The Active Cultivation of Awareness

The Cultivation of Awareness

Do we need to engage in an active cultivation of awareness as a farmer cultivates a field?  Or more specifically what is one of the motivations behind why I practice meditation?  Today I will be looking at these questions from the standpoint of meditation being a tool for the cultivation of awareness.

What is awareness

Awareness is a faculty that arises and is situated in the “mind”.  On one hand, It is the faculty that enables us to come to know what are the objects, situation or conditions of our experience.  While on the other hand, it is also the faculty that lets us know that we are experiencing the objects, situation or conditions we come in contact with.   Therefore, I would argue that there are two levels of awareness.  Further, it could be said that they synergistically work together to make us “conscious” beings. 

Everyday awareness

Primarily there is what we could call “normal” or everyday awareness.  The kind of awareness that lets us navigate through daily life.  Further, this kind of awareness is relativistic or connected and dependent on the objects, situations and conditions within our direct experience.  Similarly, it could be said that it arises out of the kind of relationship we develop while interacting with our environment.  Such that it directly focuses on the types of relative experience we are having. 

For example, when driving our cars; when interacting with the people around us.  Or that which helps us navigate through the choices we make in a world with ever-changing social, political and economic structures.  This relative awareness or “mind” has a tendency to become stuck in circular thinking.  Such that we might end up repeating to ourselves the same messages or behaviours.

The other is an awareness of our relative awareness, or “meta-cognitive awareness”. 

Awareness of Awareness

These two aspects of our “aware mind” work together.  Relative awareness or relative mind helps us navigate everyday life.  But in moments where we might be going through challenging situations.   The relative mind might not perceive all the options available to us to cope in such a situation.  Here is where the second level of awareness or awareness of our own awareness comes in handy.  As it can see through the repeating cycles of our relative awareness. 

This provides us with an awareness that gives us the ability to look with more openness at the processes of thinking occurring within our minds.  Such that it has an uncanny ability to see options that our relative awareness might not see.  What we sometimes call an “aha moment”.  

Mindful awareness

But how do we become more in tune with this kind of awareness?  Through the practice of meditation.  Or more specifically a meditation directed toward the cultivation of mindful awareness.  Which is sometimes described, to become aware of objects, situations or conditions within our direct experience.  But not only? 

Mindfulness is also an awareness that lets us see and discern how that direct contact with the objects, situations or conditions of our experience are affecting us and making us feel.  Such that mindfulness acts at two levels. 

For example, the first level is related to what immediately grabs our attention or arises in our awareness.  This could be called everyday mindfulness.  Or a kind of “mindfulness” that helps us gnaw, at how to deal with the stuff that comes up in our daily life.  For example, how to pay our bills, feed ourselves or our loved ones, how to deal with difficulties in our relationships etc. 

Still, there are times when being “aware” is not enough.     

Mindful “alertness”

The second aspect of mindfulness requires us to bring into that awareness a kind of alertness.  Such alertness brings with it the uncanny ability to plunge into the objects, situation or conditions of our experience and how they are affecting us. 

Therefore, it is highly important to be aware of what we are experiencing.  Likewise, we also have to be alert to what is arising as a direct consequence of our experience.  We have to be alert and ask ourselves, what is going on as a consequence of our experience.  Or what we could call “a viewing” of the thought processes going through our consciousness. 

Seeing one’s awareness

Which leads us into the properties cultivated through the second aspect of mindfulness and a kind of knowing that goes beyond the “knowing that one is aware”. 

But a knowing akin to “knowing or seeing one’s own awareness”.  Such knowing is at the heart of mindfulness or, “the attentive aspect of consciousness through which we observe the mind itself in the act of being aware of an object” (Rinpoche & Swanson, 2012, p. 115). 

Concluding reflection

On reflection, I myself might be aware of my thoughts, emotions and sensations, as I go throughout my day.  But the question we need to ask ourselves is. How many times am I aware or attentive to the “mind” that is aware of what I experience?  And precisely the cultivation of awareness is one of the fundamental motivations why I practice meditation.

What are your thoughts?  Comment below and share your experience.

Bibliography

Analayo, B. (2019). How mindfulness came to plunge into objects. Mindfulness, 10(6), 1181-1185. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-019-01152-4

Berstein, A., Hadash, Y., Lichtash, Y., Tanay, G., Shepherd, K., & Fresco, D. M. (2015). Decentering and related constructs: A critical review and metacognitive processes model. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15(5), 599-617. doi:10.1177/1745691615594577

Bodhi, B. (2011). What does mindfulness really mean? A canonical perspective. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 19-39. doi:10.1080/14639947.2011.564813

Dahl, C. J., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2015). Reconstruction and deconstructing the self: Cognitive mechanisms in meditation practice. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(9), 515-523. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2015.07.001

Rinpoche, P. (1999). The words of my perfect teacher. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications Inc.

Rinpoche, T., & Swanson, E. (2012). Open heart, open mind: A guide to inner transformation. New York, NY: Random House USA Inc.

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2 thoughts on “The Active Cultivation of Awareness”

  1. Very well-explained for beginners of mindfulness like me. I personally think that this second, higher form of awareness is key to monitoring ourselves to see if we are keeping on the right path, so to speak. Many times we end up in negative situations exactly because we are not in touch with that other type of awareness.
    When keeping in mind today’s modern, fast-paced lifestyle, in this era of the smartphone, when compared to the lifestyle of 50 years ago, how important is mindfulness and meditation? Thank you.

    1. Clayton Micallef

      🙂 thanks and it’s true as you said nowadays we overstimulated continuously connected and a consequence of this is that we might no longer be embodied present with what we are engaged in momentarily.

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