‘Awareness’ is perhaps the word we hear the most in yoga sessions. So what is this state of awareness, which is at the centre of almost all spiritual disciplines, especially yoga? As a concept, we can define it as a pure, direct perception that takes place with the whole self, rather than being filled with information that can be understood with the mind. How do we reach this point where intense attention becomes effortless and we no longer ‘do’ but ‘become’?
Of course, the answer to this question is not waiting for us in this article, but in yoga itself. As Pattabhi Jois says; “Practice, and all is coming!” In this article, I will try to explain the distinction between focusing, which is confused with the state of awareness, based on my own experience.
For this, let’s take the subject of ‘breath awareness’, which we hear most often in yoga sessions. In every asana practice, we first gain breath awareness and then we want to maintain it throughout the entire flow. Here, the focus is the concentration of attention only on the inhalation and exhalation, the mind being filled with the knowledge that only and only the act of inhaling and exhaling is being performed at that moment.
A focused mind, of course, has gone beyond drifting with thoughts such as ‘what to wear tomorrow, where to go after class, etc.’ and has reached a clearer and more static place. We can say that this is the suitable soil for planting a yoga tree, but for our tree to bear fruit, climatic conditions, maintenance and protection from external factors are as important as the soil. When we can go beyond focusing and reach a state of effortless awareness, we can celebrate the rise of the seed from the soil.
In the state of awareness, unlike focusing, there is no room for thought anymore. The thinker and the thought have become one, fused together. We stop being minds filled with the knowledge that we only breathe and breathe, and we melt our self in the breath.
Maybe after practising yoga for many years, when we are ‘aware’ for a moment, when we catch a moment when we are completely free from the mind, its conditioning, beliefs and judgements, the name of the feeling we feel with our whole self is pure freedom. The rest is of course; practice all is coming!
On the other hand, this should not be perceived as a state of ecstasy, of losing consciousness. In the state of awareness, there is no room for thought, but in the mind that is free of all mental illusions, a huge space has opened up for pure consciousness, real knowledge is intuitively there, a state of high consciousness and alertness has arisen.
At that moment we actually know everything, we understand everything, but after a while the mind goes on working again to make us forget. At first it can be a really short moment, a few seconds, even a minute. The purpose of our practice is to prolong that time, to learn that moment, to become acquainted with it, which is our place, our home that we can come back to whenever we need to.
What this effort to become effortless in intense attention serves is of course liberation. Erich Fromm summed it up so well that I think no further words are needed; ‘How is the liberating effect of awareness possible? The strength of man’s position in the world depends on the degree of his grasp of reality.
The less he grasps reality, the more confused he becomes and therefore feels insecure and finds security in idols. The more he grasps reality, the more firmly he stands on his own feet and makes his inner self the centre of his existence. Human beings are like Antaios, who derived his strength from touching mother earth and whose enemy could kill him only by holding him in the air long enough.’