I have felt both elated and humbled by the immense response to Practicing with Open Eyes, our previous blog. It seemed like my thoughts were in alignment with the collective consciousness of our community at just the right time.
If you’re game to come along for the ride, I’d like to go a level deeper. Let’s break down the steps to change your energy and thus change your life. My intention is to give you precise tools for returning to a state of consciousness when you’ve “forgotten to remember” that awareness is something you must sustain—not just in meditation, but in the rest of your waking life.
The concepts that form the basis of my work are not just food for thought. They are meant to be put into practice. Meditating for an hour in the morning is wonderful, but what about the rest of your day? Who are you being for the majority of your waking hours?
We might be skillful at practicing with our eyes closed, but the moments when we really need to exercise our skills and become fully conscious happen during the rest of our day, as we venture out into the world—with our eyes open. To practice while wide awake, we have to train the mind to catch itself in the act of forgetting, and we’ve got to understand how to bring ourselves back. If you are noticing when you’ve lost your awareness, you’re already taking the first step.
Don’t fall for the illusion that the fourth step is where the process stops. There is no end, because these are steps that every student from beginner to advanced would do well to repeat over and over. This is a process that I do myself, sometimes many times in a single day.
The first step is something I talk about all the time, because we can’t change anything unless we do it. This initial step is to become aware of who we are being—to shine a light on our unconscious automatic thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. We must become so conscious that nothing slips by our awareness unnoticed. Without criticizing, judging, or placing blame, make a game out of noticing everything about yourself. Instead of identifying with what you observe, imagine that you are just a curious bystander. Now where, when, and how did you lose your awareness in your waking day? What trigger or stimulus caused you to default back to your old, unhappy self and all those self-defeating thoughts and emotions?
If you are watching an actor playing a role, you will pay attention to every gesture, expression, and action so that your mind can form a clear impression of the fictional character. You will also pay attention to the actor and whether they seem to be doing a good job of portraying the role. How are they speaking and moving? Do they seem to embody the character? How do they express themselves, and do their expressions seem sincere? Observe yourself the same way. If you can stay out of judgment, remain in the moment, and watch yourself in real time, you can collect all the data you need to recalibrate your new state of being—which you will do later.
Once you’ve regained your awareness and have decided which aspects of yourself no longer serve you, you’ve got to stop being that person that you no longer want to embody. You have to unplug from the old subconscious programs that have been running your life and pause long enough to slow yourself down back into the present moment. As you slow down and move out of survival, you send a signal to your autonomic nervous system that says it is safe to create, safe to take in and process new information, and safe to be in a state of relaxation. As you relax your body, stay awake and aware.
The act of pausing and stopping is essential for moving out of the familiar past and the programmed, predictable future (which are the known) and moving into the present moment (which is the unknown).
Getting to the present moment takes an enormous amount of energy and awareness. It is executing a level of mind that’s greater than the body—which has been conditioned to be the mind—as well as demonstrating a will that is greater than the automated and habituated program of the future.
Moving out of the known and into the unknown will create discomfort. For some, this discomfort can occasionally manifest as physical pain, psychological distress, anxiety, nausea, or full-blown panic. I want to assure you that if you are facing discomfort, you are having a natural response, and you are also applying the work the right way. If you weren’t, you would still be in a familiar, known chemical state of being. There would be no discomfort. The key is to ultimately change from that state of discomfort into a new state of liberation and wholeness.
The third step is to change your energy and your state of being. Once you start taking active steps that align with your intention, you should see change, both in your body and in your life.
As you move closer toward your future, which will always appear in the form of the present moment, allow the energy you have tapped into to generate more of the emotions associated with the “you” you are becoming. That elevated energy, coupled with your full intention, is exactly what you need to change your state of being.
Now that you’ve hit the reset button—and recalibrated your energy and your state of being—it’s time to return to your life with your full consciousness on board. Let me remind you that there is no end of the line here—these four steps are circular, not linear. With luck, you will repeat them many times and eventually return to a conscious state more and more quickly.
The goal of this process is for your body to eventually break through and liberate itself. For those waiting patiently to break through, take heart—that breakthrough can’t happen without the body first resisting and trying to cling to everything it knows. When you are getting close to changing yourself, your body will inevitably make one last desperate effort to prevent change from happening. You’re trying to take the body into unfamiliar territory and coax it into a new mind, and the body is averse to change.
In other words, if you’re not struggling with the body’s resistance to change, you are probably not changing. For those of you in the struggle, congratulations, and welcome to the party. You’re doing everything right. Keep going. Every time you fall, get back up. Eventually, you won’t remember how many times you have fallen because, in the end, you reached the destination.
For those who are interested in further guidance, I’m working on a series of short meditations called “Generating Change,” which will guide you through the practical tools of this process. Stay tuned…