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How to Be Fully Awake Instead of Living on Autopilot

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.”  ~Pema Chodron

It’s tempting. Staying in the nest means life feels safe and we are protected. If we get thrown out of the nest we either stretch our new wings and fly or plummet to the ground.

Flight poses new challenges. How do we embrace spaciousness when we desire solidity? How do we stay aloft and open?

A friend of mine recently showed me a nest of robin’s eggs. Beautiful, blue like the sky, and full of bright possibility, we admired the eggs.  Sadly none of the chicks survived.

Life can be harsh and unpredictable for little chicks and humans. How do we recover when we are thrown out of the nest?  How do we awaken?

In her book, When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron talks about there being no safety net, only spaciousness.  At first this concept frightened me. I didn’t understand what she was talking about.

Spaciousness is the wide blue sky with no clouds. Spaciousness is a trip to a far away galaxy. In order to fly we must embrace the openness without clinging to the nest.

Spaciousness in common vernacular can mean “going with the flow.”  If we don’t cling or attach to results but stay in the moment we can experience spaciousness.  Life will feel less constricted and less anxious.

The world appears to be concrete, but it’s not solid. As many people around the world know from tragic circumstances, your home can disappear in a split second. Your life can change in an instant.

I can have my day timer filled with appointments and meetings, but what if I get a flat tire or get sick? It’s a scramble to reschedule. These are only minor events that can cause stress.

There are so many distractions in our daily lives, as well—phone calls, emails, TV, kids fighting.  It’s a challenge to stay calm. No wonder we’d prefer to just stay in our warm beds in the morning!

If I take time to breathe, to become aware, to experience spaciousness or flow, then disruptions in my life do not feel so overwhelming. Once I understood that spaciousness could give me a sense of freedom, I was no longer frightened. I was relieved.

Waking up in the morning and taking off in a flurry of activity after a cup of coffee is not equivalent to being completely awake. It takes practice to calm down, slow down, and become more aware. I’ve been taught that success comes through small actions repeated many times.

As creatures of habit, we all tend to move through the day on automatic, sticking to a schedule and a plan. Have you ever arrived at work without quite knowing how you got there? Have you eaten your lunch at your desk and not even tasted it?

What kinds of things can you practice to become more fully alive, more open, and calmer?

1. Sit in stillness. Stop moving, stop doing, stop planning and living in the future. You can sit on a cushion or sit in a chair.

2. Go outside and feel the wind on your face, smell the fresh air, and connect with nature. If it’s possible, lie in the grass, stare at the sky, and listen to the birds. Feel your heart open.

3. Connect with another person, smile, and make eye contact. If you observe yourself becoming judgmental or critical, try to see that person as another human being struggling to be happy, just like you.

4. If you have pets, connect with them through touch. Feel their affection. We can communicate with them and learn from them about how to stay in the moment.

5. Tune in to your body, let it move, and feed it well. Practice awareness of your senses. Feel what you are touching, listen to the sounds around you, and smell what’s cooking.

6. Breathe deeply. Count your breaths to 21 when you are driving in your car. Calm down and stay present. Repeat.

7. Write, draw, paint, journal, or listen to music. Creating something beautiful or meaningful will help you focus and allow flow.

8. Take pictures with your phone or camera. I have learned that if I see a shot and run for the camera that frequently the moment will have disappeared. Sometimes I am lucky enough to capture a magical moment in time.

9. Give love to yourself and others. As you become aware of the negative self-talk in your mind, you can work towards becoming gentle with yourself. Practicing loving-kindness towards others will help you turn the love inward as well. Treat your family and friends with care and tenderness.  Be considerate of their needs and listen closely to what they have to say.

10. Accept things the way they are. It will give you a sense of freedom. Resistance causes suffering.

You have to be willing to change before you can take action. If you are willing to fly out of the nest rather than be thrown out, you will be embracing spaciousness. You will experience freedom.

Every moment is new. I used to believe that if there was no ground then there was nothing to hold on to. Because I realize now that I am interconnected with the entire universe, I believe I am everything and everything is me.

I have found a sense of release that I never imagined possible when I have stopped fighting the way things are. Sometimes that amazing feeling disappears in the next moment. By its very nature, this learning process must be unremitting.

I must continually return to the nest to regroup before leaving again. As much as I might desire safety, I am reminded over and over again that it does not exist. I acknowledge this without fear.

Because safety doesn’t exist, it’s even more important to stay present and awake. If I don’t stay awake, I don’t appreciate my precious human life. If I am not fully alive, I am wasting time.

There is no time to waste!

Photo by Elliott P

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About C. Loran Hills

Loran is a travel guide on the spiral journey of life.  Her business, Loran’s Heart, is filled with journaling prompts, nature photographs, and inspirational products to help you grow and develop spiritually. Her e-course, The Seeker’s Journey, will take you on the quest to discover and manifest your inner truth.

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  • http://losing-civ.blogspot.com Sarai

    Excellent advice! Complementary to all of this is letting go – especially of expectations… we all have a whole heap of expectations swimming around in our heads all day long that we think we’re supposed to live up to, without asking where they come from and whether or not they are valid! Each time I manage to remain present in the moment, I congratulate myself – that is a true feeling of success, because only when you are truly present can you truly enjoy each moment!!

