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Personal Safety – Mindset, Part 1: Awareness

tiger above green grass during day time

The concept of personal safety is nothing new, it dates back to when we humans dwelled in caves in the cradle of civilization.  When a sabre-toothed tiger came poking around your cave looking for a tasty morsel, you had better have a working knowledge of personal safety or you would be the dish of choice on the menu at “The Hungry Tiger Café.”

Flash forward to today, fortunately, there are no saber-toothed tigers scoping us out so the possibility that we could become what’s for dinner to a hungry feline is pretty slim.  But there are definite threats to our personal safety and well being in the world.  Whether you work in a large office building and the threat of an active killer is possible or you are a lineman precariously suspended in mid-air and messing around with enough voltage to turn yourself into a human sized sparkler, everyone deals with threats to their safety.

Regardless of the nature of the threat, your ability to avoid, divert or defeat the threat relies on mindset.  “So, what is mindset?” Excellent question!  Simply stated, mindset is a set of attitudes you have.  In the next several posts, I will specifically address the personal safety mindset.  A bit of a disclaimer, this will not be an exhaustive list but it is intended be used as a springboard for you to assimilate these attitudes into your daily life.

#1 Be Aware.  Awareness of ones self and the world around you are very easily sacrificed in our high speed, device using and narrowly focused minds.  With stress filled jobs, densely packed social calendars and our modern “conveniences” like cell phones, we tend to focus on the things that are big, flashy and in our faces, because quite simply put, there are so many things in the world around us competing for our attention that we have little time  to really observe and take in what is around us because we are sprinting through life with our minds bouncing from one thing to another.

This great Zen story nicely describes awareness in a different way:

The Test

Tenno was a student of Zen; he had spent the last five years studying various aspects of the philosophy and had become knowledgeable in all of its nuances. Hardly a day went by that Tenno did not devote hours to his studies. Today, however, would be one of those rare days, today he would visit a well-known Zen master and take the test required for him to become a Zen teacher. He was feeling nervous as he traveled to the master’s house in the morning rain. Tenno did not know what the test would comprise, but he took comfort in the knowledge that he had studied well. With the help of his training, Tenno was able to clear his mind and by the time he had arrived at the Zen master’s home he felt ready for the exam. He approached the master’s house via a narrow walkway surrounded by flowers. When he reached the front door Tenno met the Zen master who, greeted him and welcomed him in and led Tenno into a quiet room where they both sat down. The test was about to start. “For your test,” the Zen master began “I have but a single question to ask.” “A single question?” thought Tenno, “I’ve studied for countless hours, I’ve come prepared to discuss any aspect of Zen in great detail, what could this question possibly be?” “When you approached my house, you walked along the walkway,” said the master “Yes” replied Tenno, a puzzled look on his face. “There were flower beds on each side of the walkway” continued the master, “Yes” repeated Tenno even more confused, “There was an umbrella in one of the flower beds” said the Zen master finally, “Which side was it on, the left side or the right?” Tenno not having noticed the umbrella on his way in realized at that instant that he had failed the test. He stood up, bowed respectfully to the master and returned to his home to study for another five years.

So what we see is that the student was so focused on the test that he missed the beautiful things around him.  This is one of the great benefits of awareness, when you slow down and experience the world without a distracted mind, you will see and enjoy the amazing world around us.

Of course, seeing beauty is only one benefit, awareness also benefits us in that we are able to recognize threats.  Remember the cave dwelling man I discussed earlier?  His primary defense against the tiger was awareness.  Being able to see a threat far off will allow you time to decide on a course of action and act on it.

So how does one become aware?  Some people use meditation as a way to clear their minds and allow themselves to consciously slow down their processing of the world around them.  First, by eliminating distractions and second by focusing on one thing, this starts with breathing and some people prefer an additional item to focus on, a candle or a chant are commonly used by those who meditate.

If you don’t want to start a meditation practice, one good way to increase awareness involves limiting distractions.  Cell phones and ear buds are the most obvious culprits here, taking out your two primary information gathering senses, sight and hearing, is never a good idea.  Your other senses, while extremely effective for certain things, are not particularly well suited for detecting danger.  I really don’t want to detect a threat by touch, smell or taste (ewww!).  Also, keep your eyes up, scan (look around and really try to see things around you) your surroundings.  You will be able to avoid things that you might trip over or bump into.  You will see friends, or folks you want to avoid, from a distance, so you can react appropriately!

Don’t be afraid to slow down and really SEE the world around you.  Experience the sights, sounds and smells in your daily routine.  That way when something “isn’t quite right”  you can prepare to respond if needed.

Now you might be asking: “OK, so I am aware and see something not quite right, now what?”  Great question!  We will discuss that in Part 2.  Until then, please leave your thoughts below.  Civil discussion and debate are always welcome.

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