Awareness is our key to a safe and worry free life. Awareness goes hand in hand with avoidance. The first step in being able to avoid a potentially dangerous situation is to recognize that the potential situation even exists.
A misconception of awareness is that it causes disquiet and paranoia. In reality, a moderate level of awareness reduces stress and anxiety. Being aware of our surroundings is restful because we are in tune with the environment and can rest easy that there are no threats. Recognizing that no threat exists and the knowledge that if something were to arise, we will catch it early, is comforting.
There are five (5) levels of awareness and they are identified by color. The original civilian color-coding system was developed by Col. Jeff Cooper and is often called the “Cooper Color Code.” The original system used by the military included five colors and the civilian version often only uses four colors. I follow my instructor and friend’s direction, Massad Ayoob, and teach all five colors to my students.
This is a complete lack of awareness. This individual is focused internally and is oblivious to potential problems in his or her immediate environment. This individual has let his or her guard completely down.
This is the condition of relaxed awareness. This is the preferred condition when out in public and the workplace. This person is aware of potential threats, but as no threat is immediately visible, he or she remains relaxed.
A specific potential or realized danger has been identified. This is a condition of heightened awareness; we are on alert. Actions are being taken to avoid a potential conflict. Children and other people under our protection are being shielded. Avoidance techniques are being employed.
This is the conflict condition. The defender is actively engaged in self-protection. This includes physical defense, taking cover, escaping or any combination thereof.
Condition black is when the body is so overloaded with stimuli that the brain shuts down. The defender is unable to comprehend or respond to the immediate threat.
We strive to avoid living in Condition White. We no longer have to be aware of our surroundings to protect against changes in the weather or four-legged predators, so we have lost many of our awareness skills and the understanding of the threats in our environment. This lack of awareness puts us at risk. Our greatest threat today is from an occasional two-legged predator who looks, smells and acts just like us (until he strikes). Our urban societies have placed so many false protections around us that we have forgotten how to even recognize real danger. When we are presented with a true threat, we often think to ourselves, “This can’t be happening to me. I’m a good person and I’m in a nice neighborhood.”
The goal is to live our lives in Condition Yellow, relaxed awareness. This is our happy zone where we keep a passive eye out for threats. Many people misunderstand Condition Yellow, believing it to be a state of paranoia. Nothing could be further from the truth. In this state we can relax and enjoy our surroundings with the understanding that we will recognize true threats when they arise. When no threats are present, we can allocate more attention to other things that matter such as our family and children. Our enhanced awareness also allows us to more fully enjoy our surroundings. We see more, hear more and smell more. We are more in tune with the world around us and thus share a deeper relationship with our environment.
Achieving a persistent Condition Yellow is not instinctual in today’s urban environment. In the beginning, it will take conscious effort to stay in Condition Yellow. However, after a few weeks of diligent effort it will become an unconscious habit, part of the self-protection toolkit. Once ingrained into our person, we will not even know we are doing it until a threat appears and it is thrust to the forefront of our conscious thought. Once we achieve our relaxed-yet-aware state, we can remain stress-free with the knowledge we will be warned if a true danger presents itself. Until then, we can enjoy ourselves in quiet comfort.
I am often asked where people can learn relaxed awareness. One of the best sources is Theravada Buddhist meditation. The practice is called Insight Meditation, Vipassana Meditation, or Mindfulness Meditation. Courses and lectures are often free and available all over the country (and world). There are also free podcasts that offer Insight Meditation training and guided meditation sessions. My favorite is “Zencast” with Gil Fronsdal (www.zencast.org).