John Richards, an expert in Crisis Intervention, personal growth and author of new book Deeper, explores self-awareness and its importance.
In order to become increasingly aware, one of the primary things that we must be willing to do is to explore our true selves; us as we really are.
Although this is an exciting journey – and perhaps the most powerful one that we can ever embark upon – it is simultaneously traumatic and must be prioritised in the face of the constant temptation to stop altogether.
As we discover truths that are unpalatable about ourselves, we face an enormous battle if we are not to pander to our overwhelming ego seeking to constantly drag us from reality and back into the comfort of our complacent individualism.
Our entire modern culture is structured to distract us from looking at who we really are and the difficult work of our inner journey, because such work requires the two things that we lack most: time and reflection.
Furthermore, humans who are self-aware and understand who they really are, will not buy and desire things relentlessly, or give their time solely to the pursuit of success. Consequently, this revelation is simply incompatible with what our society requires of us to maintain its ravenous appetite for our constant spending.
We frantically pursue security and wealth, and yet the self-attention and nurture that we need most evade us. Modern life simply steals them from us, and we are not self aware enough to miss them or to get them back.
A good way for us to understand and measure this phenomenon is to ask ourselves when we last had an hour alone, undistracted and quiet, in which we had the opportunity and peace to think about ourself and how we are doing.
In fact, we become addicted to filling our free time with more ‘things’ and spend longer at work or on our phones, feeling that we are ‘connected’ when the most crucial person to connect to and invest in; ourselves; is left alone and slowly withers away.
This is why children are infinitely more alive and well than us – more capable of happiness and joy than adults; because their inner life and self-communion has not yet had time to be extinguished.
As they grow older and the emptiness of adulthood in a materialist culture is forced upon them, they develop the emptiness that we know only too well. We call it ‘growing up’ and are relieved that they stop asking awkward questions when in fact they are growing numb and blind like us.
Actually, the greatest and most valuable of all gifts we could possibly give to our children is to daily exemplify a person who honestly knows themselves and in that knowledge is able to consistently demonstrate self-love, self-accountability and self-nurture.
When I work with parents around this, and think about myself as a father, I witness the most profound truth: We are aware enough to know that this is the most important thing of all but we are rendered helpless to teach it despite our desire and longing to do so.
Instead, we know that we are unable to teach it because we don’t practice it. We do not have it within ourselves and it can only be instilled by example.
So it is better to suppress what we really know, and in order to quieten our guilt, we give our children far too many things and thus distract them. And then ultimately, when we have made them suppressing and forgetful of truth just like us, we are surprised and confused when they develop our same problems, our familiar issues.
Indeed, the internet, television and the relentless demands of our busy lives mean that we are constantly bombarded by information, products and images that monopolise our attention.
Individualism and materialism only need appeal to our hunger: our ravenous desire to feel better about ourselves driven by the subconscious knowledge of our true fragility and uncertainty. Then, we will barely think about anything at all. In fact, we tend only to give attention to what makes us feel good and what we have to do next.
This is our humanity.
Consequently, the journey of inner discovery is at best sporadic and is nearly always only considered in the most extreme conditions of personal duress, precipitated through conditions such as personal crisis of some kind: the breakdown of a relationship, illness, bereavement, alcoholism, depression or psychological breakdown.
This is because these occurrences tend to simply expose our true vulnerability and us as we really are and force us to address the reality of our human fragility and brokenness.
This brokenness and its fruition is invariably avoided or rationalised by humans at all costs who fear and mistrust it above all else.
But in fact, it is a great and wonderful gift for those that have walked its graceful path.
On our journey, primarily we must first face a crucial and foundational truth about our humanity which few will ever approach or understand because it is at odds with the way that we like to live in comfort and complacence:
It is the truth that we are at our core; a paradoxical being.
We contain both the propensity for tremendous good, and for great evil. In our deepest parts, we are simultaneously both light and dark, truthful and self-deceiving, glorious and yet vulnerable.
And perhaps the fundamental wound that has harmed humanity most, is our profound human resistance to such awareness – because we like to think instead that we are fundamentally good and that everything is fine, and we desire above all else, comfort and ease.
And it is this suppression and self-deception that is at the root of all human evil.
Notice that I don’t suggest that our wicked behaviours or actions are the root of our evil but instead, our refusal to bravely acknowledge, meet and expose our orientation to that evil that is at the root of our peculiar lostness.
And the simple reason for this is simply that: the evil that exists in part of who we are is utterly real, and the consequences of its outworking (as one cannot avoid in reading the daily news, or even a cursory study of mankind’s history) are catastrophic.
The more that we run from facing such evil and pretending that it does not live in us, the more we give it overwhelming power.
The defeat of individual human evil is only possible through our humble willingness to confess firstly to ourselves and then to those around us that we contain not only light, but also darkness within.
And this is why true awareness and spiritual wholeness is so staggeringly rare in humans.
Because it is bloody, painful and difficult.
In my behaviours and outlook I find that daily it is overwhelmingly easier to hide such revelation, and to pretend that I am OK and good and nothing need be examined or discovered within and such possibilities should be left alone.
But the very real and catastrophic problem with this simplistic conclusion, is that it is a only a half truth, one side of an essentially understood paradox.
We are lovely; in fact, we can be more supremely beautiful than most of us have ever dared believe even in our wildest imaginings.
But the key to the unlocking of this beauty is actually found only in first exposing and then facing the very real darkness that lives in part of our souls.
This knowledge cannot really be taught. It can only be discovered; accepted within – and then lived out.
This is Awareness.