If we want to change a situation, we first have to change ourselves. And to change ourselves effectively, we first have to change our perceptions.

‘Daily Reflections for Highly Effective People’, Stephen R Covey.

Although we are always living in the present moment, you might be surprised how little we are aware of all that is actually happening. Try the following exercises to test your own level of awareness.

[box type=”bio”]Sit quietly for five minutes with your eyes closed. Just focus on listening and notice how many sounds you can hear. Briefly describe your experience. Where you surprised by how much you could hear?[/box]

Before you continue reflect on this experience of listening. How many sounds came into your consciousness as time went on? For instance, you may have become aware of the sound of your heart beating, or of your own breathing; of distant bird song or traffic; or of a clock ticking. These sounds were going on all the time out of your awareness. The pace of modern living makes it hard to be conscious of everything around us and we can be very cut off from the richness of our environment. The next exercises continue this theme.

[box type=”bio”]Look around the room, noticing the shapes, colour, forms and textures that you can see. Relax your eyes and let things go out of focus. Try to see as a visitor from Mars might see things. The Martian wouldn’t know the name or the purpose of anything. He wouldn’t be able to make judgements like something being in the right place; dirty or clean; old or new. Try looking at just one object for at least five minutes and notice whether it (or your view of it) changes as time passes.

Spend five minutes walking around the room, touching as many shapes and textures as possible. You can do this blindfold if you wish.

Now, still with your eyes closed, concentrate on your sense of smell. What does the air smell like? Smell your hand, the wall, the open window, the different objects around you. Describe your experience.[/box]

These exercises were concerned with raising awareness of your senses; now experiment with your mental awareness.

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Sit quietly with a notebook and pen and allow your thoughts to wander. Don’t think about anything in particular. Set a timer for ten minutes so that you don’t have to worry about the time. Every time a thought comes to you, however trivial, jot it down.

When the time is up, look over your list and notice the pattern of your thinking. Are your thoughts largely concerned with the past or with the future? Are you judging or criticising yourself or others most of the time? Did your thoughts flit from one thing to another, or did you focus on one main issue? Thoughts can be helpful or hindering; for instance, I could be writing this and thinking, ‘Am I going to meet the deadline? Will people understand what I’m saying? Some people are bound to disagree with me. When shall I cook dinner?’ These thoughts could easily block the flow – it would be wiser just to get on with it and meet any problems if or when they arise.

[box type=”bio”]You have concentrated on your senses and your mind, now is time to focus your attention on your body. Again, sit quietly and take stock of your physical self. Are you aware of any aches and pains? Is your posture straight or slumped? Are your muscles relaxed or tense?[/box]

The purpose of all these exercises has been to raise your awareness of your own particular here and now. Awareness of this kind can help us to recognise how we may be restricting our responses and how we can act to change. It can also show us how we are reacting to stress or everyday problems in unhelpful ways, and how we might change that.

Just as our mind employs selective awareness to make us aware of the sights and sounds that seem most important whilst screening out many others, so it can filter out the opportunities and possibilities that are around us every day.

One solution to this is to be fully present, to become aware of our current needs, to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, and to set clear goals. Once our mind knows what we want it to look for, it will bring a whole range of new options into our awareness. They were always there, we just didn’t notice them before. You get what you focus on.

This focus on awareness of your own needs isn’t as selfish as it sounds – being aware of a need doesn’t mean that you automatically have the right to fulfil it at the expense of other people. However, bringing this knowledge into consciousness gives you more control over the way you respond to life. In addition, taking care of your own needs means that you are much more able to care for the needs of others. Coaches often use the example of a plane flight. When passengers first board a plane they are shown how to fit their own oxygen mask should an unexpected emergency occur. The flight attendants always emphasise that parents must place their own masks on before they try to attend to their children. If they do not do so, they might well pass out before they have time to fit their children’s masks properly. Parents must attend to their own needs before they can care effectively for their children. Although everyday situations are rarely life-threatening, the same principle applies. Only by taking care of your own needs can you be fully responsive to, and caring for, your loved ones.