If you ask a fish “How’s the water?” it is likely to respond, “What water?” You reach down, pull it out, point it at the water and say “That water.” And in that moment the fish becomes aware of its world – a world that has defined its life completely and unconsciously.
But the fish is now aware of two things; first, its environment, and second, that it is not its environment and so not necessarily bound by it.
The fish can now observe its environment and can use it rather than being used by it. ‘Use’ here means being the cause in the matter of its circumstances rather than being at their effect (‘used by’).
We, like the fish, swim around in water of our own and, unless we become aware of the nature of our water, are impacted and used by it also, to the possible detriment of how we we live our lives.
Our perception is our unconscious reality
The water we swim around in each day is our perception, like the perception of our circumstances that we wake up to each morning. We awaken to a perception of how life is, that our mind presents to us and, as far as we are concerned, that perception - our experience - is how life is.
And each morning, we plan our day to deal with the circumstances and concerns presented to us by our perception, in order to succeed in life, because that is how we have been conditioned. Every day of our lives we awaken to our concerns and then attempt to deal with them. It’s relentless, and that is why spiritual writers have described what we do as: “Human beings, sleepwalking their way through their lives, dealing with their concerns”.
How it is, is how it is
Unless we become aware that it’s just our perception, however, we remain trapped in this daily cycle of suffering and problem fixing. Much popular self-development literature is directed toward dealing with our concerns and fixing our problems - promising a way out yet all the while, ignoring that we are stuck within our perception.
Except that 8bn people each wake up every day to a different perception, their own perception of how it is, and not one of them has the same perception as your perception. Of those 8bn people, whose perception is right?
Actually, how it is, is never how it is
Actually, none of them. No-one’s perception is really how it is. No perception is the one; the truth, or it. All that you can say with certainty is that how it is for you, is not how it is because anyone else experiencing the situation would have a different, equally valid perception of how it is. And while at first, this may seem problematic, in fact, it’s incredibly freeing, for now you have another more powerful option for dealing with your experiences of life.
With awareness you can transcend your perception
Once you become aware that your perception is just a perception your mind has chosen to present to you, you are not restricted to fixing the problems that arise from that perception. You can choose another perception and transcend those problems.
Practically, awareness of your perception doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the facts of the situation change, rather that the meaning that you give to them, and/or the time frame that you apply to them (eg short term or long term) changes. Your new meaning can lead to a complete transformation of the situation in your perception and therefore, how it impacts your life.
Whichever perception you choose will determine the thoughts that turn up in your head and, unless you are consciously managing how you respond to your thinking, your thoughts will direct your body’s actions.
Believing that their thoughts are who they are, most people live within this thoughts-action sequence. They perceive a situation and react in line with their thinking, whether or not their thinking is in line with their purpose or who they really are.
You can also transcend your thinking
So, another aspect of awareness is awareness of your thinking – observing your thinking and being aware of where it is/will take you. Once again, being aware of your thinking rather than being your thinking, gives you choice and agency.
You didn’t create your thoughts. They are your mind’s reaction to perception and its best shot at hooking you into its repetitive cycle of problem/fix, problem/fix.
Attention powers thoughts and their generation
Your mind will continue to generate those thoughts as long as you give them your attention. Attention powers thoughts. Even negative attention such as resistance – “I don’t want that thought any more”; or suppression, which is when you consciously try to repress or ignore thoughts. You are still giving the thought your attention. This gives it its power to return repeatedly with greater strength to engage your attention and actions.
Not only can you be aware of your immediate thoughts but, as you age in life, you can begin to perceive longer-term negative life patterns such as always being poor; procrastinating around important events, unhappy in relationships, or always sabotaging your own success. Being aware of these patterns allows you to observe and manage the thinking that attracts you to these negative situations.
How to manage your thinking
How do you manage your thinking? The primary step is to just be aware of and observe where your thinking is taking you. If it is not where you want to go, do not resist it, just accept your thinking and even be grateful for it for the thoughts are giving you information (as they evolved to).
Then, give up what you say the situation means to you; the meaning that you are giving to your perception, unconsciously. What you think it means is not what it means.
Look at the situation from another perspective - not what it means for you (coming from fear) but what might be available for the greater good (coming from love). Ask yourself, for example, “As love (which you are), what shall I do now?” Be guided by your principles - aspects of love such as kindness, compassion, being true etc, that you adopt as personal rules of conduct. In my experience, with some contemplation, you will know what to do in a situation.
Identifying the ‘right’ course of action
Will it be the right thing to do? If, ultimately, it brings you inner turmoil, no. For example, retaining the wrong person in your team may bring you a quiet life but will cause you longer term anxiety. Letting that person go, however, may cause you and others shorter term disquiet but deeper and longer term inner peace, as you experience having done the right thing for that person and your team.
Be aware of Who you really are
Ultimately, you will become aware of who you really are (see post ‘Who are you? Are you on purpose? Are you being true to your Self?’) and when you act in accordance with who you really are, you become completely authentic. You experience joy in your work, and the fulfilment that comes from contribution and service to the greater good.
And the first step is taking responsibility for your life by becoming aware of your mind’s perception of how life is and aware of your mind's thinking and where it is taking you.
By Christopher Jones-Warner
Recommended further reading:
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle
A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
Awareness - Anthony de Mello
The Little Book of Big Change - Amy Johnson PhD.