What was my first moment of awareness? Was it in the womb or in the room at Methodist Hospital on 7th Avenue in Park Slope? One of the most important tools I have come to live by is Awareness. I have to admit that memory is not my strong suite. Ask my husband who advises me as I am looking everywhere for my keys on any morning, or my phone on another. I am late as usual because I cannot remember where I last put them. In the moment of awareness, when I realize I haven’t a clue as to where my keys are or where I last put my phone; I am grateful for awareness. As the battle of thoughts in my head -– “Where the F_ _ _K did I put them?” “Why do I do this over and over again?”-- comes into my awareness, I can almost laugh. It is like there is an I watching me run around incredibly irritated. It is the I that notices the irritation. It is the I that notices the drama created over such a small event. My work and practice of meditation with the ever so patient Pema Chödrön teaches me to become aware by breaking down my experience into nanoseconds. What comes first? The thought? The emotion? The action? Thích Nhất Hạnh says the bunch inter-are. I do this work in order to create the life I want and a world in which I want to live.
Awareness is in the space between me, my thoughts, and my actions. As a young girl, I was aware that my thoughts were not fit for public consumption. I was a’scared all the time. The fear inside me made its peace by creating a mask to present to the world. There was me; then there was the mask of me. I discovered that people couldn’t read my mind and find out what was really going on. When did I first become aware of that? I am not sure exactly, but I was pretty young. My abuse took place under covers in plain sight, while everyone was watching TV. This is hard to admit; I was 8 years old and my uncle sat next to me and would put his hands on my body – soundlessly, slowly. So slow it was like it was not even happening. What? Not a sound, not a breath. Keeping perfectly still, I sat. I was extremely aware this was a secret. After the fact, I was confused and believed that I must be special. I was aware that I could not tell anyone. I would get intro BIG trouble and somehow I would no longer be special. Secrets put layers between me, my awareness, my experience, my face to the world. The mask became my new face to the world. I never believed I was very good at holding the secret, though I never told a soul until I was 29 years old. I was scared of being discovered. I was always afraid a crack would appear and someone would point and shout, “EEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUWWW. You are disgusting; you should be banished; you are unworthy; unforgivable and a piece of garbage.”
Those words, thoughts repeated over and over in my head, became my beliefs. I believed deep in my soul that I was just observing the facts. Did fear dislodge my awareness? On and on I lived trying to take the intellectual knowledge I gained from reading and therapy and get “better” and “fixed.” Intellectual knowledge without the emotional grounding and true awareness had limited benefits. I continued to use relationships and substances to soothe my worried soul. I can tell you that it didn’t really work for long; hurtful behaviors just caused more hurt and provided more evidence of my brokenness.
A strong memory of true awareness came at the age of 43. I was dating a man who did not deserve me (again). That is short for a troubled man whom I latched onto thinking that if I couldn’t get HIM to love me, I was a failure once again, giving more evidence to my beliefs. Realizing my relationships were CRAZY and unhealthy, despite years of pursuing intellectual understanding, I landed at a CODA (Codependents Anonymous) meeting where the only requirement for membership was a desire to have healthy relationships. I sat in that meeting acutely aware of the cracks in the mask – the wall crumbling. I was hurting. I was in full blown shame about having any feelings at all. The dam was bursting and I could fully feel it happening. Hello, Awareness!
Working the 12 steps with a sponsor, I wrote truthfully about everything I had done, everything I had experienced, everything I had thought. All my fears, my actions. Clean house we call it.
What an experience. I became aware of the feelings of guilt that permeated my everydayness like a second skin. I learned to question and challenge my beliefs in the sanctum of my own awareness. I was able to observe the changes in my feelings as they transformed little by little and healing took place. Observing levels of awareness was now part of my language. Next came, “Who am I really? What do I want?” A road to discovery; the road to recovery. A rite of passage and wholehearted living begins.
Now as I continue to travel on this road, I offer assistance to others who may be a few steps behind me or fallen to the side. I call it roadside assistance for your soul. Perhaps I can help.
Are you aware of your feelings and your thoughts as observable activities? Do you believe everything you think?