Very little in life falls under our control. The approval we seek from others is unstable, as is the fame that many pursue. Economic structures change without our permission, leaving us vulnerable to all forms of financial instability. Even the sensual pleasures we’re accustomed to are fickle: A gadget that’s shiny and promising this week will soon enough be just another item in the junk drawer. Yet we can control our awareness—how we focus our attention—which in and of itself determines so much of our happiness and suffering.
• An awareness that’s caught up by external routines and fails to notice our internal experience results in thoughts and actions that are motivated by concealed physical stresses and moods. For example, we may believe we steer clear of certain activities because they’re tedious, when in fact the avoidance is motivated by a hidden fear of failure and social embarrassment. Or we may fly off the handle with a loved one, failing to notice feelings of frustration that builds in the background of our days.
• Awareness can become baited and hooked by family dramas, social turmoils and worldly affairs, tethering us to a chaos that never settles.
• Awareness that contracts and becomes biased towards potential threats aggravates anxiety and phobias. For example, when speaking in public we may become hyper-aware of one judgmental facial expression amidst the crowd, failing to note the many other receptive glances we’re receiving.
The solution is to develop awareness that’s attentive and appreciative of our present internal sensations and emotional states, along with the various sense impressions from the surrounding world. We don’t rush to the future or rewrite the past. This state of mind observes without judgment, developing compassion towards our inner experience and gratitude for all that supports us externally. We’re full participants in life, not allowing our fears and past experiences to cloud our enjoyment of life as it is in this very moment.