A while back I attended a lovely gathering with friends. Later that evening I realized that instead of feeling good, I felt oddly uncomfortable. When I asked myself why, I knew it was because much my conversation had come from my ego. Instead of just enjoying their company, I had been comparing what they said to what I think, then unconsciously wanting to impress them with my thoughts! Ouch!
Deepak Chopra has written: “It is much more beneficial to your health if you feel your way through life than think your way through life. Self-awareness monitors how you feel.” What does this have to do with how I interacted with my friends? Simply this. When I was with them I was not self-aware. I was trying to impress them with my thinking, not monitoring how I was feeling. As a result, my behavior that day was not beneficial to me or them.
In my last post I wrote about a crucial moment in my development when I was overcome with self-consciousness. I’ve also written about how a dream in which the Lone Ranger shot me was a wake-up call into a new way of seeing myself and life. At my fiftieth birthday party roast a friend joked about my tendency to take myself seriously. In March of this year I published a post titled “Is Self-Discovery Selfish?” All these “self” issues touch on self-awareness. How we use this inherent ability has more to do with our well-being than anything else in our lives!
Nobody explains these concepts more clearly than Dr. Chopra, so instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I’ll use his words: “When you have any experience, your mind is in one of three states: unconscious, aware, and self-aware. The first state leaves health — and well-being generally — to chance. If you light up your fifth cigarette of the day without thinking, you are doing something unconsciously, as is the nature of habits. If you see yourself lighting up the cigarette, you are aware of what you’re doing. But self-awareness goes further; it says, “What am I doing to myself?” Posing questions, reflecting on your behavior, looking at the larger picture, taking your life seriously — these are all self-aware behaviors.”
Asking ourselves, “What am I doing to myself? or “What did I just do and why?” is how we feel our way through life instead of thinking our way through life. This does not require great wisdom, intelligence, or logical thinking. It simply requires us to take ourselves seriously.
In this sense, the word “feeling” is not about emotions, but about what we value. It’s about noticing what we’re doing and how important it is to us. About what feels meaningful. What makes us feel better about ourselves. Lighting up our fifth cigarette may bring an emotional release from stress, but does it really make us feel better about ourselves? If it doesn’t, and if we ignore that fact and keep smoking anyway, we’re not taking ourselves seriously enough.
Taking oneself seriously has positive and negative aspects. In my conversation with my friends I was aware, but I was not self-aware. I was taking myself too seriously. But when I reflected on my discomfort later that evening I was feeling my way through my life. I was being self-aware, noticing what I value. I value my friends and want them to enjoy being with me. Knowing I can take myself so seriously that I can diminish our mutual pleasure makes me squirm. But knowing I can be self-aware gives me hope for a more beneficial outcome the next time I’m with them.