“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” Henry Miller
How can you care if you are not aware? That’s a question I pose to readers of my book, The Heart Way.
Let’s say you care deeply about the welfare and safety of children. You support your local children’s hospital, after school arts programs and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Then, while driving to work one day you reach for your cell phone, look down for a couple of seconds to dial a number and – BOOM – something bounces off the right front fender of your car. You drop the phone while slamming on your brakes and you scream as you glance into the rear view mirror to see a small body lying at the side of the road behind you. Your car stops, your heart is in your throat and you are sick to your stomach. And you are aware. If only you had been aware 30 seconds earlier.
This happened to me. It was a lovely day in 1985 and the distraction wasn’t a cell phone, it was my penchant for daydreaming while driving alone and a gorgeous view of the glittering ocean while I was descending from the hills of Pacific Heights in Honolulu. Lost in my reverie, I didn’t notice the mini-bus stopped on the left side of the road, nor did I see the little boy run from behind the bus just before I hit him. I swerved to the right, but he still bounced off my car and onto the asphalt. Long story short, I spent the rest of the day at the ER with the child and his parents. Thankfully, he was okay, although with a few abrasions and a big bump on his head.
When I was certain the child would be fine, I began to see the entire experience as a metaphor. I had been driving the company car that day. It was the first time I had asked to use the car in the six years I had worked for the company. For several months, I had felt trapped and unhappy in my job and had wanted to leave. I wanted to start my own company, but felt I couldn’t afford to give up my salary and benefits. Lying in bed that night thinking about what had happened during this very painful and frightening experience, I became aware that I had to quit my job.
I saw myself as the little boy, excited about life and wanting to create and be free to make different kinds of decisions than the company’s policies demanded, and then running head-on into the car, which represented management – a wall that I had been bumping into constantly for over a year. If I couldn’t summon the courage to get out of the company or resign myself to bowing to management’s demands, then surely I risked a more serious health consequence in the months to come. This awareness opened up an empowering new state of consciousness in which I found myself flying over the wall.
Two days after the accident, I submitted my letter of resignation. Two months later, I had my own company. And today, I am still pricked by the memory of that little boy whenever I reach for my makeup or my iPhone while driving, and by the memory of quitting that job whenever I feel stuck in a situation that requires action over daydreaming.
A friend once gave me a great three-step process to stay aware:
Step 1) Breathe in.
Step 2) Breathe out.
Step 3) Repeat steps one and two.
It’s amazing how the simple act of noticing how you breathe in and out helps to expand your awareness.
In his book, Spiritual Solutions: Answers to Life’s Greatest Challenges, Deepak Chopra says:
Awareness isn’t passive. It leads directly to action (or inaction). The way that you perceive a problem will inevitably blend with how you try to solve the problem. We’ve all been in groups that are asked to accomplish a task, and when the discussion begins, each participant displays aspects of their awareness. Someone seizes the floor, demanding attention. Someone else hangs back silently. Certain voices are cautious and pessimistic, while other voices are the opposite.
Remember, to feel pain is to be aware. To feel sadness is to be aware. To feel joy is to be aware. To feel nothing is to be numb. Awareness is an invaluable tool to help you connect to that which you must do to care for yourself and others.