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Chapter 4. Cultivating Awareness > The Value of Self-Awareness

The Value of Self-Awareness

All human beings have the ability to be aware, not just of our breathing, but of a multitude of things that make up who we are. Let us demonstrate what we mean. Imagine, in your mind's eye, that a part of you can float out of your body, floating up to a particular corner of the room, so that you can see yourself, from that perspective, sitting there reading this book. What would it be like to do this? What would it feel like? How would you describe the particular sensations that the you who is sitting there is experiencing right now? Focus on a particular part of your body and become aware of your experience there. Perhaps you can be aware of pressure, or temperature, or some other sensation. It's not important what the specific sensation is, just your ability to notice it. How about your overall mood? How would you characterize that? What can you say about your thoughts? Are you thinking about what you are reading right now, and yet perhaps at the same time wondering what's the point of all this? As you answer these questions, make sure you get back into your body. We certainly wouldn't want you to remain floating around the room somewhere while you continued reading the book.

The Witnessing Stance

By doing what you just did, and answering the questions we just asked, you have demonstrated your ability for self-awareness. All human beings share the ability to be aware of ourselves. The fact that we can stand apart from our feelings and our thoughts suggests that we can have some control over them. Ram Dass, formerly known as Richard Alpert, a Harvard psychologist who studied extensively in India and is renowned for integrating both Eastern and Western techniques, describes our ability to stand apart from ourselves, to view ourselves from the outside, as assuming the witnessing stance. Whenever you are involved in the many experiences that make up your life, you have the choice to be a witness to your own life. This shift in perspective provides you with the possibility that you can change the particular situation. The fact is that you cannot always change situations (that is, external stressors or events) you are faced with, but you can always change your reaction toward the stressor. Assuming the witnessing stance allows you to make this shift.


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