One of the simplest, and most difficult, spiritual practices is being consciously aware. To be consciously aware is more than to notice, although that is the first step. Conscious awareness invites us to engage with our surroundings and the people among whom we find ourselves. It is very easy for us, even tempting, to remain unaware. When we are stressed, or hurting, or in a hurry, it is expedient to shut down. When we are shut down, we tend to reduce things, places, and people to objects that we value according to function. We miss so much!
Try being consciously aware of your car. Making the effort to experience the sensation of sitting in your car and of driving, realizing your good fortune in owning a car, and doing your errands on foot are all ways to be consciously aware of what owning a car means beyond its function.
When we are consciously aware of people, we not only see them in context (the checkout girl at the grocery store, your neighbor on the lawn, your boss at the office), we see them more deeply. Notice physical features, stance, expressions, and words. What is going on with them as people? How will your words and attitude affect them?
The next time you go shopping, try this experiment: work to be consciously aware during your shopping trip. (You may be surprised to notice how often you “fall asleep” and stop seeing consciously. If you find yourself “falling asleep” stop and reorient your attention.)
The following suggestions for practicing conscious awareness when shopping are borrowed from the article “Spiritual Practices for Shopping” by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat.
• As you walk into a store, remind yourself to pay attention to the colors, sights, sounds, and textures of the objects and people in the store.
• As you explore the store, practice feeling grateful: e.g., be grateful that there are so many things to choose from; that articles are attractively arranged; that the store is air conditioned or heated; that the sales person is helpful; etc.
• If you feel stressed or hurried, practice breathing in and out slowly with a suitable affirmation, such as “Breathing in, I am calm; breathing out, I am calm.” Repeat until you feel yourself relax. Proceed slowly. If you find yourself speeding up, repeat the exercise.
• Be conscious of quality, beauty, usefulness, need, and price as you examine a potential purchase. Check in with your emotions to see how you are feeling when you contemplate a purchase.
• Finally, try using any time you spend waiting in line, in traffic, or on the escalator or elevator to bring to mind people you have encountered and to pray for or hold good intentions for their welfare. Empathize silently; send them your best wishes for calm, peace, and rest, in prayer or intention.
Becoming consciously aware of and engaging with your surroundings, other people, and your purchases can transform a shopping trip into a spiritually fulfilling adventure. Try this exercise with a friend and compare notes.