Self-awareness seems to be one of the qualities those seeking a greater understanding of themselves wish to attain. (I must admit that last sentence could be read as a tautology.)
When speaking of self-awareness many guides and teachers point to two aspects of self-awareness: an inner self-awareness, and an external self-awareness.
An inner self-awareness is characterised by seeking to become aware of, and respondent to, our personal values, passions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Our inner self-awareness also leads us to ask ourselves where these values, thoughts, feelings etc come from. How did we attain them? Or, how did they arise in us?
An inner self-awareness allows us, additionally, to interrogate, or critically assess, our values, thoughts, passions etc. This awareness may lead us to changing, updating, and in some cases, completely overthrowing the values we once had.
External self-awareness seeks to discover how others see us, and what affect we have on others, because of our values, beliefs, passions etc. External self-awareness asks questions such as: how does this behaviour of mine affect those around me? do my beliefs help or hinder me in my relationship with others?
Of course, it is not easy to separate inner from external self-awareness. The two are entwined and sustain (or subvert) the other. An awareness of my affect on others helps me to better examine my inner self-awareness. A greater degree of inner self-awareness helps me to better appreciate how my behaviours and values may affect others.
Integral Self-Awareness (aka Eco-awareness)
There is, however, a third kind of self-awareness. We might call it integral self-awareness. Integral literally means not touched. It means wholeness, an undivided (un-touched) unity. It is the sort of self-awareness that asks questions such as: where (and what) is my place in this wholeness? how do I fit into the grand jigsaw of life, of which I am but one piece?
Integral self-awareness suggests a much larger conception of self than is commonly considered. It is the sort of self that Thich Nhat Hanh associates with inter-being. Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) coined the term inter-being and explained it as “the many in the one, and the one in the many.” In terms of the self, he further clarified the term as, “I am, therefore you are. You are, therefore I am.”
Such self-awareness is a far more expansive understanding of self than that recognised in the inner and external aspects of self-awareness.
Indeed, it goes further. Integral self-awareness includes other-than-human species, flora and fauna. John Seed (the Australian Deep Ecologist and rainforest activist) puts it this way:
“I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into thinking.”1
Integral self-awareness then, will lead us to ask questions such as: how does this behaviour of mine contribute to a healthy or unhealthy environment? how will what I do today impact the environment and those to come seven generations from today?
Integral self-awareness challenges us to step out of our anthropocentric and ego-centric view of ourselves and the world, and into a holistic eco-awareness.
Integral self-awareness asks a lot of us. Integral self-awareness is not easy, and many times we will make mistakes, take the wrong path, and get it wrong.
When we do so, we can use those mistakes and wrong paths to enhance all three aspects of self-awareness.
1. John Seed, Beyond Anthropocentricism, in Seed, Macy, Fleming, Naess, Thinking Like A Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings, New Society Publishers, Philadelphia, PA and Santa Cruz, CA, 1988.