“Awareness: The Key to Living in Balance” by OSHO (Book Summary)
Awareness: The Key to Living in Balance is a book about mindfulness by the controversial spiritual teacher Osho.
If you haven’t read anything of Osho yet, you’re in for a treat. His stuff is funny, insightful, provocative, and very polarizing. People either think he was a genius or a complete nutjob. Me, I’m in the former camp. Almost everything this man said makes a ton of sense to me. I’ve probably had more insights reading his book or watching YouTube videos from him than with anyone else.
His books aren’t actually written by him. The content is instead taken from the countless lectures he gave to his followers.
Awareness, as the book title suggests is all about living life with more awareness, mindfulness, watchfulness – call it whatever you want. If you’re not familiar with Osho’s work or spiritual reading in general, some things may come across as weird and you’ll probably get a lot of question marks. That’s normal. If you can identify with some of what he says, great. And if not, then it’s maybe not for you.
And don’t be put off by the tag “spiritual.” I used to be very skeptical about it, but spiritual books aren’t what they’re made out to be. What they actually teach you is to give less of a fuck about the small stuff in life.
Who Is Awareness for?
- Anyone interested in living a more carefree, spontaneous life
- Anyone who’s going through a really hard time right now
- Anyone struggling to find purpose and happiness in life
1. The Normal State of Humanity: Sleepwalking
“You sleep when you sleep, but you also sleep while you are awake… Even right now you are dreaming within. A thousand and one thoughts continue and you are not conscious of what is happening, you are not aware of what you are doing, you are not aware of who you are. You move as people move in sleep.”
“We go on living absolutely inattentive to what is happening around us. Yes, we have become very efficient in doing things. What we are doing, we have become so efficient in doing that we don’t need any awareness to do it. It has become mechanical, automatic. We function like robots.”
According to Osho and other spiritual gurus like Lao Tzu or Buddha, most of us move through life like sleepwalkers, never really present in what we’re doing, never fully alert to our environment, and never even aware of what motivates us to do and say the things we do.
We live mechanical, automatic, unconscious lives. While we’re asleep, we simply act out our conditionings, habits, and impulses. That’s what sleepwalking means: acting mechanically, habitually, automatically, impulsively, unconsciously. When we’re sleepwalking, we’re not really there – we’re absent, lost in our thoughts about the future or the past, but not present.
If you look at other people, you can see this quite well. People are never really here-now, never really alert and conscious. They are always asleep, either worrying about the future or thinking about the past. They are absent. And so are you. And so am I.
That’s simply the current state of humanity. The opposite of that state is being present, what Osho calls awareness.
2. What Is Awareness?
“Awareness means that whatsoever is happening in the moment is happening with complete consciousness; you are present there.”
Awareness means being present to the moment. It means being fully alert, fully conscious, fully here-now. It means inhabiting the present moment with all five senses. You are simply taking in everything the moment has to offer.
When you’re washing the dishes, awareness means washing the dishes and not being occupied with anything else. Not thinking about yesterday. Not thinking about tomorrow. Just washing the dishes. Smelling the soap. Feeling the warm water running down your hands and arms. Seeing the ceramic of the dishes getting cleaner and cleaner.
3. Another Word for Awareness: Watchfulness
“The only thing that has to be learned is watchfulness. Watch! Watch every act that you do. Watch every thought that passes in your mind. Watch every desire that takes possession of you. Watch even small gestures – walking, talking, eating, taking a bath. Go on watching everything. Let everything become an opportunity to watch.”
“Don’t eat mechanically, don’t just go on stuffing yourself – be very watchful. Chew well and watchfully… and you will be surprised how much you have been missing up to now, because each bite will give you tremendous satisfaction…”
Being watchful, being aware, being alert – those are all the same things. We can also call it mindfulness, a term which you may be more familiar with.
Mindfulness is defined as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.
Another definition: Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Awareness, mindfulness, watchfulness. Call it what you like. The book is all about growing this skill.
