Expanding Awareness

Awareness is a User Interface

By Michael Ashcroft | 6 min read
Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

In What is the Alexander Technique? I defined awareness as "the space that attention can move around within; the capacity, moment by moment, to be able to notice things that could be noticed."

Let’s play a game.

First, please look at this optical illusion. Is it a duck? Or is it a rabbit? Or is it both at once?

Spend a few moments to really see each version and switch back and forth between the two a few times. This is important: the rest won’t make sense if you don’t spend a few moments getting comfortable with this ‘switching’.

Bunny or duck? Duck or bunny?


Thanks for doing that.

Now on with the game.

How many of the following statements are true?

Sorry (not sorry), but I played a trick on you. The game had nothing to do with the optical illusion, but was meant to show you a few important things:

Now, let’s get that expanded awareness back.

Right now, in this moment, a_nd without moving your attention away from these word_s:

Notice also how you didn’t have to do anything to be able to notice more of the world, nor did you have to actually look at or ‘listen at’ it. There’s something going on here.

Like I said, awareness is the capacity, moment by moment, to be able to notice things that could be noticed, and you can’t do noticing.

Awareness Gives You Agency and the Freedom to Choose

Here’s a fun question to ponder.

While you were engaged in figuring out the illusion and making it switch back and forth… could you have stopped and done anything else? Or were you on a kind of autopilot that released you back into the world, either when the task was completed or as it became less salient? This effect would have been be more apparent if your awareness was more collapsed, by the way.

If you noticed this, just think: how much is this happening throughout your day to day life? I use the example of browsing Twitter: when you’re in infinite scroll mode, are you able to stop? Or do you have to wait, somewhat unconsciously, until your attention is no longer hooked, whatever the cause of that may be?

This is something you can explore in your own life.

If something is outside your awareness — i.e., in a given moment when you wouldn’t be able to notice something that you might notice if you were in a different mode — are you able to take action in relation to it?

For example:

This is why I say that expanding your awareness increases your agency — it literally makes more options available to you.

But! As you’ve seen, it’s also trivially easy for your awareness to be collapsed by external (and internal) stimuli.

If the space between stimulus and response is very small, you will almost certainly end up following your habitual response, over and over. Your options disappear just at the moment you might want to choose one of them.

So How About That User Interface?

My goal with this article has been to show you that these dynamics around awareness exist. It’s a whole new world of experience, with effects that seem obvious on reflection, but that lacked words and a useable framework.

THIS is why Alexander Technique, I think, could be so valuable. Alexander Technique lets you engage with the world at the level of awareness, rather than at the level of the objects within it.

For example, many people lean forwards and slouch when they work at a laptop, because they ‘forget’ that the space above and behind them exists, and their bodies follow their awareness.

If that’s you, you might use muscle to ‘sit up straight’ and sit back… or you could expand your awareness up and back and watch as your body reorganises itself, without you ‘doing’ anything. This does actually work, and people who have taken the course are reporting this kind of experience.

This particular rabbit hole goes deep, and this is already a long article, so I won’t list more examples now.

But the point is that the stuff you can notice happening in and to awareness is not passive — you can reach in and play with it. And when you do, things change. Your body moves differently, you think differently, you make different choices, and on and on.

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