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Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering

This is part 2 of 6 in a series of posts about the Five Principles and Supporting Practices of Conscious Social Change

Principle ONE: Self-Awareness of the Root of Suffering
The first step in cultivating presence is practicing self-awareness. This begins by exploring the root of suffering. When we inquire into the nature of our own pain, anxiety and fear, we can better understand where it comes from in others. Every person suffers to some extent, mentally, emotionally and physically. For many circumstances, our deepest discomfort comes from simply wanting things to be different: we want what we don’t have and we don’t want what we do have.  

First, we’re always seeking what we don’t have – whether that is greater influence, personal relationships or more economic security.  These desires can even be rooted to our positive change work – a desire for more success, publicity or funding for our work.  We can easily become convinced that our happiness hinges on obtaining that which we want.  And yet, it is this grasping or “attachment” itself that causes our discontent. Through self-awareness, we discover our ability to withstand our anxiety, and we begin to discern between what it is that we desire and what it is we actually need.

Second, we all also go to great lengths to avoid pain and suffering. Whether we fear failure, inadequacy, a loss of power, embarrassment, physical pain, poverty or another unwanted condition, our efforts to protect ourselves are often at the expense of another. Again, it is the aversion to the situation – the “I don’t deserve this” thought – that causes us suffering. Through self-awareness, we come to realize we actually do have choice in every situation: acceptance or action, and we are empowered to pursue a path of conscious change with compassion, rather than unconscious action.

Supporting Practice ONE: Mindfulness Meditation
One practice that supports deepening self-awareness is mindfulness through meditation. Mindfulness is opening to the present moment whatever it is, without judgment, without attachment, without preference and without aversion. Just paying attention to what is. In order to be mindful in our actions we have to first cultivate mindfulness and presence in ourselves.

Meditation is a practice of sitting and practicing mindfulness of the self.  It is a mental discipline that helps us clear the mind so that we can achieve not an intellectual understanding, but a deeper wisdom or insight about what is in us.  Meditation trains us to be with our discomfort and pain without reacting or pushing it away. We just notice it, and we come to see that emotions are impermanent as they come and go. Mindfulness through meditation supports us in moving beyond all the blocks that separate us from others and dusting off the essence of who we truly are underneath.

A Story
On one particular day a few months ago I phoned a friend 30 minutes late for a scheduled conversation.  Everything was running over that day and I had all sorts of to-dos stacking up in my mental in-box.  I apolgized with a flurry of excuses and dove into an overview of our agenda until my friend stopped me and asked slowly, “How are you?” 

Her words were like a long deep breath.  She listened to my assessment of my current stressful situation then asked another question slowly, “Is there anything it feels like you need to do right now that would help take some pressure off you?”  I took a moment to meditate, empty my mind, breathe, relax.  A simple solution came to mind and quickly all other stress melted away. 

Ever since that afternoon, I ask myself regularly when I feel the tell-tale signs of stress taking over, if there is anything I feel I need to do, then I dive into a moment of meditation and breathing.  Without fail I always emerge in a clearer state. I think meditation and mindfulness of one’s emotional and mental state are powerful regulators of peace and balance, and are accessible anywhere, anytime. But they require practice, just like with exercise. The more I practice meditation in moments of solitude and silence, the better able I am to bring mindfulness into situations of chaos and activity.

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