The twenty-first century has brought with it an awakening on many levels. People are waking up to the fact that much of what we took for granted is simply not workable. The consciousness of the planet is evolving towards a different way to live in the world. This psychological awakening to a new worldview calls each of us to become stewards of the Earth and we feel compelled, more than ever, to find sustainable solutions. We sense a shift in consciousness on many levels—from a growing political awareness and the importance of our participation in shaping our government to an increased concern regarding our environment and the impact that human activity and consumption have had upon the earth’s limited resources. We seek alternative solutions for harnessing renewable resources of energy and to restore our environment, or at the least, to halt the damage that we have done.

Growing concern over the effects of global warming is warranted. It has been predicted that with rising temperatures, we will see corresponding changes, such as rising sea levels, the extinction of certain species and the emergence of more virulent strains of viruses, bacteria, and diseases. In the last few years alone, Ebola, SARS, West Nile Virus and the Swine Flu have challenged our medical communities and with more virulent drug-resistant strains of malaria, tuberculosis, and bacterial pneumonias, we are facing emerging health issues that will call for different approaches to prevention and treatment. We also face increased flooding, drought, and other natural disasters as the Earth continues to warm. The economic downturn of the American economy, the global financial recession, and the continued fighting across the globe are all cause for concern during this time in human history.

These concerns and more are forcing us to examine the interrelationships that exist between and among Earth’s inhabitants and its natural resources. People are becoming more concerned about finding solutions to living that will not destroy our planet or further compromise the world we leave to our children, grandchildren and future descendants. Humans are challenged on many fronts to live in harmony with the earth and move beyond the “divide and conquer” mentality that has taken us to this point. Former vice president, Al Gore, explained the consequences of not changing our habits in his film, An Inconvenient Truth where he succinctly outlines the consequences of continuing our current trek that is destroying the world as we have known it. Unfortunately, those born today will never know the beauty of clear running streams and lakes, drinking tap water that is not filled with chemicals and pollutants, nor see the untouched beauty of the earth as we continue to mine, dig, and destroy our natural habitat. What will it take to change the course we are embarked upon? Can each individual contribute something of value to this process? Worldwide, the power of our individual voice is being realized and we are beginning to find and use that voice to bring about global change. Tradition is being questioned and many now realize that new technology may not provide the answers as we move into the future, but that we also need a new perspective on the world as well. We realize that a new perspective must begin with us, as individual people, and therefore we are called to the path of greater self awareness. Each person can help to shape the future world that we will create because changes in consciousness result in changes to the choices that we make.

Many of us struggle in our search for happiness and fulfillment, not knowing what it is that stands in our way. We live our lives driven by our beliefs of how the world works, never knowing if these beliefs and our efforts will bring us what we seek. We swallow whole much of what we are fed, resulting in a belief system that reflects what we have ingested: “Work hard, and you will be rewarded.” “Be loyal to your employer and you will have lifetime security.” “Sacrifice yourself to those that you love and that love will be returned.” “Men have no emotions!” “Women are too emotional!” You get the picture. These beliefs are called memes (as opposed to genes) that we inherit unconsciously, incorporating these beliefs without scrutiny. How many people actually stop and question how they developed their belief system? Maybe we would live differently if we were more aware of how we got to this point in our lives. Greater awareness of the mechanisms that drive our feelings and behaviors leads us to make different choices. As our awareness grows, we open our eyes to the fact that much of our current belief system may be riddled with fear, prejudice, anger and other negative emotional states, fueling our choices that may not be quite so wise or informed.

“What are my beliefs? From whom did I learn these beliefs? Do these beliefs fit who I am? In fact, who am I?” That last question, “Who am I?” is perplexing because it leads to more questions: “How did I become the person that I am? Who can I become? What factors have helped to shape my perceptions, expectations, hopes, fears, dreams, thoughts, curiosities, and goals? What role have my parents played in who I am? How do my peers influence me? Do I fit in?” We look to others for our answers and feel dissatisfied. Eventually, we are faced with a choice between living the status quo or to evolve. Living the status quo requires little effort or consciousness. We just keep doing what we have been doing, seeing the world in the same way that we’ve grown accustomed to perceiving it.

Human beings are not required to be conscious. In many ways, we are similar to other lower forms of life on earth. We are instinctual creatures, learning behaviors through a stimulus/response process, being conditioned and reinforced just like B.F. Skinner’s rats in the lab. Although we have the capacity for creativity and thought, how much of our behavior actually lies outside of our conscious everyday awareness? We drive our cars, brush our teeth and can even do much of our day-to-day routines without thinking because once the neural pathways have been established in the brain and strengthened through repetition, we don’t have to “think” about how to do those things anymore. We have learned the behavior. Now the memory for how to “do it” is reassigned to a different part of the brain—the cerebellum, also referred to as our “little brain.”

