Healing Awareness in Times of Distress

Our lives are guided by change. Everyone is aware of changing thoughts, feelings, and moods. You can be happy and alert in the morning, full of ideas about the rest of your day, or you can be the opposite. It’s the opposite that starts to dominate in times of distress. You feel pulled around by mood swings. Bad news reinforces a sense of gloom and doom. Negative thoughts arise of their own accord.

All of this is unnecessary once you realize that thoughts, feelings, and moods are like the weather. Weather isn’t the same as the climate. You don’t look out your window and decide that the climate is good or bad just because of today’s weather. But that’s what most of us do when we go “in here” to see how we feel. Passing incidents and swings become too important.

The climate “in here” is your state of awareness. Ideally, it is quiet, stable, calm, and alert. There is a faint sense of dynamism inside the quiet, and from this dynamism bliss and joy can emerge. This holds true no matter what your passing thoughts and moods might be. In distressing times we lose sight of awareness, which needs to be restored. Even short of the ideal, normal awareness is free of distress. It functions like a baseline that you return to automatically.

Your awareness is a force for healing the entire bodymind. When you feel centered inside, your cells have a chance to normalize their functioning. A dynamic state of balance, called homeostasis, has long been known in physiology. Awareness has its own kind of homeostasis, and you experience it whenever you feel centered and quiet inside.

Two widespread conditions in modern life keep awareness from being normal.

Overload–Much of today’s shared depression and anxiety is building upon a pre-existing condition of “central nervous system overload.” The persistence of stress, distractions, constant news cycles, Covid, and the speed of modern life is too much for the nervous system to return to a normal state of balance.


Under the circumstances, sudden crises and terrible events add to this overload. To get back to a balance state, meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises are useful. So is mindfulness, noticing when you are tense or distressed and walking away from the situation to get calmer and more centered inside.


Threats to Personal Safety–Human awareness is designed as a hierarchy or pyramid of responses. The base of the pyramid is safety and security, the feeling that you are grounded and not under threat. Compared to hot spots like Ukraine, normal life here is much more grounded, but many people still feel insecure and unsafe.


The higher responses of awareness, such as achievement, empathy, and bonding through relationships, along with moral and spiritual values, are not attainable until you take care of the foundation, which is feeling safe, secure, and grounded.


The key here is support. Mental and physical well-being is associated with a strong support system, and the more sources of support the better. But during the pandemic people became more isolated. Each of us needs to rebuild our support system of family, friends, support groups, etc.


In the face of these two conditions, overload and threat, awareness remains stuck in a distressed state. Besides the inability to return to normal balance, even worse is the closing off of ideal awareness and the joy it brings. You were designed to be in ideal awareness. It isn’t a mystical state or a domain open only to the enlightened few.

The image of a pyramid is once again useful. In order to ascend to the higher values of awareness—love, compassion, truth, beauty, empathy, creativity, insight and spiritual epiphany—the foundation of the pyramid must be completely secure. In this instance, we can call the foundation simple awareness.


As the name implies, simple awareness is basic. You return to simple awareness when you sleep, meditate, or feel deeply calm and rested. Simple awareness is like a vacation from mental activity. But simple awareness isn’t passive. It allows the entire bodymind to reset, exactly the way the brain resets in sleep. Basic as this state of awareness sounds, it is the basis for far-reaching healing.


In a healed state you can ascend the pyramid of awareness. This is impossible in a distressed state. Everyone’s situation is different, and human awareness is infinitely complex and creative. Great poetry has emerged under battlefield conditions; epiphany has been experienced in the midst of calamity.


Yet the primary aim of simple awareness is to return to a normal, balanced state. You cannot force this return. It is a matter of getting out of the way and letting awareness rebalance itself. You can attune your nervous system to this process by making simple awareness its default. This requires training, because only by repeated experience of simple awareness can your brain and central nervous system be reminded of what normal really is.


If you are willing to dedicate yourself to rebalancing, the practice of simple awareness can be done anytime during the day when you feel stressed, distracted, overwhelmed, or merely in need of inner peace and quiet. Find a quiet place where you can be alone. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Now place your awareness in the region of your heart and breathe normally. If your attention wanders, gently bring it back to the area of the heart.


There is nothing more to do. Sit in simple awareness for 5 minutes, then open your eyes take a deep breath or two, and sit for a moment to let the feeling of being centered become anchored. You have given your brain and central nervous system a new way to be, a default that with time will become deeper and calmer. There is profound healing in simple awareness, and beyond this, you will find yourself on the threshold of higher awareness. The entire pyramid of higher experiences awaits. You only need to claim them as part of what it means to be fully human.

Post courtesy of By Deepak Chopra, MD

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