Thursday 16 May 2013

Better said than done!

The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.

- David Foster Wallace -

I have the habit of putting up a quote as my Facebook status and today's quote was the above one. It prompted a zillion thoughts in my wee head. Wallace, indeed sums it up pretty well, "The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort . . ." A friend was lamenting the fact that she always needs to prompt her children to be aware and observant. She is quite aware that children learn by observing and all that jazz but she wants to instill that being aware is something which needs to be cultivated and practiced. When adults can't be aware of things, instilling the same in children seems like a tall order. I wonder if awareness is also genetic and there is gene somewhere which can be possibly called the 'Awareness gene' something like the 'Selfish gene.' And what exactly is being aware? I would see awareness as being intuitive to oneself and also to the immediate environment that surrounds us - Let's take this simple example (again quoted by my friend): A person is having her breakfast, there is no water in the vicinity. An individual who is aware will be immediately pushed to go and fetch a glass of water and place it next to the person who is eating. This simple task does not need much training. It comes from a sense of having observed that there is no water and the person in the due course of the meal might have the need to drink water. This needs attention to the needs of others and an awareness of something not being there when it's needed. My friend's angst is that the young adolescent is completely oblivious to the situation and for nuts cannot bring herself to do any task without being asked to. Now why is my friend so very frustrated at this behaviour? Her defense: While she and her siblings were kids, they were quite attuned to the situation and did not need any nudge or command to act on their own. In short, she had the awareness of a particular situation while her child hadn't inherited that trait. I hope you get the drift that I'm not talking of the awareness that is attained by intense meditation and power yoga!

I wonder whether she can instill awareness? What do you think? One either has it or not. I've seen many adults who don't seem aware of their bodies, their physical environment and many other subtle aspects that go unnoticed. Mindless eating, wasting natural resources and spewing unnecessary words definitely mean that there is nil awareness otherwise how can one explain the extreme mindlessness of people. Some of us have been doing many thoughtful acts without knowing that these acts arise out of awareness and attention. A photographer does not just click pictures - (S)He is aware of what is happening and then (s)he pays attention and then clicks the image which is a beautiful blend of his/her attention of the subject. My friend Jim Brandano would accept that.  Just possessing an expensive camera will not make someone an excellent photographer! Well, I'm not talking about photography here. 

I'm not making sweeping general remarks about awareness here. I have just set to words some niggling thought processes. My sympathies lie with my friend who is struggling with her teenage daughter. I pray that her daughter learns to observe, pay attention and be aware of what's happening within and outside of her. 

I would like to pose few questions to you, my reader: Is awareness a natural trait or an inherited one? If it's intuitive, why aren't many attuned to it? Does awareness have a specific age bracket. Pray, tell me . . .

Image 1: Internet
Image 2: Internet


  1. Awareness comes from experience. It is better to teach by doing than teach by telling for your friend.
    Lastly to be aware of the world one must be aware of oneself and a person who is truly aware would be in the top level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs ie self actualization

  2. I love this post! I think being mindful/aware is a transforming practice! I recently visited my son's preschool because I was invited to talk about singing bowls. I lightly touched on the subject of meditation and mindfulness with my son and his peers, saying how meditation was being aware, being attentive.

    One way to practice this and cultivate a habit, I told them, was to pick one activity a day that you consciously choose to practice it. The easiest activity that I've found to do this with my own kids is during meal time. At the beginning of each meal I tell my kids that we are going to take the first two minutes to eat in silence. I tell them to try to really taste their food, to see if they can hear it, to smell it, and to just be and feel themselves breathing. I shared this with the class and what happened next surprised me. I walked into the snack room after having used the restroom and the normally loud and bustling room was nearly silent. The teachers had decided to try using snack time as an opportunity to have the kids try being mindful out for themselves! It was cute. Some kids didn't know what to make of it and were giggling, exchanging glances with others. While there were some that were chewing slowly, even closing their eyes, really noticeably enjoying and savoring their food!:)

    Okay, I've probably written enough..sorry for the length! Loved the post!

  3. My two sons are entirely different in acts after he is asked to and the other naturally knows what to do how to do. Both are brought up in the same atmosphere and have got the same gene. What prompts the difference?

    Your analysis is good, Susan. Just teenage is not the problem. Their nature is like that. It takes time and experience, good or bad, to change.

  4. Wow, love this thread of thought, Mrs Sus. Many people have awareness, although it's mostly self-awareness (touche, haha!).

    But really, people have been desensitized in so many ways - by the media, the internet, the demands and distractions of modern life perhaps. Sensitivity to the human condition seems to have taken a backseat to self-attention. People even take photos of themselves now. :)

  5. Very interesting and thought provoking post, Susan. I guess, this awareness is a natural trait as well as can be inherited and also can be learnt as well. I have seen some people just lack the awareness... they are just dont get certain things and everything has to be spelled out for them. My mom has worked a lot on us in drilling certain things into us... which has now become a part of us! :)

  6. Interesting post, Susan! I don't think that this kind of awareness is inherited. I think it is an observed trait sort of imbibed from the environment. And children are extremely fickle. They may seem very clumsy and distracted at times. Teenagers will never do what they are told or drilled to do. I guess just enforcing the habit calmly a few times till it becomes part of behavior helps. For eg. your friend could just tell her daughter, keep a glass a water every time someone sits down for a meal. A few times told calmly without accusation or sermon might help her imbibe it. I do the same to my children when they come back from school. Keep the shoes back in the rack. Change uniform. I go every single time for days on end :).

  7. More than a trait its the laziness also which comes into play in many situations. such is the case with your friends daughter. even though she is aware that there is no water she did not want to break her comfort zone and moreover she is not benefitted from the act.. this is what i think Susan !

  8. A thoughtful post and awareness comes from upbringing but one can always be trained at a later date too, provided one is willing to learn:)

  9. What a lovely post Susan!

    Being observant and aware is just the first step. Next is sensitivity. You have observed something. You are now aware something will make the situation or experience better for a person. How sensitive are you to respond to such an observation? Also makes a huge difference.

    I strongly believe it is not one but multiple reasons that contribute to being aware, observant and sensitive. Firstly one should have gone through similar situations where one can understand.. process and identify a need. Secondly, the person in question should know the appropriate response. Last but not the least, the person should take it upon him/her as a personal responsibility to respond in such a scenario.

    Have a good day Susan!!

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  11. I think I have to agree on this that awareness is also genetic.
    There are many traits that are carried down and this is one of them.



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