Awareness is a word often used by firearms instructors, but why? Essentially because awareness plays pivotal role in whether you live or die when faced with a life-threatening situation. Instructors usually attempt to “teach awareness” as if its something to be acquired like knowledge; yet, the reality of it couldn’t be farther from that. Awareness is innate.
We are taught from a young age to “focus” and how our attention needs to be or should be on the teacher or whomever is speaking, or on whatever you’re doing. That concept is misleading. When one focuses on a particular activity, their senses are deprived of all else going on. Furthermore, what ends up happening is that we focus on focusing instead of what we’re doing, and that’s only if you can actually remain focused long enough to do that. To demonstrate my point, if you are sitting or standing right now, are you aware of the contact between your feet and the floor? Didn’t think so…you are focusing on reading, so your other senses are dull. Try to make a mental note of every time you go from sitting to standing or standing to sitting. That sounds easy, but I assure you it is not. So, why is it that we are not actually aware of what we are doing most of the time? It is simply because we have become so blasé about being alive.
So, that presents the question: do we really need to “learn” to be aware? The short answer is no, however you can easily practice being aware. I bet you’ve already lost your awareness of the contact between your feet and the floor. A great way to practice being present is through mediation. Most people have a misconception about what meditation is. Meditation simply helps us be present with whatever is. Practitioners use their breath as an anchor to maintain awareness because it is always present. This segues into the contention that “awareness is innate.” Just as the blue sky is ever present even during the worst of storms, awareness is also present during the worst of times, including a life and death encounter. In other words, we would not want to be focusing our attention to our left or to our right if our attacker is coming straight at us. Instead, through practice we can be more present and live in the moment.
Realizing there is only now, and the past is a mere memory and the future has yet to happen allows awareness to come to the forefront. Too often we find ourselves caught up in thought and accomplishing everyday tasks on auto-pilot. While being aware of your surroundings is good, what is better is being aware of what you are doing. For example, if you are walking, walk; if you are eating, eat. It becomes unnecessary to look left, right, or behind you while walking to maintain awareness if you are simply aware of the movement of your legs and the contact between your feet and the ground with every step you take. Again, this may sound easy, but it is not, at least not sustained for a period of time. Your mind will inevitably wander, and that’s fine, but choosing not to engage in thinking during a time you feel you need to be aware is key.
Awareness is always present, and it is our minds that are constantly disconnected with our bodies that cause the illusion that we need to “try to focus” our attention. Practice following your breath through meditation and you will come to find that being aware might be easier than you think. Stay safe!