by Elena Greco

Typical reading time: 2 minutes

April 7, 2020

During the pandemic, many of us were required to spend time alone or at our home instead of at an office or at public gatherings. And we were asked to do a lot of things to avoid catching Covid-19, things that were tedious. But maybe that was not such a bad thing!

There was one benefit from all the attention we were asked to pay to our surroundings (avoid crowds, don’t touch shared surfaces or your face, wash your hands after you touch surfaces) and to the people around us (stay six feet away): awareness. How often do we really notice the things and people around us? The virus gave us a particular focus:  notice potential sources of COVID‑19 germs.

Now imagine what might happen if you turn your heightened focus to something else in your life, something positive.  Imagine how many things you don’t notice because your attention is focused on a particular purpose—whether positive or negative—and how it tunes out everything else. Some of that “everything else” might be important, even life-changing, but it simply is not part of your world because it’s not within your awareness. Or maybe you don’t even have a focus, but are pulled along at the effect of each thought that comes along.

Imagine a typical New Yorker, hurrying (because New Yorkers are always in a hurry!) from home to job to lunch to job to appointment to after-work engagement, thrusting their way onto the subway platform, squeezing on to the packed train, fighting their way up long flights of cramped stairways filled with people, clomping along the chaotic New York sidewalks to the next stop as quickly as possible. If you asked any one of them to describe the subway platform, or any of the people they squeezed themselves next to on the packed train, do you think they could do it? Could they tell you what was happening on the sidewalk they just walked down? Or outside of the cab they were just in? Or were they “living in their head,” thinking about the next thing on their agenda, or the argument they had that day with their colleague, or whether they should sell some stock, oblivious to the people and events around them?

Much of our lives are lived this way, fighting our way from destination to destination, whether literally or figuratively, without noticing much else along the way. But everything along the way contains information, some of which is valuable and some of which might prompt creative ideas or insight.

And how much of our awareness is diverted from our own inner state? Are we aware of what we’re feeling or thinking? Or do we focus our awareness on other things we might deem more important? Are we aware of the emotional state of those around us? Do we notice subtle changes in our environment that might be important?

Awareness is key in times of heightened threat. But it plays an incredibly important role in our lives all of the time, and many people lack that important element of our existence. How can we become more aware?

There are several tried and true methods for increasing awareness. One is simply to have the intention to become more aware of your inner state, your surroundings and other people, or to allow your awareness to widen. Another is to deliberately change your focus periodically as an exercise (count the number of people wearing red on your walk to the subway; sit on a park bench and notice the temperament of each dog that passes by). Probably the most effective means of improving awareness is a method that has been practiced for millennia: meditation.

Meditation is a great tool for both focusing and expanding awareness that can fit any lifestyle, belief system (or lack of one) and temperament. There are many ways to practice meditation; the key is to find one that suits you, stick with it and practice it regularly. To learn a bit more about meditating—and how to get yourself started meditating!—take a look at my article The Psychology of Meditation.

So be “aware of your awareness” today!  You might find that it serves you in unexpected ways.

See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.

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