Barbara Emrys

Life As It Is

Many years ago, I had a friend who was a big part of my life and my family’s life. One day, however, she decided not to be my friend anymore. The reason she me gave was confusing at the time. “You’re not aware,” she said flatly. “And I only want aware people in my life,”

You’re not aware. Even as she said it, I knew she wasn’t wrong. I was stunned in that moment, only because I wasn’t sure what she meant. I’d never considered awareness as a virtue. I didn’t know what it looked like, and I didn’t know what to do about getting it. I didn’t know, but right then I really wanted to know.

The idea of being aware had captivated me. I couldn’t stop wondering about it. I was excited by its implications and its possibilities. It was as if I’d been struck by divine lightening, or hit in the face with fairy dust. A good friend had just cut me out of her life, and all I could think about for days and weeks after that was the word….

Aware! After our conversation, I got little obsessed. I started asking other people if they could explain what awareness meant to them. Everyone I asked thought they knew, but their answers were vague. It occurred to me that nobody knew. It was just a word, something to toss around in esoteric conversations. It was a word used to impress. Sometimes it was used to hurt.

Soon, I found myself on a real quest. Without realizing it, I’d started my heroic search for truth. Within a week, I joined a yoga class, hoping to finding some clarity. Most of my time there was spent crying. I felt broken, lost. I felt clueless. I was painfully aware that I was unaware. Eventually, I decided I wanted help. Not long after, someone asked me if I’d like to meet “an interesting Mexican shaman” named Miguel Ruiz. I said yes to the invitation. I met the interesting shaman, and never turned back.

One of the first things I asked Miguel (once I’d summoned enough courage to speak to him) was this: “What does awareness actually mean?” He smiled with delight at the question. “Honey, awareness means to see things as they are,” he said. “Simple!”

Simple. We all think we see things exactly as they are. I did, but I learned soon enough that I was kidding myself. I rarely saw things as they were. I saw what I wanted to see. I saw what I expected to see, based on a life of accumulated beliefs and opinions. If my beliefs were rocks and boulders, they could have formed a wall strong enough to hold back an ocean.

Once I acknowledged how rigid my thinking had become, I started breaking some boulders. I started challenging everything from my casual assumptions to my core beliefs. The job of doubting my own knowledge was difficult and painful at first. It got less painful over the years, and eventually became an easy habit. You might say it’s become entertaining.

Looking back all those years ago, I have to wonder if my friend’s journey into awareness looked anything like mine. Did she also labor long and hard to dismantle a belief system? Was she finally able to see things as they are– to see life as it is– or was she content to talk about awareness in abstract terms? Either way, she gave me an amazing gift. It doesn’t matter that her gift to me came in the form of a rejection.

Great discoveries are hidden under ordinary words and phrases. Inspiration comes in the most discouraging moments. We think we see everything as it is, all the time. We don’t. Fortunately, life continues to give us more opportunities– opportunities to be captivated and curious. We have the choice to be astonished, every day.

So, claim your precious birthright: to be aware. Wake up, and see everything as it is. Listen to how life speaks to you in your daily interactions with people. Hear what’s going on underneath the noise. Feel the excitement of the hunt, and chase down the truth wherever it’s hiding. All it takes is will power…and, of course, the inclination to break a few boulders along the way.

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