Like anything creative, self awareness is a very personal experience. Before I go further down this argument, I’ll say almost anything great we are capable of doing is an art. If not, we would not enjoy it. There won’t be any character to it. This includes writing good extensible code. Writing blogs. Holding good conversations. Sex. Falling in love and living with it or moving on.
Self awareness is complex. We are all self aware to some extent. We can recognize our reflection. We know our strengths (or at least we think we do, lets pretend we do), we know our quirks. We can sense the position of our fingers without looking at it (with some practice we can visualize the finger positions on frets on a guitar, without looking down much). We can sense the quality of breath, is it deep, is it shallow? We can sense how we are feeling — calm, happy, excited, nervous, angry, hung over, sick, rejuvenated, relieved, turned on, repulsed, awed, depressed. So where is the art in this?
Like I said self awareness is complex. We are complex. Deep down we are a result of some crazy chemicals firing in our brain and the nervous system. Sensory perception is quite personal. Some of us are color blind. But even after ignoring any physical differences, our sensory perception is quite personal. Our memories affect the way we perceive things. Our state of mind affects the way we perceive too. Read this blog early morning when your mind hasn’t been super activated yet. Read it when you are dead tired. Read it when you have doubts about me. Read it when you remember something you like about me. All of that would affect how you will perceive this blog entry.
Like any other artistic pursuit, self awareness requires exploration, imagination, learning, feedback, and acceptance. When you first start meditation, you will have doubts. Doubts about whether you are doing it right. It is no different than the doubts you have about whether you are playing the guitar correctly. Doesn’t that sound a little off? How do you play a guitar correctly? Well you record yourself and play it back. You talk to experts. You read information online. You get feedback from your friends. There are some basic best practices, of course. But after that it is a subjective experience. I say this while I am still playing the guitar as badly as you can imagine.
Basic best practices. So for playing chords on a guitar, you want to keep your fingers arched reasonably above the fret, so as to not hit adjacent strings. You want to press firmly. You want to keep your body relaxed. You want to be breathing normally. For meditation, best practices would be to find a calm place, where you can sit (even lie down) in a relaxed position. Set aside some time, where you won’t be interrupted. Use the restroom before you sit down. Do some yoga poses (or stretching exercises beforehand) to enhance your body awareness. Start with deep breaths, to help slow down and relax (switch to rest and digest mode). Notice things in the present moment. When you are distracted by a pressing thought or pain, come back to the present moment (sensations in the body), without being hard on yourself (it is ok to get distracted). Be curious.
But beyond these basics, there is a lot more you can do depending on your personal taste and level of comfort. For example, I notice the physical sensations in my body as waves. They are fluid. Relaxing for me means letting these waves be waves. Let them flow and take their natural course. Let go of resistance. You can imagine you are breathing to different parts of your body and let go any tightness and tension on the out breath.
Self awareness goes beyond meditation. Meditation is just a practice. Real life is the playground. When I am feeling nervous or anxious or angry about something, I go back to the physical sensations and imagine it is a wave and let it relax and flow, instead of directing this state of mind on another person. It is subjective. Whatever works best for you. Some people might take deep breaths. You might have your own ways of handling these situations.
But here’s the fun part. Self awareness is interlaced with all other artistic pursuits. You and your partner can have much better sex by being more self aware. And so can I improve my guitar skills. The world can be a much better place if more people were more self aware. Little things add up. Great mistakes are a result of several tiny ones. Great things are a result of several little good ones.