4. Two Ways out of Suffering
“People are living in suffering. There are only two ways out of it: They can become meditators – alert, awake, conscious… that’s an arduous thing. It needs guts. Or the cheaper way is to find something that can make you even more unconscious than you are, so you cannot feel the misery. Find something that makes you utterly insensitive, some intoxicant, some painkiller that makes you so unconscious that you can escape into that unconsciousness and forget all about your anxiety, anguish, meaninglessness.”
People are living in suffering. If you’re familiar with Buddhism, you know this is the first of four noble truths: Life is suffering.
It is impossible to live without experiencing some kind of suffering. We endure physical suffering like injury, exhaustion, sickness, old age, and eventually death. And we endure psychological suffering like fear, frustrations, loneliness, embarrassment, disappointment, the death of loved ones, and so on.
There’s no doubt about this: Life is suffering. So, how do you get out of it? According to Osho, there are two ways.
The first way out of suffering is meditation, awareness, mindfulness. Of course, this is the way Osho and other spiritual masters recommend. It’s a difficult path. One that requires patience, hard work, and persistence.
The second way to alleviate suffering is to simply cover it up by becoming unconscious. This is what most of us do all the time. When we feel the slightest itch of negative emotions, we turn on the television, play video games, read the news, hop on Facebook, or check our emails.
This second way has become a real way of life for most of us. We dread even a moment of being alone with ourselves and our emotions. We have a desperate need to stay unconscious, so that we are unaware of our suffering.
David R. Hawkins, another spiritual teacher, put it well in his book Letting Go: “People are desperate to stay unconscious. We observe how often people flick on the television set the minute they enter a room and then walk around in a dream-like state, constantly being programmed by the data poured into them. People are terrified of facing themselves. They dread even a moment of aloneness. Thus the constant frantic activities: the endless socializing, talking, texting, reading, music playing, working, traveling, sightseeing, shopping, overeating, gambling, movie-going, pill-taking, drug-using, and cocktail-partying.”
We are so terrified of being with ourselves, most of us can’t even go to the toilet without our cellphones.
5. The Miracle of Awareness
“And the miracle of awareness is that you need not do anything except become aware. The very phenomenon of watching it, changes it.”
“Act, speak, with full awareness and then you will find a tremendous change in you. The very fact that you are aware changes your acts.”
“And when you watch, a clarity arises. Why does clarity arise out of watchfulness? Because the more watchful you become the more all your hastiness slows down. You become more graceful. As you watch, your chattering mind chatters less, because the energy that was becoming chattering is turning and becoming watchfulness – it is the same energy! Now more and more energy will be transformed into watchfulness, and the mind will not get its nourishment. Thoughts will start becoming thinner, they will start losing weight. Slowly, slowly, they will start dying. And as thoughts start dying, clarity arises. Now your mind becomes like a mirror.”
So, how exactly does awareness reduce suffering? How does it improve your life? How does it make you happier? What’s the point, basically?
The first thing to understand is that you don’t need to do anything in the process. You don’t need to try to change your thoughts, emotions, or your behavior. All you have to do is become more aware. Pay more attention. Be more alert, watchful.
The way positive change will happen is by the mere act of watching. As you watch something, it automatically starts changing for the better.
When you watch negative thoughts, they lose their power over you, they don’t disturb you so much anymore, and one day they’ll just disappear. When you watch negative emotions, the same thing happens. They lose their power over you and then they disappear.
When you watch your positive emotions, a different phenomenon happens. They grow stronger. As you keep watching them, you start experiencing them more and more often. In the scientific literature, this process of watching positive emotions is called savoring and it’s been shown to improve people’s happiness.
When you watch your behavior, something else happens. You will become aware that anger always makes you and everyone around you miserable. You will see that holding a grudge is a silly thing – all it does is make you miserable. Once you see what you get out of your behavior patterns, they will start dropping automatically. If you truly see that insulting people is silly, then you will automatically stop doing it. That’s the promise of awareness.