Habit and routine are stored in the cerebellum, allowing us to act without thinking. This is great for routines in our lives such as walking, running, riding a bike, driving a car, cooking, playing sports or musical instruments that we’ve learned, or even working at our jobs. The question is, does habit serve us well when we are dissatisfied with our lives and ready to change our reactions and habits? In other words, our emotions become “habits” as well which are wired into our brains in a similar manner to how learned behavior is reassigned. We learn that certain things make us mad, sad, frustrated, scared, anxious, happy, or excited. We even anticipate (through our thoughts) that we might be entering into a situation that is similar to a past trauma, so that we are “prepared” to fight, freeze or flee before the situation has even unfolded. Therefore, our behaviors and emotions can both be seen as “habits.”

Part of the process towards greater self awareness is to understand how these habits were formed so that we can break the bonds and create new behaviors that are more functional. When we understand the origins of our beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, expectations, desires, fears and traumas, self-awareness grows. This knowledge about the self gives us the insight and motivation to change. Change requires consciousness. To stay conscious requires work, but it leads us towards the discovery of our unique individuality and potential. When we can discover the assumptions that we hold about the world, we begin to open up to the world in a way that can lead to greater happiness because we have removed the blinders. We see life with what Buddhists refer to as a “beginner’s mind.” Like a child, we see the world with openness and wonder, fresh and new, not colored by our expectations and fears. In this way we can begin to truly live our lives as the “Lived Life.”

The “self” and How It Develops

The self may not be aware of the possibility that we can awaken our consciousness to a greater Self. We can call this self our ego because it is the result of having incorporated the do’s and don’ts that we were taught as we were growing up. As you will learn in later chapters, what we hear, learn and experience are simply downloaded for the first 5-6 years of life. There is no process of scrutiny because our brainwaves are basically in a hypnogogic state, similar to a hypnotic state. This fact implies that if we are to lose some of those old habits and reactions, we will first need to recognize when they emerge or are activated. Without recognizing the reactions and behaviors that stem from our habitual self, I doubt that we have much chance of evolving into our Self. The reason I believe this is because as biological creatures, we are similar to the rats, monkeys and pigeons used in experimental psychology to learn more about human behavior. We know that humans are wired in similar ways to other creatures, learning much basic behavior through reinforcement and conditioning. If you have taken a basic psychology course, you will remember that reinforcement is the application of a reward for a behavior that strengthens that behavior, making it more likely to be repeated again in a similar situation. You bring flowers to your partner to make up after a fight, it works to bring you back together, so the next time you are in a similar tight situation, you reach for the flowers to appease hurt feelings in your partner. Conditioning occurs on a more automatic level. We hear a song, we are in a romantic setting with a desired partner, and subsequently, we feel these same emotions whenever we hear that song again. Classical conditioning like Pavlov’s dog, salivating to the sound of the bell.

As humans, we tend to believe that we are much more complex than dogs, cats, and pigeons! We believe that “thought” or thinking is the greatest tool that humans possess and we give much weight to our cognitions. In fact, it is safe to say that we have pushed emotions to the back burner, believing that our emotions are the source of all our problems. But how often has thinking been the culprit that has gotten us into trouble, a funk, or a tight spot? Thinking is a capacity that we have, but what happens when we use erroneous or outdated information to base our thoughts and decisions upon? Where does that lead us? We do this almost everyday as we go about our lives? We hear something and immediately have a set opinion about what is happening. We make up stories that fit our world—stories that are based upon our expectations and earlier experiences. It may be that our ability to stop the thinking process and rest in the awareness of just simply “be-ing” that is our greatest hope to become more aware and awaken to our potential. Our capacity for reflection allows us to stand back and observe ourselves in action, whether that action is thinking or doing.

What is Self Awareness?

Self awareness is an interesting journey because the self actually covers up the authentic Self, but the Self needs help in order to emerge. Developing greater self awareness implies that there is a “self” to discover. Is the self the same as the Self (small versus capital S)? If you describe your self to another person, how do you describe your self? Most of us start out by telling others our name, our age, our birth order, our ethnicity, our profession, where we live, who we are partnered with, how many children we have, where we grew up, etc. We might even tell others that we are fun, happy, creative, patient and caring. But do these words really inform others about who we really are at the core? Don’t these words tell more about where we came from, what we do, what we care about, and who is in our lives? Even if these terms arise from our conscious beliefs about ourselves, do they include what we know about our inner nature—core values, beliefs and desires? We need to ask ourselves if our lives reflect an examined life or are we just acting out and regurgitating things that we learned without questioning their value to us as individuals? Where and from whom did we learn these things? How did they become our truths? Do they still have value for us? Have we ever taken the time to consciously examine their origin or meaning?

