Cultivating Awareness

Last week I discussed the possibility of liberation from conditioned self-soothing behaviors that occur in response to negatively charged emotions.

In my opinion, the first step in learning this process is awareness.

Allow me to give you an example of awareness in practice.

I teach high school Health and we are currently studying nutrition, in particular the prevalence of sugar and high fructose corn syrup in processed foods. 

The other day one of my students told me that she had been drinking soda with friends during a sleep over when she decided to look at the nutrition label on the bottle.

She was shocked to find that the soda had 40 grams of sugar per serving! She reported deciding that was too much sugar and switching to water instead. 

Needless to say, I was impressed! Yes, because she’d set aside the soda, but mostly because she’d paused an automatic behavior, and with an awareness unavailable to many teenagers, pondered the nutrition label of what she was ingesting. 

Awareness involves being present in the now.

The beauty of presence is that it allows you to notice automatic, conditioned behaviors. 

How do you learn to become present?


Here are some ideas to practice mindfulness.

  • Meditation. If you don’t know where to start, try an app like Calm or Headspace. These apps offer guided sessions that clearly introduce steps to increase awareness and presence.

  • Mindful Eating. Sit down to eat without distraction (no phones, Netflix, books, podcasts). Take a moment to contemplate and appreciate your food before beginning. Pay attention to the aromas, tastes, textures, and sensations of each bite.

  • Walk in Nature. Leave the phone behind and instead focus on the fascinating world around you. Investigate the plants, birds, trees, smells and sounds.

  • Hobbies. I’m guessing you have experienced the absolute presence and focus that occurs in a pure flow state. Think about your passions (music, art, dancing, yoga, building, fishing, cooking) and how they usually, without any effort on your part, necessitate a focus on the present.

When you begin to spend more time in the present (rather than worrying about the future or dwelling in the past) you will begin to notice automatic behaviors in the present moment.

My husband states that he spent much of his life automatically reacting to stimuli. His mindfulness practice has allowed him to recognize, in the moment, stimuli that previously would have “triggered” him. He can then pause to CHOOSE his response, instead of reacting automatically in ways he would usually regret.

Pause and make a choice. 

That is so much more empowering than riding the roller coaster of automatic behaviors in response to uncomfortable emotions!

To summarize: when you cultivate awareness you will be more tuned into the present moment. When you are in the present you can recognize '“uncomfortable” emotions, pause and make a choice.

But what sort of choices can you make in the face of uncomfortable emotions? That is next week’s topic! This week, practice awareness.