people around you. Are they having a bad day? If so, why? Is someone trying to tell you something? If so, what? Are conflicts brewing? If so, did you notice?

By becoming more aware, we can get better at noticing and appreciating the good things. And we can get better at sensing emerging problems early. The more aware you are, the easier it is to spot the yellow flags.

Here's another Fortune Cookie for you...

Slow down, and you'll notice what you've been missing.

The story behind the Fortune Cookies...

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (2010 photo by Kathleen Scott, used with permission.)

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