As we begin to contemplate the nature of self and Self, a definition of each might be helpful. The self can be described as the ego’s description of who we are and can be referred to as the conditioned self—the self that has been conditioned to fit in and hide those things that we fear may make us unacceptable to others, so we conceal this knowledge—from others and oftentimes from ourselves as well. Thinking has been seen as superior over our emotions and in many ways we have discouraged emotion based living. We are told to “get a grip!” The ego, or conditioned self lives life putting great value on the thinking process because we have been told this by society. This is the ego’s problem because it makes decisions in ways that often exclude deeper, heartfelt feelings, pushing them aside in favor of logic. Logic is a left-brained activity and uses external criteria to form conclusions. Why would this cause us problems? When we think, we use a ranking system that tells us one thing is better than another, but this ranking system will probably not reflect our deepest felt heartstrings. It is a ranking system developed by society that is patriarchal and hierarchical and not necessarily reflecting what is held deeply within one’s heart. So the ego has the tendency to use thinking exclusively. We learn, however, that our truth lies within our hearts and not necessarily our thoughts so without checking in with our deepest heartfelt beliefs and desires, we end up cutting off vital aspects of who we are.

To make this clearer, let’s look at an example. Think of one of your “buttons.” You know what I mean. It’s one of those sensitivities that you might hold, or it might be a “readiness to react” in certain situations. If you grew up being put-down by your parent or parents, you will likely be sensitive to any criticism from others. Just the anticipation of being criticized can set you off and push your button, resulting in whatever usual reaction you have to criticism—your heart beats faster, your breathing gets shallow, you feel angry, or you close yourself off to others, feeling inferior, etc. So, simultaneously, we react on a physical level and an emotional level. This happens because the neural nets that formed when you reacted to criticism as a child are now firmly established in your brain and need nothing more than even the simple anticipation of being criticized to set the reaction pattern rolling. Before you know it, your heart is beating faster, you are being overcome with the emotion, and then you lash out—even when you had vowed to change your anger patterns! So the desire of the heartfelt Self to not react gets overridden by the habitual reactions of the self.

So the self really needs to be noticed if we want to become more Self aware. As we learn to understand the self, we have the opportunity to evolve and free the Self. We have to move out of unconsciously reacting to these same situations and teach ourselves to recognize when we are caught up in a reaction pattern. Once we have taken that step backwards and have become the observer of our behaviors and feelings instead of seeing ourselves as the actor, we start the loosening process of the brain’s neural nets that fire in those situations. We see that things unfold around us, but that we don’t have to necessarily react to them because we have made assumptions about what is happening.

We have the opportunity to choose a different perspective by learning to see the situation with non-attachment, which is to let go of our expectations and fears about why something is happening or not. Much of human suffering comes from what Buddhist refer to as samsara, created through our minds—we enter situations expecting certain outcomes and when they don’t materialize, we become angry, frustrated, sad, or anxious. Or we have been hurt, so we are primed to be hurt again by others because we expect it. These reactions can be called addictions as you will learn in a later chapter. We are addicted to our emotional reactions. If we can release these fears, expectations and desires and step back from our reactions to situations, we take a step towards the path of awareness and awakening. We loosen the reactionary patterns of behavior and learn to just be.

Slowly, we learn to rest in the here and now—being present so that we can really take in what is unfolding around us. To be in the here and now implies that we are not applying any definitions, stories, or storylines to what is happening in the moment, but that we keep our awareness open and unfettered by past memories, fears, or situations. By calming the neural nets to our former ways of reacting to the world, we open ourselves up to the possibility of leaving our addictions behind and living life more functionally, happily and creatively. This allows the Self to emerge—the highest potential of the individual in which the illusions and blinders have been removed. This represents living an Awakened life—not always needing to have it our way, applying our expectations, fears, and desires that create our own suffering. We allow to unfold, that which is about to unfold.

The Self is more than the self. The Self is the Awakened Self. It is that Self that emerges once we have recaptured and integrated what was denied or neglected in the process of growing up. It is the Self that is stripped of the protective masks, bravely stepping out into the world with knowledge and compassion for oneself and others, seeking to evolve itself to a greater sense of oneness and centeredness in the world. It is the Self that is energetically connected to others and the universe, understanding that interconnection exists in all aspects of life. This Self empowers us to live authentically, being fulfilled, and joyful because we have worked through the impediments to conscious living. We vibrate at the level of unity or cosmic consciousness, a place where the boundaries we have erected in our lives no longer rule how we see or experience the world.


I propose that we are never done with our development and evolution. We are continually in the process of becoming, giving us the opportunity to discover and evolve our uniqueness. By forging psychological tools that help us awaken this complex Self, we become active co-creators of our destiny. We take an active part in shaping who we are and who we can become. We call forth our strength to face our past with renewed vision and to turn our hearts and minds towards a path of greater awareness in the future of possibilities. By honing psychological tools to help us in this process, we can face the future with strength and confidence that we can and will strive towards living a more Awakened life. We do not travel with blinders on, but prepare ourselves with knowledge, insight and wisdom so that we move forward with understanding and hope.

The Awakened Self takes you on a journey to explore where you have been so that you can navigate and chart a new course for yourself. This quest takes you back in time to explore what has shaped your personality, providing tools that lead you to a clearer sense of where you have been, how you got there, and simultaneously providing you with the knowledge necessary to set the pace for actualizing your real Self, and developing lifelong tools that will help you to stay your course on the Awakened Self path. You will reclaim what has been left behind, discard what is not worth keeping, and actualize new choices that lead to greater happiness and a more fulfilled life.