The Four Definitions of Awareness


Part I – The Four Definitions

Nowadays, the word “awareness” is used very loosely, and often I’m not even entirely sure what people mean when they say it.  I thought it would be helpful to bring awareness (hah!) to what is actually meant by the word awareness.  Here’s four meanings which capture pretty much any possible usage:

1) A more contextual, big picture understanding.

Ever since his father died, he’s been living with a heightened awareness of what life is really about.”
“After reading this essay, you will have more awareness of the different usages of the word awareness.”
“Are you aware of the implications of touching her thigh?”

2) A present-focused attention that’s stripped of context.

“I’m aware of the bitter and sweet flavors of this chocolate bar on my tongue.”
“Bring your awareness to the sensations of the breathing in your nostrils or abdomen.”
“I’m aware of my current mood of apathy and the accompanying low-energy I feel.

3) Our most fundamental consciousness of reality.

“If you weren’t aware of anything, then the only possible explanations are that you’d be in a deep sleep, a coma, or dead.”“Awareness is like a blank movie screen; and the different sights, sounds, tastes, smells, tactile sensations and mental-emotional activities that you experience are like the movie of your life.”“Many spiritual traditions state that your true self is simply that background awareness of whatever is happening right now.”

4) The conscious recognition of whatever is happening in our fundamental consciousness.

“Meditation practice is largely about becoming aware/conscious of what was previously unconscious IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.”
“RIGHT NOW, relax for a moment and become aware of what’s naturally happening in awareness—for example, I now relax and notice that without any special effort, I’m aware of bird sounds, pressure on my sitting bones, a background mental-emotional excitement and some thoughts about this afternoon.”
“The highest meditation teaching is just being aware of awareness, MOMENT AFTER MOMENT AFTER MOMENT.”


Part II – The Commentary

Sometimes I love how vague and general the word awareness is, but when I wish to be very specific, the word awareness doesn’t quite capture the essence.  This is especially true with #4, awareness of awareness, as it’s an experience most people aren’t familiar with:

If you didn’t do it earlier, try it now for roughly 20 seconds.  Firstly, relax.  Then, without making a special effort or directing your attention anywhere, notice what’s happening in awareness all by itself.  Whisper it outloud to yourself.  Sounds.  Wind.  Pain.  Thinking.  Irritability.  Tiredness.  Etc…

Notice how across the day, this split-second awareness of awareness pops in quite frequently.  In a way, this quality is the heart of a conscious life.  Things are happening in awareness all day long, but it’s only when we are consciously aware of them that we have profound choice—we can respond to our irritability or anger rather than react to it.

While that forth definition may be the most important to learn about—largely because of how little our culture educates us on it—but, all four are of course extremely important:

1) That big picture understanding of who you are, what you’re doing in this life, the nature of cause and effect, and what it means to live fully and deeply.
2) That momentary mindfulness of the joy and delight of actually experiencing what’s happening to us right now.
3) That release into our most fundamental, baseline home—our true self.
4) That ability to shift our waking experience from “life is a dream” to “life is lucid and alive.”

Now, forget everything I said and go live the rest of your day with great awareness!

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