“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I’m sitting on a straw bail at an unplugged rock concert that’s being held in Barrydale, South Africa, my current home and sanctuary. It’s a big deal for this small town, because nothing much ever really happens here.
Everyone from the area has arrived dressed to the hilt and ready to rumba—except me, that is. I’m sitting to the side (in an outfit that will scare away most normal people) staring forlornly off into the distance.
My buddy Sean sits next to me with a smile the size of the bread roll he’s holding in his hand. He jokes around and chats away like today might be his last day on earth, while I try hard to flash some teeth at least once very twenty minutes, just so I don’t ruin the party for everyone else.
I probably won’t remember this concert at all in a couple of years’ time. It will become an unidentifiable part of the gray mass of other lost memories that make up most of my life.
I guess I’m somewhere in my head, sorting through what I perceive to be the missing pieces of my life. I’m here, but I’m not really here at all. I’m so absorbed in dissecting the future and the past and my perception of my life that I’m completely missing what’s happening around me. I can’t see it at all.
If I could manage to let go of my own expectations of life—just for a second—and zoom out a little bit, I would probably see that in the context of the bigger picture, my worries do not warrant this behavior, not in the least. It takes some doing, but in the end I finally get there.
Most of us spend our lives living in a kind of insular trance. We are essentially asleep to the world.
The older we get, the more our lives become like the predictive text on our cell phones: we have a fairly good idea of our day, the route we’ll take, the things that will come up and the people we will see, and our minds just kind of fill in the blanks.
We get so used to our routines that it’s no longer necessary to pay attention to the details. Heck, we’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? Slowly our lives become more and more dulled by a “broad view” approach. Our susceptibility levels drop dramatically the older we get.
We become bewitched by the soundtrack of our own thoughts and story lines. We get stuck in the mud of what was or could have been, what may or may not be. In the process, the joy of life, the lightness, the details, all get drowned out by the muddy waters of “not here.”
A lot of people talk about consciousness these days. The first time I heard this term I was somewhat insulted. What do they mean I have to become conscious? I’ve been conscious for years!
If I take a hard look at my life though, the truth is harder to swallow. Much of my life is a blur, spent in my thoughts, in the prison that I have erected for myself in my head.
Do you think you don’t fit into this category? Here are some questions to mull over:
- Can you remember details of what you saw out your window when you were driving to work this morning?
- Can you remember details of what you did yesterday?
- What did you do the day before?
- What is the clearest memory you have of say, a week ago?
- Is it a singular memory, or a general and blurry one, like spending time at work?
A life that is lived unconsciously becomes blunted and gray. It is lived in a repetitive cycle that becomes increasingly harder to break out of the older we get. It requires the ability to allow yourself to become a little bit uncomfortable from time to time, and as our era of convenience rages on, it’s becoming harder and harder for people to do.
Consciousness is about awareness: being alert to details, being in the moment, and most of all, simply being awake! Like everything else, it is something that is learned. It’s a habit we get into.
There are many different ways to awaken consciousness. Here are some of my personal favorites:
One of the main reasons why we are able to live unconsciously is because the element of fear has mostly been eliminated from our day to day existences.
How comfortable is your life exactly? If there’s nothing that challenges you, nothing that causes even the slightest bit of fear or trepidation, you are probably living underneath the surface of your life.
Challenge yourself. Do something out of the box. Take up white water rafting or mountain climbing. Sports are great for being in the moment, and the fear of losing the game is what drives you forward.
Traveling changes your basic viewing process. It rips you out of your head and your agenda and forces you to just focus on the world around you again.
After a while your expectations slowly drop away. Things expand. You’re not the center of the universe anymore. You become part of the world instead of a little bubble floating along in it.
Travel requires you to be a little bit vulnerable. You have to face numerous fears about being in a new place, not knowing where to go or what will happen next. You have to put yourself out there and trust that everything will be OK.
This is the most well-known way to cleanse and awaken the mind, and yet many people shy away from it. Meditation doesn’t have to happen alone in a quiet room.
My personal favorite form of meditation is action netball. When I’m on the court everything else just falls away and I become completely present and aware of only one thing: the ball! By the time the game finishes I’m exhausted and humming in a cleaned out sort of way. It’s beautiful.
Being conscious and aware is about opening your eyes to the world again, looking outside of yourself instead of always leaning into your own interior world. Step out of your bubble of existence and really take a good hard look at the world around you again. What do you see? Can you look at it without an agenda, without a preconceived idea in your head?
Freedom really is all up in your head. You have built your own cage and the keys are in your pocket.
No one can make you think a certain way. You have the power to change your own experience of the world if you can let go of your own preconceived storyline and allow the world to unfold around you.
We truly are our own keepers.
Photo by AlicePopkorn