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The Value of Practicing Awareness

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Last week I sang the praises of the countless tiny, private experiences that enrich our day: the stripes of sunlight that fall on the staff room table, the steam billowing from your coffee machine, the warmth of the cat in your lap.

We all love that stuff, and it’s happening all day long, even on “uneventful” days. Every day contains potentially unlimited objects of gratitude, but connecting with them requires a somewhat persistent awareness of the present moment.

This persistent awareness doesn’t come naturally to us. Typically, for 21st century adults, any free attention is usually captured by habitual thinking—an ongoing, meandering inner monologue about things that will happen later, or have happened already, or should happen. Worries, rehearsals, diatribes, imagined conversations.

Maybe it sounds dramatic, but I see this the great tragedy of the modern human mind: we miss the moments that make up our lives because our attention is dominated by remembered or imagined experiences—hypothetical moments we’d like to have, or more often, avoid having. 

Luckily, the remedy is straightforward: practice awareness. Practice receiving experience, just as it is, both in dedicated meditation sessions, and casually throughout the day.

I’ve been a huge advocate of doing this daily since long before I started Raptitude. My attempt to help people start mindfulness practice is Camp Calm, the sixth season of which opened this morning. A new group of present-moment adventurers is forming right now, and you’re invited to join us. [Go here to register.]

The gratitude article was the most popular article of the year so far. Essentially, it’s a daily lesson from the Camp, one of thirty in the course, revised to work as a standalone blog post. Every lesson explores a new aspect of mindfulness practice.

Each time we recognize present moment experience, worry and stress lose a little bit of their hold on us. We get a little more accustomed to two crucial realities of human life: not only is it only safe to live in the here and now, but it’s the only place we ever are. The present is all life consists of, and we can be mostly engaged with it, or mostly distracted from it.

How much practice is necessary? The more the better obviously, but if we’re talking about the “move the needle” threshold, it’s in the range of minutes. I try to get people to meditate ten minutes a day at first, and bring mindfulness to occasional moments throughout the day, for just four or five seconds at a time, such as mindfully putting on their coat, or mindfully starting their car.

The key is consistency, and a willingness to explore it further. The Camp and your fellow campers are there to help you consistently get in touch with the present moment, over that first thirty days.

Nobody reading this hasn’t thought about meditation before, but if you think it’s about time you learned, we’d love to have you. Here’s a rundown of how the camp works. Or you can register right away here.

If you’re interested, act sooner than later, because registration closes when it’s full, or after a week. If you have any questions at all, just email me.

In any case, have a good weekend! Enjoy the little things.

-David

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Photo by Colin Maynard
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Ant Pugh March 2, 2018 at 4:16 am

Absolutely love this – for all the talk of mindfulness and meditation, I measure my own progress in both the way I feel and a daily “stock take” of how often I have these moments of awareness throughout the day. Would love to hear more from you on this topic and also other peoples stories about this.

David Cain March 2, 2018 at 10:11 am

Yeah I would say the ultimate measure of progress is your ongoing “everyday” state, although of course there are a lot of factors in that. You can also see progress in benchmarks — when you look back at your life and see that certain situations that used to make you antsy no longer do, it’s obvious that something significant has changed.

Johan March 2, 2018 at 7:50 am

Awesome to see Camp Calm continuing to evolve. I took part in the inaugural season and I’ve had a mostly consistent practice since. I fell off for a bit at times but right now I’m in my best streak. Just reached 100 straight days this morning of having a meditation session. My goal is to reach 365 :-) I’ve noticed in the last few months I’ve been feeling more emotional but in a controlled type of way. I tend to have more tears come out from perhaps feeling that “sense of beauty” on everyday things. Thanks for the putting together this great content.

David Cain March 2, 2018 at 10:13 am

Sounds like you’re doing great. The long term trend is always more important. I kind of doubt if I’ve ever gone a year without missing a day, but I’ll never get away from it for a week, or anything like that, ever again.

I think I have experienced what you describe. I feel like I am closer to experience, and more easily moved by it, but in a healthy way.

Abhijeet Kumar March 3, 2018 at 1:45 pm

I find practicing mindfulness is invaluable, and there is no time to say I am done with it. It does require a sense of honesty with oneself.

The hardest part is when we are lost. Say, deeply dissatisfied with a job, for example, but not trivial to make a change (almost stuck in a pit). On one hand, we know that we need to do something, and doing something fast might be the way, but that puts us in the frame of mind that this moment is invisible, and we need to get somewhere else. At times like that, the mind and old patterns can put up a real challenge. Mindfulness is key in such moments. It is amazing to see how much suffering in those situations is actually from the mind/old patterns.

Ultimately, we can make such a transition only through something in the present moment. Something that is already here. And enjoying the process.

KG March 7, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Great reflections to ponder! The gratitude moments of awareness are measured by the yes I feel in my heart.

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