Cultivating Awareness

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

How should we observe ourselves? How can we begin to cultivate the faculty of observation? Let us start with a simple practice. When you go to bed at night, you review the whole day: What time did you wake up? What did you do after that? What did you have for breakfast? What clothes did you wear? With whom did you talk? What did you read? What kind of news did you hear and see? How did you react and respond to people and situations?

In this way at night, see the entire day as a movie. Identify those moments where you have reacted to people, situations, expectations, desires or the environment. Observe your reactions: negative, positive, aggressive, destructive, selfish, friendly. Then think back for a moment and reflect: If I encounter similar or same situations again tomorrow, how can I deal with that in a better way?

Keep on doing this practice day after day, night after night, week after week; ultimately within a month, if you are regular and persistent with the practice, you will cultivate a state of mind, which will be the observer mind. It is a training that you have to give yourself.

Unfortunately, we have never received training to manage our mind from any place, any school or any college. Society has not given us that training, our culture, our family, our school has not given us that training. Our culture, our society, family and education have conditioned us and defined different rules for us to succeed in the material life. Our education is a job-oriented education, skill-oriented education; it is not a person-oriented education.

There has to be a balance: one form of education through which we can develop better skills to survive in society and another form through which we can learn to manage our own responses, reactions. This integration has to take place soon – either today or tomorrow. Children have to be taught the personal skills to manage their mind.

Our main work is with children. We don’t work much with grown-ups, for they are too conditioned, and come with their own set of problems. Once their problems are over they leave yoga and do not carry an impression, a samskara, of their interaction with yoga or spiritual life. Grown-ups have this particular habit that no matter what they are involved in, they are always trying to see how their involvement can make them more fulfilled and contented.

Children don’t have any expectation at all, nor are they conditioned by anyone. When we teach them yoga they respond very well. They take to yoga like fish to water and they are able to develop appropriate samskaras which are personal and social in nature.

It is the cultivation of awareness which allows children to imbibe the right and appropriate impressions and skills which can help them later in their life to manage their own problems and deal with them. This is an important aspect that we need to consider – how can we train ourselves to deal and manage our own mental, emotional response.

Do not classify anything into good or bad. After all, the world is a balance between good and bad. Just as day and night create a balance, happiness and suffering, positive and negative, good and bad also create a balance. In the ocean of bad and of negativity, good is like an island where we can go and rest. We are surrounded by an ocean of negativity with islands of goodness distributed all throughout the ocean. We have to swim through the negative and we have to find our ground, our footing, in the positive.

This is one education, one skill that we can impart to our children and we should try to understand this concept, for only then can we also imbibe the correct samskaras to survive in life.

June 2008, South Africa