The Only Way to Raise Your Awareness (The Answer is Kind of Annoying)

Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

There’s a brilliant passage in Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness, itself a brilliant book and highly recommended reading, where someone asks a guru (a legit spiritual teacher, not a ‘guru’) what he needs to reach enlightenment, or improve his life, or be a better person or something like that. One of those innocent questions one might enquire about to a religious or spiritual figure, especially if it’s being told to you in a story.

The guru simply replies ‘Awareness!’ The enquirer follows this up with further questions, logical enough follow-ups to get to the root of the issue: “Awareness of what?” “How do I practice it?” “What does awareness teach?” and so on. To which the teacher replies: ‘Awareness!’ All subsequent questions and counter-questions are simply met with even more enthusiastic and firm repetitions of: “Awareness! Awareness! Awareness! Awareness! Awareness!”

I love this passage as I felt like I understood it on the fringes of my real understanding, but also that I didn’t fully get it… because I don’t quite have the awareness. It’s not that his seemingly obtuse answer was meant to be a mystery to keep the commoner or the unenlightened away from the true mysteries of life. It’s a koan of sorts, a sort of spiritual riddle to be, not so much thought about, as practiced.

And the more you practice it, the more you ‘get’ it. Or think you get it. The maddening thing about it, and the real beauty of it, is that all you do for your life is to practice it. And through practice, it becomes higher. It’s not awareness of some mystery, or an answer to be given from a teacher or a priest or a mental health expert or a self-improvement ‘guru’.

It’s not ‘awareness’ of case numbers, Dail scandals and the other trivia of the day, but awareness of how you’re feeling, both internally, and in relation to the world around you. This includes both physically and mentally. And it’s something you can practice. Awareness of the thoughts going through your head and where they come from and how they affect you and make you who you think you are.

A lot of the stuff on the news, online or from traditional institutions, is noise, and it decreases your awareness of what’s actually going on in the world around you. I don’t mean theories on the internet of how the elites rule the world behind a secret veil, either. I mean your immediate body and mental space.

Life is a series of choices you make until you die, and if you’re interested in making those choices better then this book is a good place to start. I wrote yesterday about how making your life or your thinking better often involves stripping away bad thinking and ideas in the first in the first place, by focusing your attention.

What if I don’t want to change my life? Well, I’d say it’s what we do all day every day, whether we like it or not. Whether you’re into physics or maths or God or nothing at all, such is how the world works. And in as much as it’s not about changing your life or becoming a different person, or about relaxation or not worrying, mindfulness — and that’s what this book is about — is about making sure you worry about the right things.

Lastly, this is my favourite quote of the book as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately:

“We see people and things not as they are, but as we are.”

Classic projection theory isn’t it? Very Freudian. So clichéd, very psychology, etc.

Well, it’s something to think about, isn’t it?

Originally published at

Subscribe to my free regular newsletter in which I explore how the outdoors, travel and our sense of place affect our minds and wellbeing, through stories, essays and blogs.

Or find me at or on twitter.

Psychology | Well-being | Travel | Writing | Flânerie.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store