Using the Power of Your Own Selective Awareness


We hear words like guided imagery, mindfulness, and meditation all the time, but most of us think of them as something abstract, complex, or mysterious. Actually, the essence of all of these immersive techniques involves using a powerful tool available to all of us, though we may not be aware of it. That tool is our awareness. But, the skill we need is the ability to intentionally guide our awareness.

I’d like to demonstrate how you can effectively guide your awareness. Please take a moment and follow this sequence:

Think of an apple.
Now think of a polar bear.
Now, the Eiffel Tower,
A pile of ashes,
An ostrich egg,
A space ship,
A cigar,
A mountain,
The planet Saturn,
A computer chip.
Not too difficult, right?

Now think of all of them at the same time.

You can’t!

Even though you can easily will yourself to think any one of millions of different thoughts at any given moment, it is difficult or impossible to truly focus on more than one. This is what I call selective awareness. Numerous thoughts can pass through your awareness in a short period of time, but they do so one at a time, in a sequence. In other words, this focus function of your mind has enormous selectivity but very limited capacity.

Most of us don’t take full responsibility for our awareness. Many of us don’t really know how. This can cause a problem, because if you do nothing, your thoughts will meander on, willy-nilly, shifting from one track to another, distracted by irrelevant "clang" associations, environmental phenomena, memories, fears, and so forth. Maladaptive behaviors of mind, emotions, and body are the result of this unguided (or misguided) process.

Through practice, you can learn to choose your thoughts, proactively place your attention where you want it to be, and relax away from distractions. Guided imagery is the most effective way to do this that I know of. (And to my mind, meditation practice, prayer, and poetry are all forms of guided imagery.)

So it follows that selective awareness allows us to block discomfort and pain from our awareness by placing our attention elsewhere; and, by the same token, we can block feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, resentment, or jealousy if we consciously choose to do so. Selective awareness is arguably the key to long-lasting healing, growth, and change.