In the Zen tradition there are various “awareness” practices that help a seeker become more aware of his/her “self”.
These practices, as helpful as they are, just point to the field of awareness ever present in you which does not need to be generated. But initially it’s helpful to do some practices just to step out of the “mind”.
In ordinary circumstances your awareness is completely preoccupied with “mind” activity and hence there is no room for any “self” awareness. The following paths can be followed to step out of the “noisy” world of the mind and bring attention or awareness back to self.
1. Watch your thoughts
This is an excellent practice to create a gap between mind activity and awareness. All you need to do is be acutely aware of what’s going on in the mind.
Be like a cat waiting for the mouse to come out of a hole.
You will be surprised to see that when you become aware of the mind, thoughts stop for a while. If you stay aware you will notice a thought emerging out of the silent space, don’t associate with it and let it flow by. Do this as many times as you can every day and for as long as you can.
2. Become aware of subtle objects in your surroundings
It’s easy to observe the “gross” objects in your surroundings but it requires deep presence to be aware of the “subtle”.
Look out for the most delicate sounds that can be heard and then listen for sounds that are even more subtle. Become aware of tiny specks of dust or spots in your surrounding. If you are in nature look for the subtle moment of leaves in the wind.
You will find that as you become aware of the “subtle” you also become aware of you as the awareness in which the listening or watching occurs. When there is no mind activity all that remains is “you” as pure awareness.
3. Become aware of your breathing
This is the most common practice used by the Zen monks to step out of the mind and increase awareness. Be one with each breath and be aware of yourself as the field of awareness in which the breathing takes place.
Don’t try to control your breathing. Just follow it consciously. Initially it will be difficult to stay conscious for even a few breaths, but with time you can do this more effortlessly.
4. Stay conscious of your body movements
A very effective means of becoming self aware is to become acutely conscious of your body movements. Don’t try to control your body, just let it move free while staying present enough to monitor it.
With time you will be able to notice subtle movements in your body that you are unaware of before. This practice indirectly helps improve your body language but that’s just a positive side effect.
5. Place your attention on “attention”
In the true sense of the word “self awareness” means placing awareness on awareness. Placing your attention on attention itself. It’s difficult to describe how to do this but it just happens naturally when you become conscious of your “attention”. This is a deeply peaceful state to be in because it’s devoid of any external form.
All these practices will seem like a lot of effort initially. This is because of the habitual tendency of your awareness to get mixed with “mind” activity. It’s like separating “awareness” from the “mind”, taking it away from its “pseudo” home to its true dwelling which is within itself.