You are two things at once. You are your spiritual self, which is free and brilliant and unlimited, and that self travels around within your biological self, which is also free and potentially brilliant but it does have some limitations, including the fact that your brain is built as a pattern-matching, repetitive system that essentially uses cues to tell itself a story about what is happening around it.
Without mindfulness that pattern-matching behaviour will lead to an unconscious life. You won’t be choosing your existence so much as your existence will be directing you–like someone who was bit by a dog when they were young can end up being afraid of dogs for the rest of their life. Imagine how important that becomes when you start applying it to personal intimate romantic relationships.
One incident hardly condemns all dogs or people, but if a person isn’t careful and there are no intervening, countervailing experiences, they will use those unpleasant experiences to cage their spirit even more than the limitations of their body. Your body could be around a dog–or a beautiful brunette–it’s your worried thoughts that can’t.
The trick is to notice these extremely subtle patterns in life. Yes there’s the obvious stuff like; if you leave the house every day with your wallet and one day you leave without it your brain does signal you that something is off-pattern. That’s what you’re feeling when you say, I’ve got this feeling I forgot something. You’re exactly right.
The harder patterns are ones like–how often you look at your phone? And what’s the pattern behind what you’re doing immediately before that, that reminds you to check it? Is it a notification that allows you to escape from harder work, or do you hit a timer in your head and you need a fix?
Do you only phone your friends when you’re sad or angry? Does your stomach tense up when you’re stressing? Do you automatically get up in a bad mood if it’s windy? Or on the way to your parents? Do you say things to your children out of habit rather than reacting to them originally, in the present moment? Do you always choose one or two genres of music, or does the same street always make you think of the same person?
The contexts that surround these patterns act as our cues. We should know our cues. You should intimately be aware of what upsets you and those closest to you. Even better, you should know what relaxes you and makes you happy. We need that pattern-match part of our brain to survive, but we don’t want it fencing us off from experience when it serves no useful purpose.
Get to know yourself much more intimately. Dedicate an entire hour to looking very, very closely at your own face. You know how you can write down or look at a word for so long that the letters start to lose their meaning? You’ve burned out the part of your brain that patterns those letters into that word, so as that energy flares out it hits all the jumbled angles on those letters.
Well the same effect happens with your face. You know it as you. But when you stare at it long enough, there’s this sudden moment when you see not what you see–but what a stranger might see. The nice part about it is that it will happen for sure, and that you will realize you’re more interesting and beautiful than you thought.
Get to know your thinking. Do you have thought habits in the morning? When you drive home? Every workday do you literally go to the window to see if your neighbour parked in that way he always does that makes you mad? The crazy unaware person isn’t the neighbour who parks strangely, it’s the guy who chooses to consistently piss himself off as one of his daily rituals. Free yourself with awareness of who you really are.
What are your patterns? The more you find the more you will find because your brain is good at patterns, remember? It’ll get easier and easier to spot them. Trust me, they are all over the place and layered much much thicker than you can imagine. You’ll find times in the week where you are absolutely guaranteed to be upset between 7:12 and 7:32pm every Wednesday. If it’s that predictable surely there’s a work-around. But you have to be aware.
Awareness is key. You don’t need to be smarter or better, you just need more awareness. That will open up the doors to everything you are searching for. Don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it. Now go get to know this person you call yourself. And you will know all that you need to know to make the most of your life. Enjoy.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.