  • Deena

    Thank you :)

  • Maria

    This is a great post. I work to find spaciousness in my life and I do find freedom. But, as you said, there are times when I have to return to the nest and regroup before jumping out again.
    I loved the comment that safety doesn’t exist. It helps me to take a leap more often. Thank you.

  • http://www.wiseatwork.net Susie @ WiseAtWork

    “Because I realize now that I am interconnected with the entire universe, I believe I am everything and everything is me.” Thanks for this reminder — I am writing these sustaining words down for those days or moments  when I am feeling a bit ungrounded, spinning, and free floating. Such a beautiful image of connection.

    Warm blessings to you.

  • http://twitter.com/happytotravel BJSnyder

     I too take solice in smiles with a connection to sharing a kind word, photography, and my pets. I have just entered the world of blogging/journaling and find it very rewarding!  Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, but to take a few minutes to appreciate the flight can put everything back into perspective. Great post! I will definitely share it with others. :)

  • http://big-zen.blogspot.com/ Big Zen

    Loran, your awareness shines through in your writing. As you say, safety doesn’t really exist, the concept of safety can only exist alongside the concept of fear, which in itself is a mental construct. Thanks for posting.

  • http://big-zen.blogspot.com/ Big Zen

    Loran, your awareness shines through in your writing. As you say, safety doesn’t really exist, the concept of safety can only exist alongside the concept of fear, which in itself is a mental construct. Thanks for posting.

  • Anonymous

    for the last couple months, i’ve been really working on living mindfully & being fully aware of what’s going on around me.

    everything you said in this post…amen, sister.

    when you live consciously & treat each moment with a depth of awareness, life is so much more alive…so much brighter…so much less scary.

    i ran on (negative) autopilot for a good (and by good, i mean bad) four years. it was horrible. i was completely numb to my emotions, my morals, & my relationships. my mind robotically fed me horrible, distorted thoughts as i starved my body and soul. it sounds dramatic, but it’s true. 

    to make a long story short (i know i’m rambling), i was over-thinking everything with my brain, but my mind was completely unaware of reality. life was going on without me. 

    now that i try to incorporate mindfulness into my daily life, i feel like my “unmindful” self was a completely different person. i had a completely different attitude & therefore experienced (or rather, didn’t experience) things completely differently. 

    it’s so true – perception is everything. and actually perceiving things is half the battle.

    thank you for this post. awesome. 
    :)

  • Nancy

    wonderful words of wisdom, thank you for reminding me 

  • http://twitter.com/AlannahRose Alannah Rose

    This is such a beautifully written piece, Loran.  The 10 tips you’ve included are fantastic, and the whole article is a great reminder about how to stay open and mindful.

    I spent a period of my life trying desperately to grasp on to things and resist the huge changes that were happening outside of my control.  I managed to discover When Things Fall Apart during that period, and I cried all through reading it because it was so true & relevant to my situation right that moment.  When I finally understood that trying to find ground was useless, and I just gave in to the “free fall”, there was such a freedom and weight lifted off of me.  I hope I will always be able to keep that mindset of going with the flow because resisting is not only futile, it is absolutely draining and just causes more chaos.

    Thanks again for sharing your wisdom here!

  • Loran Hills

    Thank you all for your lovely comments!  I appreciate being able to be helpful to others, truly.  Not to mention, the adage, you teach what you need to know.

  • http://twitter.com/AnnaBola Anna

    Great post! I’m struggling with the same problem right now. I can’t wake my self up to the present moment,I know that I’m wasting my time thinking about the past or the future, but i can’t help myself. I keep thinking about things, I’m trapped inside my mind! I hope one day I wake up and see the world as just the way it is. Thanks Again!

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  • jean

    Thank you, Loran–very well written and easy to read–with lots of physical space left between the thoughts which always the reader to pause and reflect.
    Enjoy!

  • jean

    Please note:  the word “always” should read “allows”.
    Thanks!
    jean

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  • BT

    Thank you for posting this blog. I have taken alot of psychedellic drugs in the past and have cut back to nearly nothing at all. I have just started to become aware that ive been in a daze for the last few years floating thru life on the breeze being pushed and pulled and blown in all directions. People would talk to me and i would not be able to have a conversation because i wasnt even listening. Thanks again u thought i was just brain dead but have realised im just not fully awake. :-) Peace.

  • http://twitter.com/JackGrabon Jack Grabon

    Being more present is beneficial in so many ways. I think that it’s also important to heed your advice so that presence doesn’t get imposed from the outside – e.g. via an accident or misfortune. I particularly resonate with #7, journaling. This is something that helps me to check in with myself, see how I’m doing and where I’m at. Moreover, it’s like having someone unconditional to talk to. No matter where I am or what I do, dead or alive, I will always have that “person.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/loran.hills Loran Hills

    Thanks, Jack. I also wrote a post here on journaling as well, if you are interested.

    http://tinybuddha.com/blog/10-journaling-tips-to-help-you-heal-grow-and-thrive/

  • NK Naik

    Did you wake up? how did you get over it?

  • Jakob

    Hey, I dought it is possible to do everything concious. How do you think about it?