The Wisdom Of Awareness

The final paramita, or practice leading to happiness, is Prajna, or Wisdom. This is not the wisdom that comes with age or long study. This is the wisdom of seeing what is actually happening in any given moment. This is discriminating awareness, which can tell the difference between our imagined storylines about what is going on, and what is true. It is the wisdom of clarity, and acceptance, and it requires more than a little awareness and courage. It is the wisdom of accurate reporting.

Awareness helps us to see what it is that we may not be seeing. Courage helps us to accept that things are not always as we think they are or wish them to be, and to remember that we are not in charge of the world or anyone in it.

One of the best ways to develop this clarity, courage and awareness is through meditation practice. Most kinds of meditation place some emphasis on these qualities and methods for deepening the skill of wisdom. However, if we don’t meditate, we can still practice open-mindedness, and pay attention to our lives in such a way that we become more connected to our wisdom.

We are constantly evaluating our circumstances and experiences to see if they meet our needs and desires or if they seem to be working against us. The first rule of wisdom is: Don’t take life so personally. When we take the events of our life too personally, we tend to react as if our safety is at stake with every unpleasant encounter. We forget to take other people’s feelings into consideration, becoming selfish. I want that last doughnut, therefore I will take it. Someone else might want it with equal strength of desire, which, by this standard, makes them equally worthy of it. We only see our own craving and we cannot rest until it is satisfied. Or, we don’t get what we want (someone else takes the doughnut) and then feel resentful, as if we were personally injured in some manner. This is the suffering of attachment, that a doughnut has the power to ruin our day. We also might make a big deal out of it if we get it – how fattening it is, how little will power we have, etc. The power we can bestow on a doughnut is endless. However, a doughnut is simply a doughnut. No more, no less.

When we are unhappy, we seek a reason for the unhappiness. If we can find no apparent reason, we make one up, as convincingly as possible. This is called the storyline. We barely notice we are making stuff up about our lives virtually every moment of the day. We want to have a reason for our feelings about our experience, so we allow ourselves to be easily convinced by our own stories. Usually it boils down to finding someone to blame. Someone did something wrong, so I feel bad. I don’t want to feel bad, so someone did something wrong. This must be rectified.

It doesn’t really matter at this point whether we believe it was us or someone else who erred, because we are already racing down that track of blame and recrimination for our unhappiness, running as fast as we can to get away from our discomfort. This will never solve the problem of how to deal with uncomfortable feelings, because the first – actually, the only – step is simply to stay with the feeling itself.

The nature of thoughts and feelings is that they arise, stick around a bit, and dissolve again. No matter what the content is – anger, grief, sorrow, self-hatred, lust, love, compassion, friendliness, joy, or equanimity – it will show up and then, after a bit, it will disappear. That is the nature of all phenomena. Mountains generally take longer to come and go than thoughts, but everything is subject to the same process. This is the fundamental impermanence we live with and struggle against as humans on planet Earth. Doughnuts continually arise and disappear throughout life, along with everything else. There have been other doughnuts and there will be more in the future. One doughnut is not really that important in the larger scheme of things. We could remind ourselves of this on those days when our story about a doughnut takes over and we lose our kindness.

The wisdom of prajna means using what is right here, right now, to experience the truth of impermanence without objecting to it or clinging to what we’d like to be different. Prajna, means allowing ourselves to understand that this present moment is the only reality, and that how we show up here and now, not what someone else is doing, is the only basis for our peace of mind. Prajna is seen as the natural culmination of the other paramitas – generosity, exertion, patience, meditation and discipline – and also as inextricably interwoven with each of them. How can any paramita exist without wisdom? All of the paramitas in fact do influence and complement each other. That means we can start anywhere and we will develop greater happiness and wisdom. This is the path out of suffering, for ourselves and thus for all beings with whom we come in contact.

© Copyright 2011 by Ker Cleary, LPC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • casey

    September 14th, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    sometimes when a former decision of mine turns out to be bad,I wonder why I didn’t see the cause of failure back then.

    But simply said,I was not paying attention!I was not fully awake!That is exactly why it is so important to be aware of everything that you encounter and go through,it can save something for you,or maybe save you from something too!

  • single mommy mia

    September 14th, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    I’ve always said that the best way to get an outlook on life is to know what is ACTUALLY going on moment to moment N0T what is said to going on.

    Didn’t know that their was actual name for this kind of wisdom. Very cool, now I have a new word to throw around when I preach/lecture my friends :-b

    But I agree that mediation is a phenomenal way to increase clarity, courage and awareness. As of late I’ve been trying hard not to buy into my own stories, but as I’m sure you’re aware they can be pretty convincing. The trick is when you’re feeling upset over something, just think to yourself “Why do I feel this way?” and “Am I overreacting?”.

  • Collin

    September 15th, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    I strive for, yearn for, this kind of awareness.
    An awareness that allows you to see things for what they really are and not for what we wish for them to be.
    I know I have lived too long with my head in the sand, not being fully alive and aware of the things going on in life around me.
    This is going to be a new journey for me, a new path, and I am excited about the possibilities that it opens.

  • Harold Johansson

    September 15th, 2011 at 5:37 AM

    The example with regard to the donut was very very good. There have been so many things that have given me a headache or tension but are actually not very significant when I see through the glasses that reading about the donut has given me!

    Really,we tend to associate great feelings and emotions with some very insignificant things at times,thereby causing us hurt. I shall think it out first now. Thank you very much for the help :)

  • Ker

    September 15th, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    casey – you have given me an idea for another blog post, about why it’s okay to make mistakes! It’s truly one of the most powerful ways we learn. We all fell down a lot before we learned how to walk – that is how we discover the center of gravity. We can’t be aware all the time about everything, anyway, not humanly possible. Maybe you could give yourself a break, too, and just acknowledge your humanness. :-)

    single mommy – it’s always good to increase the vocabulary one uses to preach at one’s friends, right? Keeps them interested! :-)

    Collin – glad to hear new possibilities are opening up for you. Small daily steps in the direction of increased awareness reap the greatest rewards over time.

    Harold – You’re welcome! I wrote it because I have that tendency as well. I will have to remember what I wrote when a doughnut tries to get the better of me.

  • MC

    September 15th, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    Sometimes we are not fully aware of our environment and some other times we just put one thing in focus and forget the others.That is what leads to mistakes and heart burns. I have experienced that before and really, it is not a pleasant feeling at all.

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