Self-awareness and mindfulness is touted as the cure all for any of your troubles. But is it?
Want to have a happy life? Become self-aware enough to identify your happy activities, and pursue them. Want better children? Be self-aware of the baggage you bring from your childhood, and mindful of giving praise for effort not results. Want a great relationship? Support each other in personal growth, and bring awareness to your daily interactions.
But, truthfully, there is a downside to self-awareness. At least, initially. When one becomes aware of themselves, they start to see ugly truths about how they are living as well. Things that you may have glossed over, or hidden from your own view to protect your self-image may come to light. And, it can be bitter medicine. You may even stumble across some emotional wounds and baggage that you had long buried and have yet to deal with.
As I’ve delved deeper into seeing myself honesty, and living within my integrity, I can see all the gaps between who I would like to be, and even believe myself to be, and who I am. I regularly watch myself break agreements that are inconvenient, tell white lies and mask it, justify my selfishness, and talk a good talk. Self-awareness hurts!
Whereas the unaware me could have pretended I wasn’t this way, or suppressed the knowledge of this behavior, the self-aware me finds it impossible to ignore. I hear the words that come out of my mouth, and see how little I really understand about what I say are my beliefs. I also regularly discover ways in which my joy is being blocked, by events of the past or current blind spots, which can be difficult too.
As the clouds lift, and my self-awareness increases, there is a tremendous pressure to judge myself for what I see. And even if I’m able to give that up, a strong urge to avoid the uncomfortable emotions that arise accompanying these truths. And if you can give up all that, a desire to change yourself immediately. This is unrealistic, because it takes time to make behaviours consistent, not to mention the time it takes to change perceptions of others that have been created by your past behaviour.
Sometimes, you will see painful truths about others as well, via your self-awareness. I have a friend at work who I reach out to regularly to meet socially for lunch etc. It seemed we had a lot in common during a project we both shared. But, she regularly puts off the meeting, books a date and cancels at the last minute, or claims work schedules are too hectic.
Before, I used to gloss it over, and didn’t really clue in. But, as I’ve become more self-aware, I’ve noticed that I too do this sort of thing to work colleagues. I do it when I don’t really want a close friendship, but don’t want to be rude to someone who I like working with. This led to the embarrassing realization that this colleaugue is doing the same with me! How awful! I’m THAT hanger-on, who can’t take a hint! That this person is the same way with others is only a small consolation.
What about my complaints against my corporation that they unfairly promote people who don’t deserve it simply because they’ve been there a long time. This is totally hypocritical, since I too have a long-timer on my team, and am wondering how to keep him happy. I too am being wishy-washy about giving opportunities to someone who is newer, but possibly more qualified. I don’t want to rock the boat, and neither do the senior leadership at my company.
So, if there is such a downside to awareness, why pursue it? Maybe ignorance is bliss?
Seeing myself clearly allows me to forgive others for the same qualities I can see in myself. Martha Beck blogs about this in Mirror, Mirror: The Power Of Perseveration where she gives a neat-o exercise in which you write down your complaints about another person, and use it to reflect, like a mirror, on which of these qualities you possess.
Seeing yourself honestly does much of the same. I can hardly fault another for the same tactics I regularly use. Realizing this allows me to let go of being judgemental of others, and accept them as they are. Forgiving yourself for your flaws, and learning to love yourself is truly the key to loving another imperfect being. Some people claim they can hate themselves, but love others. This can’t be further from the truth. That which you find unacceptable in yourself, you will also make others wrong for doing. It’s only in recognizing your own human tendencies that you can give up judging others.
And, in forgiving myself and others, I re-enter into peace. Which truly is worth the trouble!