Open awareness is something that you can practice anywhere. It is basically being fully present through your senses.
From my lounge room and deck I can see Moreton Bay with Stradbroke Island in the background. I used to wake up of a morning and note the sunrise across the bay on my way to making a cup of tea in the kitchen. I would walk past what is an ever-changing view.
Now I am developing the habit of standing still and taking in the view for the few minutes while the water in the jug is boiling.
In this way I can practice open awareness – listening to the sounds of birds waking, watching the changing hues as the sun comes up, observing the breeze in the trees and sensing the weather.
I find that my body immediately relaxes and I am able to quickly drop into mindful breathing as a matter of course. So one mindfulness practice leads onto the next.
What you can do to develop open awareness is to link it to something that you do on a daily basis – a morning walk, the morning cuppa or coffee, the early morning bike ride. If you structure open awareness into your day, you will be more likely to persist with the habit and progressively build mindfulness. You will also find that you will more frequently stop what you are doing and become openly aware of your surroundings.
Tai Chi is described as “poetry in motion” and is a popular pathway to the development of mindfulness. It builds the connection between body, mind and spirit.
I first encountered Tai Chi practice when, as a manager in the public service in the 1980s, I engaged a Tai Chi instructor to conduct training for myself and my staff on a weekly basis. At the time I felt extraordinarily uncoordinated but persisted with the practice in the weekly lessons, only to drop away as pressure of work took over.
In 2014 my wife and I undertook the beginners class in Taoist Tai Chi before going overseas to Europe. I think it certainly helped our fitness and presence of mind. More recently, I returned to the weekly beginners classes but was unable to maintain attendance and learn the full 108 movements owing to work commitments.
The Tai Chi classes provide social support and motivation to master the art of Tai Chi. However, I became discouraged with the classes because I could not keep up owing to my work-induced absences. However, I had really appreciated the benefits of practising Taoist Tai Chi, so I located a training video that takes you through the first 17 moves and now I attempt to use this video to practise Taoist Tai Chi on a daily basis. This video takes you through the steps very slowly with a clear explanation:
The advantage of this video is that the 17 moves take only about 4 minutes and they can be completed in sets of three or more repetitions. The creators of the video also provide a practice video for the highly recommended warm-up exercises.
As with mastery of anything, Taoist Tai Chi requires regular practice, ideally on a daily basis. The more frequently you practise, the greater are the benefits you can experience in terms of physical and mental health and the growth of mindfulness.
The significant degree of turning and stretching in each of the movements, combined with the adaptability of the form to suit individual needs, are just some of the factors that contribute to its focus on restoring, improving and maintaining health.
The specific health benefits they identify include:
improved balance and posture
increased strength and flexibility
alleviation of the symptoms of illness such as arthritis, high blood pressure and migraine.
Tai Chi, like mindfulness, develops calmness, focus, concentration and clarity.
Nature is a wonderful source of mindfulness. We so often look at something in nature but don’t see the beauty that is there. One way to really appreciate nature and all it has to offer is to adopt “open awareness” – to take in the sounds, sights, colours, smells, contours and touch sensations.
So often we walk past the opportunity to be mindful in the presence of nature – we overlook the connectedness that is in front of us. As Louie Schwartzberg reminds us – every living creature is dependent on some other living entity for its survival.
We so often fail to appreciate what is before us – the changing nature of the sky with each passing moment. We miss the varying hues, the different cloud formations, the sun drenched waters that emerge with sunrise or the deepening shadows occurring with sunsets. We pass off the weather as “good” or “bad”, ascribing some personal value to it based on our own convenience or inconvenience at the time.
Louie Schwartzberg, the famous time-lapse photographer, reminds us to be grateful when we encounter the beauty of nature:
Louie argues that nature is a pathway to mindfulness if we are open to, and appreciative of, its beauty.