Awareness is to human, what elegance is to science | August Update
Science speaks of elegance as something in its essential and simplest form. In humans, awareness is clearing away of the continuous disruptive chatter in our brain, wherein we see something clearly, obviously, and elegantly.
It may start with recognizing that “chatter” as a function of external input. Awareness comes with a quality of stillness or silence, which is a function of internal. Amidst the internal chatter our choices are fraught with peril. Awareness, a calming of the chatter, is the portal to real choice.
A number of years ago, when I was first starting consulting, I went to meet a potential client over drinks. I asked Marlene to go with me, she wasn’t involved in coaching yet, however, I frankly thought I always looked better when she was with me.
We met with the potential client and as I was carefully crafting what I said, Mar entered the conversation in such a frank and direct way that I was a bit taken back, although it was refreshingly authentic. The potential client was quite taken as well and just opened right up.
I don’t remember if we got the business, but I walked away with a stunning epiphany. The girl I married 5 years before was not the girl sitting next to me. I realized how much I lived in a set of pictures about how life works and how things are and how Mar is, etc., that had nothing to do with how they really are. I saw someone in her I had never seen before.
Was that always there and I just got a new perspective, or had she changed, and I was just catching up to it? Yes, and yes.
Once again, I quote Dr. Einstein on the subject of our reality: All reality is merely an illusion…it’s simply a persistent one!
I think most people can relate and even agree, at an intellectual level that what we think is real is actually just what we think, it’s not grounded in reality. However, our behavior is certainly not demonstrative of knowing our perception about things is not what’s real. We act out of our beliefs.
Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Fifth Agreement”, talks about this as a function of our “domestication” from birth:
“In truth we are domesticated the same way that a dog, a cat, or any animal is domesticated: through a system of punishment and reward. We are told that we’re a good boy or good girl when we do what the grown-ups want us to do, or bad when we don’t…In human domestication, all the rules and values of our family and society are imposed on us. We don’t have the opportunity to choose our beliefs; we are told what to believe, and what not to believe…We are innocent, we believe what big people tell us; we agree, and the information is stored into our memory, all by our agreement.”
Ruiz calls this non-reality we live in our VR or virtual reality.
This is further complicated by how we are constantly being told what to think, how to act, “the right way.” Only instead of our parents, teachers, or peers its now media, advertising, and Facebook. Trying to think through the chatter in our brain is like trying to think through a thousand voices in a middle-eastern market all going at once
So, what’s the point? I would say it’s that you and I make interpretations about the world based on our beliefs about things.
Our beliefs about things are based on a history of what people, usually well-meaning, have told us and what we have made up about what they have told us. In other words, our reality about the world, about life is made up, which in of itself is not necessarily dangerous, what’s dangerous is we believe it’s real!
Most of our decisions are made on unreal reality, as Ruiz says our “Virtual Reality.”
So, when confronted with issues, we gather information to reach conclusions, however, we sort the information based, not on objective assessment, but for that which validates what we believe and if we have to use artistic interpretation to get information to validate our beliefs, so be it. This whole process leads to inferior conclusions and inferior solutions.
This phenomenon is called “conformation bias”, which Psychology Today says “In sum, people are prone to believe what they want to believe. Seeking to confirm our beliefs comes naturally, while it feels wrong and counterintuitive to look for evidence that contradicts our beliefs. This explains why opinions survive and spread. Disconfirming instances are far more powerful in establishing the truth. Disconfirmation would require looking for evidence to disprove it.”
Human beings are simply not inclined to question their truths, a function of domestication.
Awareness comes through questioning our beliefs and our interpretations, it takes getting outside of our construct of beliefs. If you think giving up our beliefs is easy, just look at our political spectrum. It’s what people mean by “thinking outside the box.”
Then there are those remarkable times when we are confronted with a consequential problem and we sweat, stress, moan, groan, complain to others and then suddenly there is a moment of clarity (awareness) and calm when we see the issue just like it is and likewise the solution. Awareness has the power to end our struggles, without creating new ones. This was you making an authentic choice, not the manipulated or automatic ones that are common to us.
No matter what someone said, or what the circumstances were, eventually it was you who took the actions that you did. You always had it in your power to do something different, and not be influenced by your circumstances.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
-Victor Frankl, “Man’s search for Meaning”
So where does it all lie, you ask? It’s all in your mind. Not someone else’s but your mind and your mind alone. Period.
It is a function of you taking accountability for everything in your life. Realizing that your and my life is a function of the choices we have made and start to examine the beliefs you held in making those choices, to start examining the beliefs you are a prisoner of. It is a lifetime process, there is no getting there, just more aware, while becoming more free. Freedom has elegance.
Oh yes, one final thing, we will not find awareness in our smartphones.
See Anthony Tjan’s Harvard Business Review on techniques for becoming more aware here. Anthony Tjan is an author and the Managing partner of Venture Capital firm Cue Ball.