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  • Writer's pictureAntti Vanhanen

The Limits of Self-Awareness


Here’s a pattern I have observed with many people who wake up to the connection between their thoughts and their experience:

At first, we begin to naturally pay more attention to our thoughts and feelings.

On one hand, this is very liberating, because we suddenly see that we are sad because we have sad thinking, and we are happy because we have happy thinking.

It makes sense and it frees us of many of our coping behaviours (i.e. bad habits).

Yet because we naturally want to feel even happier more of the time, many of us turn negative thoughts and a low state of mind into a problem that must be dealt with.

Rather than just staying with the understanding of the true source of our experience, we innocently turn our understanding into a strategy that we can apply to feel even better.

As a result, many of us begin to observe our thoughts and feelings obsessively.

We give ourselves the job of monitoring our thoughts and feelings in order to identify and fix all the problems as soon as they arise.

What we fail to notice is that this job of constant monitoring and vigilance requires a lot of attention and energy.

It’s exhausting and easily turns into a burden, because there is always more thoughts and feelings to deal with.

Many people caught in this eventually grow frustrated and begin to question whether they have what it takes to find inner peace.

The key insight they are missing is that they don’t have to do anything about their thoughts or feelings.

They just need to be less interested in them.

The voice in your head is only a problem when you believe everything it tells you.

Yet in reality, that voice is like the guy on the shopping channel selling you a brand new cleaning product.

“Look at all the different stains on all these different fabrics it can clean quickly and effortlessly…”

Like the voice on the shopping channel, the voice in your head doesn’t have the ability to tell you anything useful about the outside world.

Listening to it is like listening to the hum of the refrigerator in the hopes it will suddenly whisper the winning lottery numbers for you.

All that listening does is freak you out.

Of course, don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself.

Take the next hour and pay attention to everything the voice in your head tells you. See how much of it is actually valuable, and how much of it is judgements, to do lists and fear-mongering.

You will soon begin to see that you really don’t have to listen to it.

It’s the same thing with your feelings.

Just because you feel anxious or scared doesn’t mean you need to fix it - or that you can.

Instead, just let your feelings be as they are.

Whatever feeling you are experiencing right now is on its way out.

That’s the nature of feelings: transience. Here one moment, gone the next.

The only thing that makes a negative feeling painful - and makes it stick around - is when we resist it.

This is why listening to sad music when we feel sad feels so damn good - we aren’t resisting. Rather, we are dancing with it.

If sadness was objectively and irrefutably a bad thing, why would anyone ever listen to sad music?

True enlightenment and inner peace - as far as I can tell - is nothing but a passionate disinterest in everything but the present moment.

However you feel and whatever you think - it really doesn’t matter.

Just be here, right now, exactly as you are.

Everything else takes care of itself.

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