“Bare attention,” or Mindfulness, is the first step in gaining a “heightened awareness.” But by itself, it is not enough. This bare attention to progress leads to a deeper awareness. Bare attention, by itself, means that every action is performed mindfully, in full conscious awareness, and that trends of thought are discerned and noted instead of becoming unconscious fantasies and stream of consciousness trends. Since we perform so many acts from habit, without even realizing we are doing them (shaving, combing the hair, washing the teeth, heating the water for tea), we become automatons in many areas, and this is the very opposite of “heightened awareness.”
To know that we have placed our shoes under the bed – to know it and not assume it – is a great step forward in achieving bare attention and the beginning of the way to a heightened awareness. To realize that our posture is a slumping one – without feeling the need to immediately correct it – is to observe the posture in complete attention. To be aware of the gradual aging of the lines in one’s face when looking in the mirror, and not to pretend the lines aren’t there, is true attention, and it can lead to understanding, the knowledge that nothing is permanent and that change is inevitable. This is not easy in the beginning and requires real effort.
It is said that habit is the enemy of old age, and this is true at several levels. First, we perform the same actions at the same time in the same way and are not fully alive in doing so. We run on automatic pilot. Second, these habits become deeply ingrained habit energies (vasanas in Sanskrit), and they shape our lives. When they develop into tendencies (samskaras), they may shape lives to come, and the person of that time may not know why he or she does certain things or feels certain urges. This is a form of slavery we have imposed upon ourselves. One may drink heavily without knowing why, or without even liking the taste of alcohol; this uncontrollable tendency is a samskara carried over from the habit energies we built in another lifetime. This is our karma, and it shapes us and makes us what we are.
So, in going from bare attention to heightened awareness, we are countering these destructive trends. At one level we become more alive, more capable of real joy in everyday life; we become masters of ourselves. At the deeper level we begin to undo the strands of karma we have woven for ourselves. To achieve heightened awareness would seem to be very desirable.