Developing Self-Awareness

Updated on July 6, 2018
Stephen Austen profile image

S.P. Austen is an Independent author writing on a diversity of subjects and genres. He writes short stories, novels, and self-help books.

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Image by: geralt | Source

In spiritual literature, we read a great deal about self-awareness and spiritual evolution. In many respects, they are the very same thing, but in some ways they differ. In this article, I would like to talk somewhat about what I have found those differences to be, and how we might recognise our own unconsciousness.

Becoming aware of ourself; what does that actually entail? Well, it involves a good many things. It certainly means learning to watch what we do and observe it completely. It also means listening to our own words carefully as we speak them. It even means watching carefully over what we think about during our waking, so-called 'conscious' moments.

What is consciousness, though? I don't believe that many people really know what it is. It certainly is not what we see taking place amongst most of the human race. Perhaps in most people it certainly isn't anything close to being conscious in 99% of all people, anywhere in the world. People behave as much like a herd of sheep or a colony of ants as they do anything else, with instinctive and compulsive actions. Even their opinions are not actually their own, they are the opinions of others which have been impressed upon their minds, and they think that these opinions are their own.

Let's take one example of an aspect of unconsciousness that I have personally witnessed. I remember talking to a woman once, and air-conditioning was brought up in the conversation by someone else. This lady in question put a cigarette in her mouth and lit it, exhaling a draught of lung-destroying smoke, and gasped "Oh, air-conditioning ~ that's so bad for you!" If it hadn't been so hilarious at the time (the woman failed to see the irony of her statement) it was pitiable. She was totally unaware of the incongruity of what she had said in relation to what she was actually doing to herself.

I have seen countless people criticising others for the very same failings and weaknesses that they themselves exhibit continually. In fact, unconscious hypocrisy seems to be one of the major signs of a person who is half asleep.

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Image by: efes | Source

Somnambulism

A somnambulist is someone who sleep-walks. Yet this type of sleepwalking is not confined to the person who retires at night and later on gets up, still asleep and walks down the street in their pyjamas or underwear.

There is another kind of somnambulist, like the lady smoker who made her statement about air-conditioning. This kind of somnambulist spends their time never questioning anything, going about their daily business in a mechanical way, unthinkingly and without conscious direction. They support what their friends support, believe what their family believes and so forth.

If you have ever read any of the Gurdjieff or Ouspensky writings, then you will know that these two esoteric teachers spoke at great length about the nature of human consciousness, and that how nearly all mankind is asleep, walking around in a type of mechanized trance.

The idea behind these often abstruse teachings is to learn how to break away from being a machine, unconscious of itself, and to become a conscious entity.

Put another way, the person striving for consciousness is attempting to awaken from a dream, the unreal dream of life in the Earthly world. But before we can awake from this dream, we must first realise that we are in fact, asleep! That is the first step.

I AM

In my childhood, aged about eight years old, I often had the peculiar sensation of being 'other' than myself. I would often feel the sensation coming on, as a strong awareness that my young physical self was not really who I was inside. I would feel and even say to myself, "I am me, and yet I am not me." I even mentioned it to my brother once, (just two years older than me) but he didn't understand what I meant. Therefore, I chose to keep it to myself in future.

It was a very profound experience for one so young, and I couldn't make head or tail of it until I became older and understood more about the nature of the soul and consciousness. But what it did reveal to me, was the distinct duality between the inner Self and the outer, physical self. The experience brought with it a distinct form of awareness, a consciousness that I was not the body any more than the clothes I wear are me.

I first had this experience as a baby, however, and was eating soil at that time. I can still vividly recall the taste and texture of the gritty, earthy soil in my mouth, and the profound sense that this behaviour was an action of the body, not of my Self. On a higher level, the Conscious I was looking on.

I highlight this story of my own experience only to get across the concept that each one of us is in fact living in a duality. In fact, we live in far more than just a mere duality, we live in triplicities and quadruplicities and perhaps even more than this. But let the idea of the difference of a separate body and soul suffice as a simple understanding that we are not just a body-machine acting unconsciously.

