There is freedom that comes with awareness, because with it comes the opportunity to make a different choice.
David Foster Wallace began his famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech, This Is Water, with a parable about two young fish swimming along who happen to meet an old fish swimming the other way. The old fish nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish swim on for a bit, then one of them looks over at the other and asks, “What the hell is water?”
The point of Wallace’s parable is obvious: the things that should be the most obvious to us are often not that obvious at all, i.e., we get so caught up and immersed in our daily activities we don’t notice what’s going on around us. Or worse, we don’t notice what’s going on inside us: inside our heads, inside our hearts. In the case of the two young fish, they were unaware of their environment: they were unaware of the water that surrounded them. The water was something that was everywhere—essential for their survival—yet they were unaware it existed.
We might quickly assume that we know what we're swimming in, but there are always more subtle layers to consider. In fact, each day we are provided with a myriad of opportunities to develop greater self-awareness, opportunities to recognize latent choices. Without awareness, however, we ned up make the same choices over and over again because we don't know — or aren't aware — there was a choice in the first place.
The awareness I'm talking about isn't overly complex or transcendental; It is simply when we are able to realize what we are doing. We observe ourselves, notice our reactions, actions, and choices as if we're watching them play out on a screen. We can then begin understanding why we are doing what we are doing. Often times becomes difficult not to change because we are no longer asleep to the truth behind our behaviors. We also begin to realize that, just as much as we are the root source behind the causes for our behaviors, we are also the originator for any changes that we want to happen.
Thus, there is a freedom that comes with awareness. Rather than thinking that we are stuck in a repetitive cycle where there is no escape, we begin to see that we very much play a hand in creating our lives. Whether we are aware of them or not, our behaviors and choices are always ours to make. Our past and our present no longer have to dictate our future when we choose to be aware. We are then free to move beyond our old limits, make new choices, and take new actions. With such awareness, we see the water — we see it all.