You can tell a lot about a culture from its heroes. When I think about the prototypical action hero, it’s a stylish guy in sunglasses, with a gun. What does that mean? It means power, basically: the power to alter his surroundings, the power to muscle through inertia and make things happen, even when powerful entities resist him. At heart, it’s a fantasy about being able to change the world according to one’s will, opposition be damned.
But for my money, instead of lurking down here at the street tough level, it’s better to go several levels up, to awareness.
Because awareness in, a sense, the grand prize, the doer and accomplisher of everything. It is that which is most efficacious. Returning to our movie logic, a dramatized version of our culture’s desires, all problems can be solved in one of three ways: with money, by force of personality, or with a gun. Rephrased, with a carrot, with ourselves, or with a stick. Yet awareness hovers above them all, solving both problems before they even have a chance to establish themselves. With a sufficiently high level of awareness, all problems at the lower levels become trivial.
Take money. I need money to live, and to accomplish my desires. With enough awareness, generating money becomes trivial. If I know a company backwards and forwards, I can project its future performance; the better I am at this, the better I can do this. Then I predict its stock movements; then it’s trivial to double down on those, and profit. Or say I know the state of the weather, perfectly and completely, across the nation – even if it’s just for this moment, just this month. With this knowledge I can again predict movements in commodities prices due to the lag between current state and market information, leading me back to the same place. Awareness in this sense is like a mint; with enough of it, I can basically print cash.
So much for the carrot. Now let’s take the stick. With enough awareness I can nip problems in the bud, before they become problems. I can de-escalate them before they ever manifest, by paying off someone here or pulling aside someone there. Crank the levels of awareness even higher, and there’s sure to be an even simpler, $1 dollar solution somewhere in there, maybe something as simple as placing a phone call or sending an email to someone who would eventually cause me problems. Awareness easily sweeps past this, to the extent that someone with enough awareness doesn’t even appear to have any problems – because they’ve all been resolved in their earliest, almost formless state.
Finally, ourselves. If force of personality is the third leg here that the other ones depend on, awareness of ourselves is the ultimate prize. Most of us have very poor awareness of ourselves – the impression we are making, even things as simple as our posture. Massage this with enough awareness, and charisma naturally pours outwards. Awareness is actually most applicable to ourselves, since we can create a feedback loop, possible in no other way, between ourselves, action, and change, redoubled upon itself. When our awareness grows, our power grows with it.
This is a riff on movie dreams, on where our desires, as evolved by the market, have placed us, in imaginary space. By examining them, we learn what we are seeking through them, and – extrapolating back out – how we can find those things more effectively, in the real world. Just like these movie traits have their real-life analogues, awareness does, too.
Think about your work habits for a moment, about how productive you really are during an 8-hour day. There are bound to be some physical distractions, but they are small, and the bulk of our day is still free to work – if we are free to apply ourselves to it. What, then, is the biggest obstacle to our productivity? What we call, amorphously, ‘slacking off’ – reading an article here, lurking on Facebook there. The all-important follow-up question here is, what’s behind slacking off? At the core level, it’s really an emotional issue – not being satisfied with our place in the moment, rebelling in some inchoate way by doing something which is not in it.
Awareness helps here, too. When we become aware, deeply aware, of what we are doing in our ‘breaks’, we see counterproductive ways of operating, why we do them, and how we can grown beyond them. It’s not yelling at ourselves (which, after all, our parents and teachers did for us, in our most formative years), but spotting a misguided attempt at socializing, and then redirecting it.
By accumulating all of our small awareness-corrections towards a larger goal, we can make the ultimate fantasy possible, that which the man in sunglasses has been harkening to all along: conscious, unbroken progress towards our goals, systematized and with all the self-handicapping ironed out. That is what makes awareness the ultimate prize. That is why, with enough awareness, everything else becomes easy.