Week 1 – Awareness

Wake up! Wake up! It is time to wake up and be aware
of the still quiet voice which reminds us of who we are
and the beauty of this thing we call human existence.

The first stage of this course is awareness. We use physical movement and stillness to gain awareness of our body, breath, thoughts and emotions. As we deepen into awareness we start to notice how we behave towards others, what games we play, what we pretend to the world. We recognise what makes us happy, angry, frustrated, sad, joyful and become more aware of how this supports our self image.
We start to become aware of the way we interact with the world because this will help us to understand ourselves. In particular we want to become aware of what creates negativity in us, what annoys us, what makes us angry, what makes us feel jealous, what makes us afraid. It is important to understand that we are acting as observers here, watching ourselves but not judging ourselves.
Our objective is to become more aware of the image we present to the world. What ideas of the world we have, what we consider right and wrong, good and bad, what we think is acceptable and not acceptable. Self awareness is the most basic tool of change. Unless we are aware of ourselves, we cannot change. So the start of change is to become more aware of ourselves and develop tools of awareness. We observe our self image and how we support and create it. Start to notice reactions and responses which do not feel good. Do not think of this self image and reactions in any way as bad, they are normal, but do recognise that they can be changed if we want to.
The first part of this course is about trust. We are starting a process of change without yet being able to experience our full potential. We are not only trusting in the process, but in our own true nature and the oneness behind all things. We trust that behind the self image is a deeper aspect of ourselves, which we do not often show to the world. In the first part of the course we will gradually allow ourselves to look beyond our self image to our spiritual self and the oneness behind all things.

Waking Up
Awareness is the start of waking up. Awareness is one of the most simple, yet most profound, tools that we have. If we only become more aware then it will have a great impact on our lives.
Awareness can start at the physical level, observing the senses and the breath. We start to slow down and become aware of movement, breath, sounds, smells and sights of everyday life. But really awareness is starting to take control of the mind. It allows us to learn to become quieter and recognise the world from the position of an observer. As we start to become quieter we deepen our awareness of the mind and the games it plays. We become aware of the way we react and respond to external stimuli, people, places, situations. We become aware of what makes us feel uncomfortable and at ease.
This is the start of our awakening to the tool that the world offers us. As we become more aware we can start to look at how we respond to the world and then, if we choose, we can start to change it. Finally we start to become aware of our subconscious thoughts and feelings, exposing aspects of ourselves that we do not acknowledge.
As we become more aware we need to avoid self criticism, because we may find that we do not like some aspects of our subconscious nature. We may finds things that we do distasteful but at this stage we just need to be aware of that. It is important not to become self critical but at least acknowledge that we don like it. Later we will look at changing how we respond but at the moment we concentrate on learning about ourselves.
There is another side to ourselves that awareness will help us to uncover. The tool of awareness will help us to start to experience our spiritual nature.

Slow Down
As we slow down we become more aware. Life is busy and that busyness allows us to hide. Slowing down helps us to become more aware of what hides behind the busyness. We start by slowing down and becoming aware of our body, its movement and its senses, feeling every little thing. We become aware of the sensate experience of the body. Slowing down, is not just about slowing down our physical movement, although this helps, but it is about slowing down our mind. Finding a quiet space behind the busy thoughts, become silent. Turn off the television, radio and all external distractions. Avoid talking, as this prevents the mind being still. Slow down and start to observe what is going on around us and inside us.

Awareness needs the mind to be quiet. We can train the mind to become quieter through meditation. By returning to awareness we learn to make the mind stiller. So it is the intent to be quiet and aware that helps us, because as soon as we try it will happen. Everyday and in any place come back to awareness. It becomes easier and quicker to slip into a quiet place, even with noise and distractions around us. Awareness heightens our senses and our appreciation. At first we might find the world a busy, distracting and annoying place, but the more we use awareness we become aware of its underlying beauty.

Slow down and feel the sensations of the body. Then start to feel the sensations of the emotions. What does it feel like inside us? Don’t rush into this, let it come in its own time. Just start to be aware of feelings and their effect on the body. As we increase awareness we recognise the sensations caused by the emotions.

Exercise – Slow Walking
Go for a walk by yourself for around twenty minutes. Walk at a much slower pace than you normally walk. Become more aware of your surroundings, the people you meet, the natural world. Observe the details of world around you. At the end of the walk, before the mind becomes busy again, spend a minute or two observing yourself internally.

This can be extended, by slowing down even further, perhaps indoors to avoid distractions and being completely aware of every little movement of walking. Think of it like meditative walking.

Chi Kung
Chi Kung, or energy exercise, is a gentle form of exercise, which works both at a physical level and internally with the body’s chi, or energy. It is included in this course both as a way of increasing self awareness and to open up the body’s energy field. The exercises provide gentle physical exercise, stretching the whole of the body and developing balance and coordination. They work holistically, exercising body, mind and opening to spirit. These exercises are different to physical exercise programmes in two main ways:
Firstly, they should always be performed in a relaxed way, without any stress on the body, or mentally e.g. trying to hard to get it right. It is important that the exercises should be done in a relaxed manner. The exercises work with the body’s energy field, and the flow of energy is limited or blocked by tension in the body. The breath should be slow and gentle. All the exercises should be easy, we do not need to overstretch or force the body into uncomfortable positions. The joints should be relaxed, not locked open or closed, in particular the shoulders should be kept down and relaxed.
Secondly, the mind should always be involved in the exercises and should not be allowed to just wander off. When it does, it should be brought back to the point of focus. Initially the focus will be on the posture or movement, but, once that is mastered, will move on to the breath or the feeling of chi.

