How do you embody self-awareness?

Critically engaging with your position—for people who work with people

Myriam Diatta
Our Everyday Forms
8 min readDec 18, 2019


We must investigate ourselves — more specifically, the bodies we live in that contain our worldviews. They are the root for our responses to the world.

Working with people—as a researcher, community organizer, caretaker, educator, and in my particular case, design researcher—is partially about you and how everyone ‘in the room’ (and not present in the room) relates and affects one another. As quoted from the studio I co-run, Matter–Mind Studio,

There’s no such thing as being ‘neutral’ or ‘objective.’ Establish the ability to sense how each individual you’re working with is reading you and how your presence affects them. Are you in a position of power? How are you carrying out or counteracting that in your body language, the configuration of the room and your words? Are you seen as a friend, a colleague, a threat, a teacher, their boss’s buddy, a mentor, or a stranger? And the big question, ‘Should you be there in the first place?’ Be reflexive.

When you wish a person (or from the position of one of my communities, a designer) would be more self aware — what might that actually look like to do that? Beyond reading, cerebrally and intellectually engaging with theories, how do you practice it?

Frames from a series of videos filmed early June 2019 in Helsinki, FI

I am sitting in the entryway of [her] apartment. I am sitting in a chair looking at the back of my own head. The side of my own head. It seems to be late afternoon and the sun is setting. It is autumn. I am inside an invisible, warm sphere. It emanates from me. I am facing nothing. [She] is there but she is far away. As she moves in the space, this sphere flexes and responds. As she speaks it turns and spins slowly, responding to every movement and change in energy. I am here because I choose to be and to serve the purpose of connecting with [her] and the objects she has in her possession. I am there because the point is to be affected. The point is to stay voluminous and solid, yet just outside those bounds, you are affected. I am ancient. I cannot be pinned down to time. Now in front of me is [her] sharing one of the first objects she wants to share with me. She is holding it in her hands and I am looking down on it. I feel my feet on the ground and am still enough. Ready but not anticipating hearing what she has to pass on to me. To my left is a figure I know to be someone who I follow and try to become. They’re wearing clothes that are intentional and easy. They don’t look more aged than me, but they look elder inside and stronger. To my right is air-yness. There isn’t much there. The rest of the space around me besides myself, this figure to my left, it is open. There is nothing behind me but I feel pressure on either side of my spine and light weight across my shoulders and down my back. I am holding myself up. Above my head is a dark space, and I don’t know what it is. It’s not close enough to create a shadow but its there. It is small and flat. Below my feet is the weight of my standing where I am standing pressing down.

Prompt: Whatever comes up when I close my eyes after viewing the photos above

Written while listening to naran ratan in my rented apartment in Mexico City at my desk

December 16, 2019 at about 8:15 pm


I am nowhere in particular. It’s not empty. I belong there and its full. I am sitting in a chair while there is a lot going on. It’s neither day nor night. I am nowhere in particular. It is bright and warm. I am inside myself. I am experiencing things through my own eyes from inside my own body and head though my eyes are closed. I am experiencing my body slightly larger, scaled up than it actually is. From the inside it feels a bit roomier. I am not facing pressed up against myself. There’s a little room. It’s roomy. But I am still aware I am inside myself. It is just me here. But from my memory and my bodily aches and itches I can feel people’s presence. It’s not the people. It’s their presence that’s showed up. I am here because I live in my body. I am my age, 29. In front of me, I can feel my nose and my sinuses buzzing, tingling, like lava in a lamp. Behind me I can feel my shoulders bulged, not totally relaxed. I relax my shoulders after being made aware of them. I relax my shoulders to relax my self. My left and right are being pressed into myself. It’s not tense but it tingles and feels claustrophobic from the sides but there’s plenty of room up above and down below though there’s less space below. Below my feet is a huge black weight, but it’s not weighing me down it moves with me when I need to but it stays extremely heavy pulling me down.

Prompt: What it feels like to sit the way I did in the photos above

Written while listening to Resavoir in my rented apartment in Mexico City at my desk

December 16, 2019 at about 8:30 pm


I am heading into a meeting that I’ve been hyping myself up to go to, building myself up to show up to. I feel totally tiny but dense and heavy as I walk up the street, into the building and up the elevator. I feel nearly my original size by the time we all arrive and are sitting at the table but a little crooked and bent. I excuse myself to go to the bathroom because I feel a pounding in my head and pressure behind my eyes and I throw up in the toilet. I feel better and back to full size but with lots of aches from being tiny and crooked. Black oil was surrounding me back then but didn’t know it. We start the meeting.

I am in water and outside in front of a building full of green around us. The person in question is very far so small in my view, but they’re really just a few meters away. They’re also standing higher up on an elevated patch of dirt and plants. I’m looking up at them as they talk. We’re in the water now. The conversation is being brought to a high point though it’s less of a point and more of an opening. The opening is brought upwards, but I am moving and being drawn across and away from it. My whole body is moving away from it towards my right. It’s over. I ended it. I was feeling pissed off.

We are in a room with a dozen people sitting around a table. The group is drawn to a few people in the room. We’re are all sitting. As I am sitting in the chair, I am still back in the other room with a piece of paper that used to have notes on it but now went blank. The room I am in is still going on as I feel myself in the other room. My body parts or small and big parts of my body are scattered and there’s not really a core to my body. The parts of my body are on one person’s shoulder, pretending to be another person. And hovering around the room and the hallway on the other side of the door. There’s a huge responsibility. Later in the day it’s time to voice our options and I’m supposed to have, I should have, I should be a person who has their parts contained in this room and is in this room. But I’m not and my parts are all over the place and I still don’t have a core. But I know that I at least look whole so I write down my opinion and put it with everyone else’s. He reads each one out loud and I’m still spread out wide and vast. He reaches a conclusion and I’m still there, but little by little I’m feeling the dread land in me and it’s the only thing that feels focused and present.

Prompt: What it feels like to sit the way I did but this time if i were to be live in a heavier situation. Or situations.

While listening to Caribou, 218 Beverly in my rented apartment in Mexico City at my desk

December 16, 2019 at about 8:45 pm

Inciting Change and Action

  • How I might reciprocate the way(s) others affect me?
  • How do I tap in to how it feels to be aware of the space I take up?
    i.e. The space I ‘take up’ with my actions, self-aware thoughts, with my perceived size, feelings of dread, etc.?
  • In-the-moment, how might these sensations affect what I offer others?
  • How might they affect what I have room to consider?
  • How might I gauge my limit(s) and limitations for engaging in a conversation or situation?
  • How do I sense what is appropriate and successful for a particular situation?
  • What might it take to develop the skills to tap into these ways of knowing right then and there?
    i.e. Tap into them live and act on them rather than in deeply reflective, yet retrospective writing days, weeks, years later.
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The several written vignettes here are unedited, steam-of-consciousness writing that is part of the research methodology I am using called Critical Autoethnography. The self-reflective (the ‘auto’ in autoethnography) writing plus the critical theory lets a critical autoethnographer do [theory]—which is important for a person working with people. For me, it’s to do [black feminism], do [by-us-for-us], do [resistance], and to do [my Black Asian American self], do [my Senegalese Japanese estatounidense self]. This very specific kind of writing helps me to make visible and make sense of when I say “we need to tap into our bodily ways of knowing when making decisions, taking action, and reflecting in day to day work.”

This writing is partially guided by cartoonist, author, and teacher Lynda Berry’s 2008 illustrated book, What It Is. Specifically, pages 144 and 145. Berry was introduced to me by researcher, Stacy Holman-Jones, one of my Critical Autoethnography guides.