Now of course, many of the physiological processes of the body are indeed very much mechanical, such as digestion and certain learned behaviours such as walking or riding a bicycle. Once your legs start moving, you don't even have to think about the rest of the processes of walking or cycling, and can even hold a conversation with someone as you go along. These are mechanical acts, below the threshold of consciousness. One does not even think about how to do these things. If we did, living a human life would be impossible. This is a form of necessary mechanicalism.

But the idea in these examples of Self as distinguished from not-self is to attempt to get the impression that in order to be Self-aware, to be conscious, we have to recognise that our inner Self is a different being to the one that we call John Smith or whatever name our parents gave to us. The inner Self is a conscious entity, trying to awake and be set free from the dream-state of the Earthly prison.

Becoming Conscious

There are many ways in which we might train ourselves to become less mechanical in our speaking, our actions and even our thoughts. Obvious tools, which I have outlined in other articles here on my page, are Meditation and Yoga techniques. In fact, when I was once asked to teach a class in clairvoyance and mediumship I said that I would do it, but there would be three requisites for students; 1) Meditation 2) Meditation and 3) Meditation. The interest in subscribing to this waned rapidly.

You see, people want to be able to express the qualities of soul-contact (clairvoyance, mediumship, ESP, telepathy, precognition etc, etc) but they do not want to apply themselves to the work that's involved; that is, deep introspection through meditation.

The only way to become Self-aware, conscious of one's Self, is through deep internal work, of intense study of oneself and the recognition of personal duality.

Image by: johnhain
Image by: johnhain | Source

Once you can see that there is in fact, a duality to be worked with, you can then engage in conscious evolution. Until that day comes when you can recognise that your physical self is but a vehicle of expression and is not your inner reality, then you will continue to behave mechanistically in action, in speech and even in thought.

This marks the difference between self-awareness and genuine spiritual evolution. Quite large numbers of people can become rudimentarily self-aware, but very few develop along lines of true spiritual evolution.

Examples can be the person who has found some kind of spiritual belief or religion, and latches onto it for dear life. They abandon some old habits and behaviours and become, to all intents and purposes, a changed person.

I have witnessed many 'spiritual' people who have found some kind of spiritual goal along some line of thought or other, yet they have not let go of their basic ambitions. Instead of working at some ambition in the outer, materialistic world, they merely transfer their ambition towards spiritual ambition. They actually compete with others in the groups to which they belong. Who is the more spiritual, the most psychic, etc, etc? I have witnessed this at first hand, many, many times.

So, the person receives some kind of wake-up, a 'spiritual calling' and then feels that they have a mission to fulfill in the world. The little 'i' with all it's vainglorious self-interest has still not been subjugated, and the unconscious ego just finds some other goal to pursue in the interests of the little unconscious self.

True spiritual development is actually a crisis point, often known as the Dark Night of the Soul in which the aspirant to higher things feels totally lost as the old lesser self dies. The death of the unconscious ego is a hard thing to bear and amounts to a crucifixion. Upon that Cross the little ego is pierced once and for all, and the more conscious, spiritual entity that emerges has basically lost all ambition for the world and its empty baubles and trinkets. You become a creature transformed.

There is no longer any need to satisfy the greedy, egotistical personality of the lower self, because as true self-awareness develops into spiritual consciousness, there is no desire for the things of the world.

Buddha taught us that the secret of the soul's progress lies in abandoning all desire. Jesus taught that there is no profit in gaining the things of this world if you lose your own soul (consciousness) because you are immersed in material desires.

When we no longer need anything from the world, in terms of ambitions, or desires for this and that, we are free; free as no man is free.

Practicing Consciousness

One method that can work is to spend one day per week that you mark on a calendar as a study in being conscious. For that one day, just see if you can be very much aware of what you do, physically. It does not matter what you are engaged in, either at work or at home.

