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“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”

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– Thomas Merton

Awareness may be a strange concept to the uninitiated; those who have been running on the treadmill of life may not comprehend such a concept as awareness. Awareness is the ability to perceive, feel, or be conscious of events and circumstances that impact our lives. Increased awareness of our connection with everything is likely the one thing that will determine the fate of our species, biodiversity, and ecosystems over the coming years.

Examining Awareness

Let’s delve deeper into what awareness is and why it is so important. We encounter three levels of awareness in our daily lives. Firstly, there is the physical world in which we live. Things like the house we live in and all that goes with it; furniture, lighting, carpets, and all the collectables we have accumulated. Then outside your residence there is another layer of the environment. This includes our neighbours, the neighbourhood, and the surrounding area in which we live. Further afield there is the greater environment that we know is there but cannot see.

For most of us, though not all, we are trapped in our own world, focused on making sure that everything runs smoothly and our lives tick along. Our awareness only extends to our immediate life. We take for granted the key things that make life possible such as air, water, the biosphere, wind, rain, light, temperature, humidity, and a multitude of animals and plant species. It is only when something goes wrong and we lack these most basic components of life that we become aware of their importance. Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up beautifully:

 “When I have a toothache, I discover that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. That is peace. I had to have a toothache in order to be enlightened, to know that not having one is wonderful.”

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This raises the question, does humanity have to undergo this toothache (environmental depletion) to understand what it is like not to have a toothache? Is this part of the natural process of the evolution of our awareness?  

Why Is Awareness So Hard to Attain? 

Waking up and becoming aware is much like recovering from a hangover. We are blissfully asleep and feel good lying in bed all day. Getting out of bed is the hard option and it may hurt. Lying in bed and sleeping all day is the easy option. Like our hangover, it can be unpleasant to wake up from after years of slumber at the wheel of our life. It is easy to go through the motions and be fed a diet of fast food thoughts and trivial entertainment.

It might upset the apple cart if we start to think, feel, and respond for ourselves. Awareness is about change and change can be difficult for many. For many, we become stuck, distracted with triviality and striving for something that is unattainable. We strive for material possessions and seek satisfaction in doing rather than being. The natural world gets overlooked and becomes something that is separate from our existence, hence our predicament.

For much of our lives we live a conditioned existence, as what we do and think is a product of our experiences and beliefs. Many of the things we do are derived from habit; our jobs, relationships, needs, and desires all stem from our conditioned existence. The unfortunate thing about such conditioning is that it is hard to break free from it, hard to change, so we suffer.

As Humans, We Become Attached to Things

In the Western world, most of what we do is associated with ownership: my property, my career, my life, my goals, etc. We find ourselves clinging to and surrounding ourselves with things that pertain to ownership. It is difficult to become aware of the challenges that face humanity when so much of our time is devoted to maintaining control of possessions. As humans we also become attached to thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes.

We have seen this unfold more recently in the U.S. elections. With any strong association to certain thoughts it is difficult to let go and see things from a different perspective. So what happens? We become stuck with our tried and tested views of the world and closed to new and exciting ideas and thoughts. This blocks the way to truly experiencing awareness, hence why it is often difficult to move forward when there is such overwhelming evidence to support scientific data (climate change).

It was Aristotle who once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Our inability to remain detached from ideas, beliefs, and conditioning has much to do with our failure to foresee significant environmental changes. Our general lack of awareness, which is a symptom of our self-centeredness and conditioned mind, keeps us trapped in false ideas and realities, sometimes indefinitely. Our disconnection from nature and inability to experience present moment awareness is substituted with triviality and distraction and we seek fulfilment through short-term materialism and entertainment.

If humanity wants to move forward and solve some of the pressing issues of the day it must reflect and observe itself. Only by observing ourselves can we understand why we do the things we do. Why did I do that? What motivated me to behave in that way? What impact do my actions have on others and the planet? Once we are aware of our states and actions, we are better placed to see things for what they truly are. We become conscious. Through awareness we start to see the beauty, complexity, and simplicity in nature. Let’s hope soon that humanity awakens to the reality that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing…

CoverONENOVExcerpts from: One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future…

Andrew Martin is author of One ~ A Survival Guide for the Future… he also publishes a blog www.onenesspublishing.com


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