term of the week: Self Awareness

What is self awareness? I had a great conversation with a friend yesterday about it, and we both agreed that whatever it is, it makes relating to people a lot easier and more rewarding. Of course, that may say more about my own personal issues than it does the virtue. So why is it a Term of the week? Because I realized that it is a de facto category I operate with and understand maturity. :) It has become part of my definition of what faithfulness is- or at least looks like, and for that fact alone, bears scrutiny!

Self awareness is an internal quality, a spiritual virtue if you will. I think its a lot like mindfulness, a way that we are connected to and aware of all the internal machinery that manufactures the feelings and reactions we experience. That's a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh's popularity in the west these days, and to his credit, I think his statement, "The problem is to see reality as it is," gets at something crucial. Being self aware is at one level, the ability to see yourself accurately. It should be clarified, though that self-awareness isn't the same thing as "authenticity." By "authentic" I think we mean we can be unashamedly ourselves - we act from who we know our selves to be. We can be honest about the desires and feelings we are currently experiencing. But I don't think that this is self awareness.

Self- awareness has a depth of understanding to it beyond just monitoring current emotional state. It has an ever deeper understanding of why we feel and react the way we do. It has an historical emotional awareness- a genealogy of feeling that informs whatever current state we experience. I have met people who are very conscious of their emotional state at any given moment but are not self-aware at all. You can be honest about what you know, and still be ignorant of your own soul.

It's tempting to use Paul as an illustration in Romans 7. He is aware of his inmost parts, of his desires to do good and an ever present desire to bad as well. There is a way that he is able to see himself objectively* and consider the machinery in his own soul, good and bad, and then from there move on in the knowledge of Christ's love and acceptance for him. That smells like awareness to me.

As it deepens, it allows us to see ourselves in this way and see how we relate to others at the same time. We see how we are the machinery that makes us up, and see how that affects the interactions and relationships we have. I think self awareness is the understanding of why we are who we are and how we work both internally and in relation to other people. That is what I understand to be the power of Gestalt therapies in psychology. We know what masks we wear and why we wear them, the things we tell ourselves and how they affect our relationships, and we are able to bring all this into our relationships.

Unlike Nhat Hanh, we are Christian and mindfulness isn't the end in and of itself. Like Paul, I think that a mindfulness can lead to despair when we perceive the reality of our own impotence, our own utter dependence on something external if we are to live like humans instead of animals. The most human life is Christ's, and it is available to us in him. That's why I think its the promise of his life that makes self awareness a redeemed value that is a sign of christian maturity. It's not not just navel gazing, as grizzled vets of church wars like to call it - it is the fruit of grace. Given time, grace inexorably leads us down a path of self awareness as we increasingly see the many ways we are not Christ and yet He is offered to us.

*gasp. :)


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