Here's another example Osho gives of the process:
“If you are carrying stones in your hand thinking that they are diamonds, I will not tell you to renounce those stones. I will simply say, ‘Be alert and have another look!’ If you yourself see that they are not diamonds, is there any need to renounce them? They will fall from your hands of their own accord. In fact, if you still want to carry them, you will have to make a great effort, you will have to bring great will, to still carry them. But you cannot carry them for long; once you have seen that they are useless, meaningless, you are bound to throw them away.”
6. Many Illnesses, One Prescription
“When people would ask Buddha, ‘What should we do not to be angry, or what should we do not to be greedy, or what should we do not to be so much obsessed with sex or food?’ his answer was always the same: be aware. Bring awareness to your life.”
“If two thousand persons fall asleep, they will have two thousand dreams. But if you come to me and ask how to get rid of this dream, the medicine will remain the same: wake up! It is not going to be different; the prescription is going to be the same. You can call it awareness, you can call it witnessing, you can call it remembering, you can call it meditation – these are different names for the same medicine.”
According to Osho, there’s only one cure for all the psychological troubles we’re facing: awareness.
If you struggle with anxiety, the cure is awareness. Watch your anxiety, be alert when it arises, pay attention to it. Be curious. See it for what it is. If you keep watching it long enough, it will eventually drop by itself.
Likewise, if you struggle with depression, the cure is watching the depression. If you struggle with insecurities, the cure is witnessing the insecurities. If you struggle with anger, the cure is becoming more aware of the anger. If you struggle with addictions, the cure is paying more attention to your addictive patterns.
7. The Goal: Living With as Much Awareness as You Can Muster
“Whatsoever you are doing – walking, sitting, eating, or if you are not doing anything, just breathing, resting, relaxing in the grass – never forget that you are a watcher.
You will forget it again and again. You will get involved in some thought, some feeling, some emotion, some sentiment – anything will distract you from the watcher. Remember, and run back to your center of watching.
Make it an inner process, continuously… You will be surprised at how life changes its whole quality. I can move my hand without any watchfulness, and I can also move my hand absolutely watching from inside the whole movement. The movements are totally different. The first movement is a robot movement, mechanical. The second movement is a conscious movement. And when you are conscious, you feel that hand from within; when you are not conscious, you only know the hand from without.”
This is kind of Osho’s core message: Live your life with as much awareness, alertness, mindfulness as possible.
You can be aware in any and every of your day’s activities: When you’re taking a shower, feel the water as it hits your body and smell the scent of your soap. When you’re walking to the gym, listen attentively to the sound of the wind hushing by. When you’re taking a nap, feel every part of your body lying there and pay attention to the fact that you’re slowly, slowly entering into a state of sleep.
If we realize and accept that awareness changes us for the better (see point five), then it makes sense to spend as much time as possible living with awareness. The more aware we become, the more we will grow as a person, the more we will let our miseries and past conditionings behind, and the happier and more fulfilled we will be.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Being mindful throughout our day-to-day lives is an incredibly difficult endeavor.
8. “It Is Arduous, It Is Difficult, But It Is Not Impossible.”
“Act mindfully. It is a long, arduous journey, and it is difficult to be aware even for a single moment; the mind is constantly flickering. But it is not impossible. It is arduous, it is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is possible – for everyone it is possible.”
The first thing to realize when embarking on a path of mindfulness is that it’ll be a long and arduous journey.
Our normal lives are the complete opposite of what we’re trying to do here. For our entire lifetimes, we have been asleep. We have lived mechanical, habitual, unconscious lives. Naturally, it will be difficult to change our ways. If you have lived a certain way for 20, 30, 40, 50, 60+ years, then changing will be a challenge.
And so, we will miss many times. What matters is not that we miss. What matters is how we react when we miss…
9. You Will Miss Many Times
“Move in life remaining continuously watchful. Again and again you will forget. Don’t become miserable because of that; it is natural. For millions of lives you have never tried watchfulness, so it is simple, natural, that you go on forgetting again and again. But the moment you remember, again watch.