Just watch the actions of your hands, or your manner of walking, and be aware of what you are doing. Play with this; imagine that you are in a dream (the physical world is in fact just another form of dream-state) and that suddenly you have realised that you are dreaming. Now, this is exciting! I can have some fun here! Here I am in a dream, and I can really feel the texture of things when I touch them ~ door handles, bannisters on stairs, paper, pens, the clothing you wear, etc. Become fully aware of all these things that your hands touch.

Become conscious of what you see. Note the colours, as if seeing them for the first time. Be conscious of everything you hear in this physical-dream state. Engage all the senses, including smell and taste, as if experiencing them for the first time, becoming fully aware of them, as if you had awoken and consciously realised that you are dreaming.

When you come home, be fully aware of your key going into the lock of your front door, of turning the handle and stepping inside. Note the door as you close it shut. Be fully aware of being in your own dwelling. Take a few moments to recognise and absorb it.

The whole day is to be spent in this way, just being fully cognizant of your surroundings, as if awakening in a dream, and knowing fully that you are dreaming.

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Image by: felix_w | Source

The True Self

The designation Buddha not only means Enlightened One, it also means One Who has Awakened.

Whether we refer to Buddha or Christ or Krishna, we are referring to an Enlightened One who has received a greater measure of Light (i.e., Awakening) than others. Those who are still asleep are basically still in the dark. Only the illumination of the inner spiritual light brings such enlightenment. Only then, can a man or woman be said to be truly awake.

Everyone is a potential Buddha, Christ or Krishna. Jesus even made the statement, "Know ye not that ye are gods?" Each one of us is in the process of increasing this measure of light that is found within. As the light of a dawning and emerging conscious arises from within, so we move from self-awareness to true spiritual consciousness.

We start by watching what we do mechanically, and being aware of that mechanicalness. We move towards acting more consciously, truly aware of the body as a distinct yet different being to the inner self.

We practice listening carefully to the words we use, and the habitual manner in which we use them. We practice hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, recognising the dream that is the world around us.

We live and move in the world, yet we are not of the world.

We are no longer a component of mass-conscious thinking, of the local hockey or football team, of identification of race, colour, creed, nation, religion, politics or trade.

We are a free, liberated soul, who has only moved through the various guises of race, nation, colour and creed in order to find its true nature and express that in full physical consciousness.

We are no longer bound by the ideas and concepts of the limited body, of time or space.

Meditate every day. Spend at least fifteen minutes in your meditation, and progress to thirty minutes. Think of it as a sacred time for developing true self-awareness. In your meditation, Ask the question of yourself, Who Am I? The Self is not this body, not these emotions, not these thoughts, not these associations of family, job and Earthly ties. The Self is not this race, colour or nation. The true Self shines like the sun and is none of these things.

The world is a dream, held together only by the mass thoughts of humanity. When you step outside of the limitations imposed by others, you find your own Soul.

Image by: johnhain
Image by: johnhain | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • Stephen Austen profile imageAUTHOR

        S P Austen 

        2 months ago from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada

        Thanks so much Richard; I truly appreciate your great feedback. I think that if all of us can practice being 'conscious' every day, then the world might actually improve somewhat! Best wishes, Steve.

      • Richawriter profile image

        Richard J ONeill 

        2 months ago from Bangkok, Thailand

        An amazing article! Very in depth and very well written. It is true that most people are in what could be described as a trance. It doesn't help that we are bombarded with the misery in the media on a daily basis.

        I've always been a watcher, even as a kid, but true awareness didn't come until I chose to just do it when I was about 36. Amazingly, the book that got me started on this journey was the Secret, about the law of attraction. I think it is a flawed book that promises everything and delivers nothing. But it did steer me onto this path.

        Your tips also resonated with me. I always have moments when I'm walking outside, observing the world. I notice most other people looking at phones and doing other habitual stuff and wonder why they willingly choose to miss out on the world, on themselves.

        Excellent article! Thanks for all the effort you put in.

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