How to Stay Aware and Conscious
The challenge in remembering to be mindful is that this isn’t about remembering at all. It is not like trying to recall a fact like the capitol of New Hampshire. We are invoking a state of mind, emotion, attitude, and focus of our attention. In being Aware, Mindful or Conscious, we are using a different part of our brain to function, a part that might be turned off, or asleep when accessing memories or facts.
Why staying aware and being conscious is important
Being conscious so we can break old reactions and habits has more to do with focusing your attention inward while you take a long slow inhale and exhale. This is an act of consciousness and operates separately from actions of intellect or memory.
That part of your mind telling you to “remember” is focused on information about being conscious. It is not in itself aware. The part of the brain that does the “remembering” is by definition not able to be consciously present.
Conscious awareness is like a muscle
For muscles to be strong and not get fatigued you have to exercise them. When they get fatigued, telling them to remember to be strong will not help. If you want your Consciousness to remain strong throughout the day then you have to train it with practices to make it strong.
When interested in being physically fit we don’t ask ourselves, “How can I remember to keep my muscles strong.” We know that keeping our muscles strong is a matter of exercising them. The same is with awareness. We have to exercise our awareness muscles daily so that they have the strength to work longer hours for us. When the muscles of our attention, focus, and attitude become weak or tired our old emotional reactions and automatic behaviors take over and we are behaving unconsciously. This often leads to more emotional reactions and drama.
Practicing mindfulness is just that. It is a practice.
It is an exercise of your mental, emotional, and conscious focus.
Some people want to know when they will be done or can stop. I liken that question to, “When will I be in good enough shape that I don’t have to exercise anymore?” The problem is that when you don’t work out your muscles they become weaker. The good news is that when it comes to conscious awareness, once you are in shape, it is much easier to stay fit.
We can have a daydream that takes us away from where we are and what we are doing. During that daydream we experience a different world. The daydream can be an upcoming meeting, party, or a memory of what happened last year. Our emotions attitude, and attention are all there and even our nervous system is responding to being “there” in the daydream. In that moment it is not a matter of remembering that there is a “here” but of being aware that you are here. Being present as “here” is an experience of attention and feeling not a fact.
Here’s an example of staying aware and conscious:
When you get into a fight with your partner you don’t remember all the things you promised you would do to avoid escalation. When you were conscious and present you promised that you would leave certain topics out, that you would lower your voice, count to ten, or leave room and cool off before confronting them. But in the heat of that emotion, such as anger, anger is the consciousness of the moment and it is deciding behavior. The part of you that was “Conscious” the week before making the promise of ground rules for arguing isn’t present. It is resting or asleep. Nor does the “Angry Self” want to listen even the aware part were there. The consciousness of the “Angry Self” does not ask your Conscious and Mindful Self for any information. It behaves as if your Mindful Consciousness didn’t exist. The same is true for the other parts of your sub-conscious that operate as habit like the Judge and Victim Characters that I often mention.
Being conscious has very little to do with remembering
Unless you were to remember to bring your consciousness with you to the daydream. Remembering is a mental exercise of recollecting knowledge. Being conscious is an action of attitude and focusing your attention in the present moment. Being conscious might come without the mind chatter of other stories absorbing your attention. You can also be conscious and present while the mind is busy with chatter. You do this by splitting your attention. You are watchful of the mind running its daydreams, thoughts, emotions and beliefs while still having attention here in the moment’s activities.
What is it like staying aware and conscious?
Being conscious is holding a state of alertness, but while being calm and relaxed. It is like hunting. You are scanning the trees and grass and you are vigilant. You quietly pick up on sounds, smells, and movements. You maintain a relaxed state and always have some part of your attention monitoring the area. When being mindful you have your attention inward and notice movements of your emotion, breathing, and the sound of your mind chatter. As you pay attention for a while you might also notice that your muscles relax on portions of the inhale or when certain phrases are said. While in this state of awareness you do not have to remember anything. When you are in an unconscious state, you do not remember what being conscious is like.
You do not have to remember how to keep this focus. You are either doing it, or you are not doing it. You are either vigilant, or you are distracted. Your consciousness is focused on what is happening in the present moment, internally and externally, or it is being carried away in an opinion, or emotional reaction. In that moment you have stopped “hunting” and stored emotions in your belief system have taken over your attention. One does not need to remember “how” to be conscious, just like when hunting one does not need to remember “how” to watch for movement.
What one has to do to improve is to remember to practice and through practice you will improve the way a hunter or athlete improves.
When you practice regularly, for a while it becomes a habit. When you live a habit for long enough it just becomes your way of life. In the beginning you will have to make a commitment to practice, and then after some months you won’t need to remind yourself or remember. You will know how you feel, and you will feel better on days that you practice, and grumpy on days that you don’t. Your own emotions and happiness will automatically guide you to keep your practice active simply because you like feeling better.