“Know thyself” is a maxim that’s carried down through the ages. It was famously inscribed above the ancient temple of Apollo at Delphi, and similar tenets appear in sacred teachings and traditions carrying the knowledge of the Religion of Sun, including Hermeticism, Gnostic Christianity, Hinduism and Taoism.
But what is a person’s true identity and nature? And how can someone know their real self?
A person can “wake up” this inner divine spark, in any given moment, with a simple exercise called awareness, which involves being attentive and observant in the present moment. While thoughts and feelings come and go, consciousness is permanent. It’s been described as the core of a person, the constant inner presence which experiences what happens both within and without in life. Awareness anchors attention in the perception of consciousness, bringing clearer discernment and allowing the spiritual qualities of consciousness to shine through more, including its natural intelligence and ability to learn.3
The awareness practice page, in the practices by type section of the site, was recently updated and expanded to provide a more in-depth overview and explanation of this exercise for any potential practitioners. The opening section introduces and outlines the benefits of the practice as follows:
It involves grounding one’s attention in the time and place one is – perceptive of the surroundings and aware of being there. It can be practiced any time, in everyday activities. It’s a matter of coming out of daydreams and mental chatter and directing attention to the reality of the present moment – to the natural perception of life around oneself through the five senses – to be “awake,” “here,” and “present” in the moment one is living. Awareness centers a person in reality and activates consciousness – allowing life to be seen and experienced more objectively.
The increased perception is both external and internal. As well as being more aware of one’s surroundings, it enables someone to better perceive compulsive thoughts, feelings and impulses that might otherwise drive their behavior unnoticed, be detached from them, and consciously choose more beneficial and spiritually aligned ways of being and acting.4
Awareness is practiced in the Religion of the Sun, and features prominently in ancient sacred texts, because perceiving life and oneself objectively opens the door to self-knowledge, learning, inner change and spiritual development. It’s usually combined with the practice of self-observation, which extends perception of the moment to include awareness of one’s inner states for the purpose of inner study and change – in any case, what happens within and without are both part of the moment.5
As well as describing how to do the practice and its benefits, the page now includes a section highlighting references to this exercise in various spiritual teachings that describe it in various ways, and explains their meaning in context. This should make it easier to use awareness excerpts drawn from spiritual texts as a guide to the exercise, a number of which are listed beneath the article.
While awareness has been practiced since ancient times, it’s also gained newfound popularity today (often referred to as “mindfulness”) because it’s been proven to have positive physiological effects on the body and mind.6 As the article explains:
Scientific studies also demonstrate it can have measurable positive biological and psychological effects, improving people’s wellbeing and cognition. For instance, it’s been shown to cause an increase in the density of grey matter in the brain, enhance neural pathways, improve memory, attention spans and mental processing, is associated with higher levels of empathy, and may help to reduce anxiety and stress.7 8 9 10
Because of its proven physical effects, many pursue mindfulness these days as an end in itself. But as helpful as the mind and body benefits of awareness are, they’re only small part of what’s possible in a wider spiritual sense.
In the Religion of the Sun, awareness is practiced as part of a much bigger journey of self-discovery and spiritual development. When combined with the core practices required for spiritual transformation, practicing awareness can be the beginning of a journey that can ultimately lead someone back to the source of creation awakened.11
Greg Flaxman and Lisa Flook, Ph.D. Brief Summary of Mindfulness Research, UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center: http://marc.ucla.edu/workfiles/pdfs/MARC-mindfulness-research-summary.pdf.
Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, and Sara W. Lazara, “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density”, Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30; 191(1): 36–43: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/.
Christina Congleton, Britta K. Hölzel, and Sara W. Lazar, Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain, Harvard Business Review January 08, 2015 (accessed August 2017): https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain.
Jeena Cho, 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness And Meditation, Forbes July 14, 2016 (accessed August 2017): https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeenacho/2016/07/14/10-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-mindfulness-and-meditation/#2b285bd363ce.