By Jesse Wolf Hardin
The degree of deep, healthy relationship with anybody – or with any thing, for that matter – directly correlates to our degree of awareness: the extent to which we truly notice and understand the larger world beyond the boundaries of our skin. Not only our responsibilities but relationships, rewards and delights come alive… for those of us most aware of life.
To begin with, the more aspects, characteristics and revealing stories that we know about someone, the more we may find to appreciate about them. Some of the finest of qualities are not obvious but subtle, underplayed or concealed. Likewise, the more aware that we are of their complexities, fears and motivations, even the past incidents and other factors that helped form their character and determine behavior, the better we can understand, estimate and appropriately respond to any traits of theirs that we might find unpleasant or unacceptable. The problem is that in the vast majority of modern civilized relationships, exchanges and interactions are often either narrow in scope or superficial in content, all too many times insincere or contrived, with minimal conscious awareness involved in the relating.
This is partly a reflection of a natural human desire to comfort each other with interchange, irrespective of meaning, engendering the “small talk” that can help us feel part of a group and less alone. When acquaintances ask us how we are doing, they’re usually looking for a stock reply that’s as positive as it is brief, rather than a discomforting sharing of how we really feel, what’s been hurting or troubling us, the challenges we face or dreams we’ve yet to fulfill. In addition to not wanting to make others uneasy, we humans also want to be liked, which is yet another reason why we may not only narrowly limit and carefully censor any topics of conversation, but also “put on our best face” in any direct interactions.
And yet, the most healthy, let alone deeply meaningful relationships, are predicated on our having a broad awareness and substantial understanding of what is real. To the extent that we relate to the edited self that someone projects or the illusion and “positive spin” that we project on them, the interactions are unreal as well, the content of any communication insubstantial or untrustworthy, and the value of any commitments become suspect. With sufficient determination, practice and skill, we can ensure that at least on party in any relationship is working to see through illusion and pretense, to weigh the value of content and speak or act deliberately, with the potential results, benefits and consequences in mind: ourselves. From that point, we can influence the course and therefore the ramifications of conversation and relationship, the power of friendships, the effectiveness of partnerships and alliances, and the substance, meaningfulness and even longevity of love affairs and marriages.
The work starts not so much with heightened awareness of others, or even of context, environs or possible outcomes, but with advanced conscious awareness of our own personal feelings, perspective, needs, motivations, presentation and communication. How often do we associate with others, converse without them, work with them, maybe even live with them, without being consistently conscious of our emotional needs and moods, of our immediate hopes and greater aims, why we are investing time in certain involvements, social arrangements or even subjects of conversation? Or without being conscious of our body language, facial expressions, and the effects that these things have on the composure and impressions of others.
What we teach in Anima, is that every moment is a decisive moment – and most of the things that we both do and don’t do are conscious decisions. One of the defining traits for not only Anima practitioners but the more adept of shamans, artists and activists, medicine women and healers, is highly developed awareness. The most impressive of our other abilities can only serve us or our purpose well when we are totally aware, of the full extent of our abilities as well as any possible limitations, of the present situation and context, of the intentions of others… and of the intentional as well as unintended effects of our own actions. It is then that we are not only most response-able, but most able to take in the rewards of sensation and meaning, depth and delight.
The practitioner combines this heightened presence with purposeful action and considered response, in order to help shape events and thus consciously co-create our world. Only the intensely aware can make the best choices…. and for the Anima practitioner, at least, every single act – no matter how large or small – is a conscious choice.
The recommended ideal order for completing Anima lifeways courses, is to start with the Practitioner’s Journey (orientation, language and exploration), Presence (so we can be wholly here for all that follows), Awakeness (embodiment and heightening our bodily senses), and then Awareness (learning to be ever more intensely conscious of things beyond the range of our senses). The information in courses like Sense of Place, the Foundations of Western Herbalism and Mission & Purpose, is best fathomed and most effectively applied when we are maximally, not nominally, aware.
There is likely no one who couldn’t benefit from an intense, ongoing awareness practice, utilizing the insights and examples afforded us by the nature world, and perhaps the tools for awareness that some schools and traditions provide. And relationships, of any kind, can be made more real, substantial, purposeful and usually satisfying, by doing the moment to moment work of being aware and going deep. By paying more attention the them, ourselves and our world… anytime we’re not asleep.
To close, I will leave you with the gift of some simple Anima awareness exercises to try:
• Attention is a gift we give to ourselves, whenever we pay close attention to the people and things around us. When walking down the sidewalk, notice what grass or plants grow to either side, the designs where the cement has cracked, the dandelions that poke their heads up through them, the sounds of not only singing birds but vehicles driving by even if you find it unpleasant. The anchoring touch of a mother when we feel unmoored, the signature scent of the neck of a lover.
• Look closely at all people and things, arrangements and associations, alliances and agreements… while keeping in mind that people and things, interactions and relationships are never solely as they appear.
• Notice and explore how friends and spouse look, dress, and carry themselves one hour to the next, the communicative furrowing of a brow and telltale flushing of the skin, the slow changes that come with age and the form and gestures of beauty that are ageless. Notice how they act and respond, what contributes to their pleasure and fulfillment or increases their dissatisfaction, when their spirits are either neglected or fed, when they are keeping something to themselves as well as what they may be trying to tell us.
• What do their body postures communicate, and do they tell a different story than the person’s facial expressions? Based on their clothes, hair and posture, what do they want us to think about them, and what do they think about themselves? Are their energies focused inward uncertainly, or do they project their energies? If they are projecting their energy and will, what is it that they are trying to effect, direct, change or create? Try to identify the source of fear in the room and in each person you relate to, as well as the sources of giftings and love.
• Notice what is hard about every worthwhile relationship, and deliberately get stronger from it. Notice what takes skill, and learn from it. Notice the benefits of commitments, and consciously commit to the healthful and helpful, whole and right.
• Notice what makes you feel either comfortable or uncomfortable in your relationships, while keeping in mind the ways in which comfort can sometimes be the greater disadvantage.
• Notice the effect you have on the people you are in relationship with. What impact does your attitude or example, your attention or neglect, your ideas and acts have on the people you come into contact with, are they better informed, affirmed, inspired or enabled? How are the ways that you live and act impacting your many various relationships, in the moment and after the fact?
• Which friends, lovers, ideas, conversations, activities, types of entertainment, or personal habits seem to obstruct your intentions, lessening or preventing the desired results? Which enable or further your intentions, and how?
• Notice not just what it is about the people in your life that disturbs you, but also that which pleasures or calms, inspires action, stirs the heart or soothes the spirit.
• At the end of each day, try to remember the details of everything that happened in your process of relating, and write the details down in an awareness journal. Record not only what you noticed, but how you responded… and what effects or results you inevitably brought about.
(Turn to the Anima wesite Home Study page for information on the complete Anima Awareness course:
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