Last weekend, my friend shared with me a story from his past. As I thought about it later that day, I realized his story had some important insights to distinguish about awareness.
Back in the eastern states, where heating oil is routinely delivered to homes for winter warmth, the driver of an oil truck accidentally hit a dog in the street one day. You see, the dog ran through the same routine every time. The dog would run behind the truck, then, when the driver stopped the truck to make his delivery, the dog would run around to the front of the truck. The driver, who knew this dog’s routine of running to the front of the truck, would then, drive slowly and carefully away, in order to avoid the dog. My friend, who I will call Sam, wondered back then, how the driver, who always drove the same route, could have possibly hit the dog. “Wasn’t he paying attention?”
Then, as if something jarred Sam’s memory, he went on to say that later on that at another time, while driving along in his car, and going the same familiar route he always went, he too, accidentally hit a dog that was running along the side of his car.
Being a dog lover, Sam was grieved by what had happened. But how could this happen? Just like the oil truck driver, Sam knew this dog was running down the road. Wasn’t he paying attention?
There are a few things to get from this story. The first one is… even though awareness seems so simple, it can also be complicated. It’s so easy to dismiss a person who has made a mistake, as being unaware. And, from another perspective, you could say that… maybe they were unaware. But, the thing is… everyone is aware of something all of the time; it’s just a matter of where our attention is focused.
Case in point: While Sam couldn’t understand how the oil truck driver could have possibly hit the dog, since it was part of his route, Sam had the experience of understanding this perspective more clearly, by hitting the dog that was a part of his route.
You see, what happened was this… although Sam saw the dog running in the street beside his car, Sam also noticed something ahead of him in the distance that looked very much like a hat. When Sam focused on the hat, he lost sight of the dog running in the road and the damage was done. Likewise, even though the oil truck driver was aware of the same old routine with the dog, that time, for some reason, he was focused on something else… it was probably his next delivery down the road. This is how accidents happen.
In the story, neither Sam, nor the oil truck driver were bad men for their actions. In fact, both were good men who would never want to harm any animal. Nevertheless, they both unintentionally did.
Awareness is an interesting thing. Like a camera lens, a microscope or a magnifying glass, awareness can be focused to zoom in and out. At times, we might only be able to see the “big picture” of what’s ahead of us, instead of the immediate details at hand or visa versa. Sometimes we are so focused on our outer world, that we forget about paying attention to our inner world… and visa versa. We could be so focused on the past or the future, that we completely miss the NOW, or any other time we should be focused on in that moment.
The second thing to get about awareness is that people are not out to disappoint us by making purposeful mistakes. Yet, too often, we relate to them like they are, because, at the time… or in hindsight, we might have been focused on something completely different. While we may share in the same general perspective or view as another, the differences between us could be in what we are focused on, for different things matter to different people. But really… who are we to say what someone should be focused on? Or that our focus is any better than another’s. As with a perspective on any issue, there are many choices, within that perspective, to focus on.
In the end, no matter what is being focused on, it’s all awareness, since awareness is where our attention is being directed, in any given moment.