Have you ever pondered upon the link between what you feel and the way you behave? If your answer is Yes, then you are a person with self-awareness. To be self-aware means being able to identify your own emotional reactions, pin-point the triggers that fire them, and highlight the consequences that these emotions have on your behaviors.
Socrates made the inscription, “know thyself”, his slogan. This inscription appears on the forecourt of the temple of Apollo in Delphi. His thought was “an unexamined life was not worth living”. According to Daniel Goleman, psychologist, science journalist, and author of the best seller “Emotional Intelligence”, being self-aware means “knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions”.
What is really self-awareness? Where do I find it? How can I develop it or improve it? Considering the breadth and relevance of this topic, I decided to dive into the discovery of self-awareness with the help of a special guest, Andrea Loreni.
Andrea Loreni is a tightrope walker, recordman and trainer. He is the only funambolist in Italy that walks at great heights. In 1999 he graduated in Theoretical Philosophy with a thesis on Adolfo Levi. While working on his thesis, he began to practice circus skills, attending the Flic Circus Academy in Turin. His relationship with the cable and surrounding void, led him to deepen the study of body, mind, and spirituality. His list of tightwire performances is quite impressive: he walked in the skies of Rome, Locarno, Belgrade, Perugia, Modi’in (Israel), Turin, Bologna, Florence, Venice and Milan. He has accrued several prizes and awards from 2005 to 2018, and has impressed everyone who has had the opportunity to see him and speak with him. He is an outstanding and unique professional all around. He has appeared on several TV programs, shows and movies in the last ten years. He was very kind and generous to accept my invitation to answer a few questions.
Q1: The definition that Goleman offers focuses primarily on the ability to monitor our inner world, our thoughts and emotions as they emerge in our everyday life. What does monitoring one’s inner world means to you? And what is your definition of self-awareness?
First of all, breathing and relaxing the body, so that the inner world can expand and blossom for what it is, with as few interferences as possible from the rational and structured inner self. Instead of “monitoring” I use more the word “to watch”. I use it in its postulating meaning just like when you watch the sea and its waves – without judging, being aware of the fact that the calm, tempestuous, deep, low, black, grey, blue or green sea, is simply and deeply the sea.
My definition is to be aware of what you are. The difficulty presents itself in allowing one’s self to be exactly the way one is, without trying to be like one “would like” or “should be”, to let our acorn grow for the tree that it is.
Q2: It has been said that self-awareness derives from observation, and it needs to be trained regularly, just like a muscle. However, it is not just the mere accumulation of data, or experience. It means to become great at observing our inner self, train our active listening ability, and do so without judging. First, do you agree with this statement? And second, where does your self-awareness come from?
I totally agree. Our cultural tendency is not to look directly with our eyes, but to filter with our mind in order to give meaning, judgement, and values to what we have inside and to what we have outside. The splitting between inside and outside derives from a conceptual over-structure that divides and classifies. In fact, if we look deeply inside ourselves we arrive to see the whole which usually we consider being outside. We are one thing. We are super trained to create, to add, to put together. The training that we need the most now is the one to “not do”, to eliminate, and to empty, in order to see things exactly the way they are. My self-awareness comes from my footsteps on the wire, it arrives from my feet – that feel the steel and the emptiness all around. It derives from the need to accept everything I encounter on the wire, to pay attention to every little contraption of my muscles, to every exhalation.
Q3: While it is necessary to observe our inner world, and gather knowledge, it is also important to realize the way we monitor ourselves. One very powerful strategy is to pay attention with an open state of mind and an unsoiled spirit. The practice of “mindfulness” allows us to get in touch with our senses. With time we comprehend which thoughts animate ourselves and how they influence us. How do you train your self-awareness? Is mindfulness a tool you use? What does self-awareness represent to you in your everyday life and in your profession?
I have been practicing zen meditation for twelve years. I sit motionless and I breath. In 2017, I was lucky enough to meet a Japanese man who has practiced zen meditation for four years in a temple and for ten more years in reclusion in the mountains. He told me that zen meditation is in our everyday life – but it means taking long breaths and emptying the mind. Typically, our breathing is shorter and the mind fills up with thoughts. To have an empty mind when you are on the wire, long breathing, and therefore, a relaxed and efficient body, it is a question of survival. In everyday life it seems that it is not that risky to have short breathing. However, if our mind is continuously full of thoughts, if when we do something we are already thinking of something else, if we are always in another place, the risk is not to live the “here and now”, which translates into “never live”.
Q4: You and I met at a conference on the topic of “Presence”. All human beings have a tendency not to be completely present, and this can have serious consequences. Not being present here and now could be the cause of missing opportunities, not realizing our true potential. Why is it that humans tend not to always be present and how can we work to increase our Presence?
Our mind takes us always back and forth, to our past or future, to memories and regrets. The present is a place to live, not a place to think. But our mind always wants to be in control, therefore, we do not live here and now for fear of what we could discover. We prefer to hide in fictitious interpretations. When I put my weight onto the wire, I suspend myself, physically (as you clearly see) and mentally. Any thoughts and memories are “thought” – they are ballasts I need to eliminate if I want to fly. In that precise moment when I am about to lift the other foot from the ground to the wire, fear arrives. To let memories, thoughts, and expectations go, it means to hand ourselves to the “here and now”. It means to forget about ourselves and to what we are. In better words, to forget what we were or what we would like to be in order to enter the present being of what we are, including all the aspects that we dislike. It means to die, obviously to be born again immediately after, and die again. Our nature, like the nature of anything, is change, made of continuous little deaths and rebirths, while our mind attaches itself to continuity, to a lasting, durable, solid, cristalline concept of us, that we believe is our identity. That is why we are afraid to let go in the present, to immerse in our being, because we believe being is our thoughts, our memories, what we have accomplished, and what we will do.
Q5: Goleman also suggests that people who have self-awareness usually tend to have a good sense of humor and are people who believe in themselves and their resources; these are people keenly aware of how they are perceived by others. Could you give our readers 3 tips on how to develop self-awareness?
– take long breathings and think less
– love yourself with tenderness, that is accept yourself for what you are. Every morning in front of the mirror, tell yourself that you love yourself and be kind to yourself
– pay a lot of attention to what your body says, live here and now using your senses, not through your thoughts
Becoming a self-aware person is the key to getting to know yourself, finding peace with what you are, and handling your emotions and thoughts in a proactive way. The three tips offered by Andrea seem straight-forward, but first attempts in applying them will require a great deal of work and concentration as you break old habits. The outcome, however, is a life worth living.