Remember one thing: when you remember that you have forgotten watching, don’t become sorry, don’t repent; otherwise, again you are wasting time. Don’t feel miserable: ‘I missed again.’ Don’t start feeling ‘I am a sinner.’ Don’t start condemning yourself, because this is a sheer waste of time. Never repent for the past! Live in the moment. If you had forgotten, so what? It was natural – it has become a habit, and habits die hard. And these are not habits imbibed in one life; these are habits imbibed in millions of lives. So if you can remain watchful even for a few moments, feel thankful. Even those few moments are more than can be expected.”
“So remember one thing: whenever you realize that you have gone to the past or into the future, don’t create a problem out of it. Simply come to the present, not creating any problem. It’s okay! Simply bring back your awareness. You will miss millions of times; it is not going to happen right now, immediately. It can happen, but it cannot because of you. It is such a long, long, fixed mode of behavior that you cannot change it right now. But no worry, existence is not in a hurry. Eternity can wait eternally. Don’t create a tension about it.
Whenever you feel you have missed, come back, that’s all. Don’t feel guilty; that’s a trick of the mind, now it is again playing a game. Don’t repent: ‘I again forgot.’ Just when you think, come back to whatsoever you are doing. Taking your bath, come back; eating your food, come back; going for a walk, come back. The moment you feel you are not here and now, come back – simply, innocently. Don’t create guilt. If you become guilty, then you miss the point.”
Let’s say you decide to bring more mindfulness to your life. What will inevitably happen is that you forget being mindful over and over again. You are mindful for a moment, but then you get distracted. And then it may take you a few minutes, hours, or even days until you realize, “Oh, I haven’t been mindful. I forgot!”
This is natural and it’s bound to happen a lot. In those moments, our natural response is to feel guilty and beat ourselves up, “Why am I so bad at this? I can’t even stay mindful for a few minutes! I’m terrible! I’m the worst!”
This isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s just more unconsciousness, more sleepwalking.
Instead of condemning yourself or creating guilt, simply accept it and come back to the present moment. Don’t waste time worrying about the fact that you’ve missed. Just come back. Simply. Innocently.
10. The Only Real Change Is a Change in Consciousness
“How can you escape yourself? Wherever you go, you will be with yourself. Wherever you go, you will behave in the same way. Situations may be different, but how can you be different? You will be asleep in the Himalayas. What different does it make whether you sleep in Pune or in Boston, or you sleep in London or in the Himalayas? Wherever you are, you will be dreaming. Drop dreaming! Become more alert. Suddenly dreams disappear, and with dreams all miseries disappear.”
People keep trying to change their lives by changing externals. We buy new cars, new clothes, new furniture. We get a new job. We move to a new place. We get a new wife or husband.
We can keep changing externals all we want. The key factor in how we feel is ourselves. Even with the new car, new job, new spouse, new place… we will remain the same person with the same conditioning, with the same thought patterns, with the same emotional problems.
If we want real change in life, we need a change in consciousness. Eckhart Tolle puts this nicely in The Power of Now: “You may win $10 million, but that kind of change is no more than skin deep. You would simply continue to act out the same conditioned patterns in more luxurious surroundings. Humans have learned to split the atom. Instead of killing ten or twenty people with a wooden club, one person can now kill a million just by pushing a button. Is that real change?”
If you enjoyed this, you’ll probably enjoy other books about mindfulness and spirituality as well. Here are three suggestions:
- Peace Is Every Step by Thich Naht Hanh. This is a book about mindfulness and mindful living by one of the best known Buddhist teachers of the world right now.
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Tolle is probably the best known spiritual teacher of the 21st century so far. He talks about the same topics as Osho, but tends to use different language for it.
- The Mindfulness Solution by Ronald Siegel. If you want a science-based and Western look at mindfulness, this is a good choice.
And if you want more summaries similar to this, check out Blinkist for instant access to 2,000+ summaries of the best nonfiction and self-help books ever.
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