Exercise – Alignment
This is an exercise in relaxation and awareness. Stand with your feet together. Make sure your feet are well connected to the floor. Feel as though you are drawn upwards through the top of your head. Feel your weight sinking down. The arms hang loosely as the side of the body, fingers open and relaxed. Make sure you have room to breathe. Throughout the exercise try not to tense any muscles. Stand in this position, becoming more aware of yourself.

Go deeper. Feel the Earth beneath your feet. Feel the body weight sinking down through the soles of the feet. Imagine yourself rooted into the ground as though there are roots from the soles of the feet at least 6 feet into the ground. Imagine the energy of the earth rising, through the soles, up through the ankles, knees and hips and into the tan tien a point in the centre of the body just below the navel.
Imagine a bright star directly above the top of the head. Feel as though you are being drawn up to that sun by threads attached to your crown. At the same time feel as though light shines down on the crown and into the centre of the head behind the eyes.
Bring your mind to the centre of the chest, directly behind the breastbone. Feel a sense of warmth inside. Feel that warmth expand like a light across the chest and down the arms, through the elbows and wrists to the fingertips.

Be aware of your alignment, feel the physical alignment of the body as comfortable and relaxed as possible. Feel that your body is aligned with earth and heaven. The heart centre is the point of balance between the two.

Chi Kung Exercise – A Simple Routine
These are 5 very simple Chi kung exercises, which can be done individually or together as a short routine. Each exercise has its own individual use and with practice can be used as an when needed. They start to awaken the tan tien and heart centres. Click here for more information about this simple routine.

Meditation Exercise – Observing the Breath
Meditation is a mental discipline which induces a state of profound relaxation, inner harmony and increased awareness. It creates a state of mind which is one of inner peace and heightened mental awareness. The practice of meditation makes this peaceful state of mind familiar and more accessible.
This course uses a number of techniques and visualisations to help us to find a quiet state of mind, to develop awareness and connection and to take us into the experience of our connected nature. This is not meant to be a comprehensive introduction to meditation but will help us to develop and experience.
Always try to be comfortable when you meditate. Ideally, though you should feel relaxed you should also feel drawn up and alert. Always take your time, there is no need to rush. Try not to get worried about whether what you are doing is correct, just approach it with the best intent and accept the results for what they are.
Generally meditation practice should be split into three parts, preparation, meditation and closing. Always try to include each part in a meditation session. Even if the meditation part itself is short, the preparation and closing ensure we gain the most benefit from the session.

Preparation
This is the creation of physical, mental and spiritual readiness for meditation. Physically you need to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible. Mentally you need to be alert. You can use objects which help to invoke a spiritual state of mind e.g. religious icons, flowers or candles.
Simple exercises can be used beforehand to stretch and relax the body and increase vitality and metal alertness.
Sit comfortably, with good posture, back straight and relaxed. You can sit on a chair, a meditation stool or a cushion, just as long as your posture is good and where you can stay comfortable for the duration of the meditation
Spend a few minutes settling the body and mind. Just allow the body to relax as much as possible, feeling the weight sink down to the ground. Feel as though you are drawn up by the top of the head, feeling a relaxed alertness. Just settle the mind by observing the breath. Feel grounded, imagine you are connected and rooted into the earth. Relax further into the sitting position and settle the breath.

Meditation
This can follow a number of different techniques focusing on an object of attention. In this course this will be based on the breath or the chakras (energy centres). If you already meditate then use any technique that you feel familiar and comfortable with.
Observe the breath. Feel it coming and going, and focus on every breath. When you become distracted, or you observe that your mind has wandered, bring it back to the object of attention. Keep the breath very relaxed, do not force it or allow it to become ragged. Keep bringing the mind back without any sense of self judgement. Try to keep going for about 5 minutes, but don’t worry about how long it is.
After a while when you feel quiet and peaceful, let the focus of the meditation go and just sit. Try to stay quiet and peaceful, keeping the mind alert but quiet. It is as though you are just waiting. There is no set time to sit for, just while you feel comfortable, relaxed and alert. Gradually try to increase the time spent just sitting.

Closing
Closing down is as important as preparation and meditation. Try not to rush this, it is a time for insight and self awareness. It is an opportunity to gently bring your meditative state into full awareness. Try to remember any insight that you get.
Start by becoming more aware of the body and senses. Feel the floor, your chair or stool and your hands. Start to hear the sounds of the world, near and far. Open your eyes very slowly, so that you maintain a sense of peacefulness and do not immediately become distracted by the world. Feel grounded into your body, imagine you are touching the earth with your hands. Bring your hands to your heart like a prayer position and feel appreciation for whatever you believe in, for this world and for the people in your life. Gently stretch the body and begin to move.