Though frequently used interchangeably, awareness and introspection are two very different creatures. Stated simply: awareness is the spontaneous, and creatively neutral experiencing of whatever arises in the present moment – whether sensation, feeling, perception, thought or action. In contrast, introspection is a directing of our attention in a deliberate, evaluating, controlling and, not infrequently, judgemental way. Introspection, while often valuable (and the essence of many talk therapies) can in itself become interfering, taking us far away from the here and now. The unexamined life, according to Thoreau, may not be worth living. However, introspective examination can become pathological, contributing to increased rumination, inhibition, self-consciousness and excessive self-criticism.
Awareness might be likened to seeing a glowing ember emanating the light of its own internal combustion. Introspection, on the other hand, is like viewing an object illuminated by an external light source, such as a flashlight. With awareness one directly experiences one's life energy as it pulsates and glows. In introspection, one sees only a reflection of the contents of one's life. Confusing thought and awareness, or equating them, is at the root of so much unnecessary human suffering. Insight, while important, has rarely cured a neurosis or healed a trauma. In fact, it often makes matters worse. After all, knowing why one reacts to a person, place or thing is not, in itself, helpful. Indeed, it is potentially harmful. For example, breaking out in a cold sweat when your lover touches you is distressing enough. Yet, having this same reaction, over and over, even after understanding why it occurs, can be further demoralising. Comprehending that what happened was merely triggered by an earlier event, while repeatedly having to endure its uninvited intrusion, can add crippling feelings of failure, shame and helplessness.
On the other hand, “simple” awareness, along with a fortified tolerance for bewildering and frightening physical body sensations, can seemingly, as if by magic, prevent or dissolve entrenched emotional and physical symptoms.