Mindfulness is a term used to describe paying attention to what is occurring in the present moment. In most definitions it includes being aware of passing thoughts. In this post I explore how mindfulness increases freedom and the ability to choose our actions.
Mindfulness Increases Sensitivity while Decreasing Reactivity
The opposite of mindfulness is to be unaware of ones present situation. The opposite of freedom is to be unable to select our actions.
When we become emotionally upset the chemistry of our blood changes, our physical posture and tension levels change and the way we see ourselves and our circumstances change also.
Not only do we experience ourselves and our situation differently but others experience us differently also. This alters both the options available to us and our perception of what is now possible.
Emotional Freedom through Mindfulness
We experience emotions as either pleasant or unpleasant feelings within our bodies. The more certain we are about how things ought to be, the more often reality is going to challenge those assumptions.
When our beliefs or assumptions are challenged we feel a tightening or contraction in our tissues. This can escalate into a full blown threat response with adrenaline and cortisol and may lead to harsh words or actions.
In situations which are truly threatening, these automatic responses can save our lives. In situations where only our opinions, ideals or values are threatened, these reactions damage relationships, waste energy and limit the range of actions available to us. They cost us our freedom.
We can either desensitise ourselves to these feelings of tension and “negative” emotion or we can do the opposite, which is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfullness is about Identity, how we see ourselves determines our level of Freedom
Mindfulness is a state of alertness to our senses. Our senses provide real time information about events occurring both externally and internally.
Much of what we notice internally is the result of how we perceive external events. It is our stories and assumptions that determine these inner sensations of emotion.
What happens externally is largely outside of our control, the greater part of mindfulness is being aware of the inner sensations and what is triggering them.
Mindfulness is the art of objectivity, of being able to recognise both inner events, (emotions), and external events, (sensations) as seperate from our assumptions and the meanings we place on them.
Meanings and Kindness alter our Freedom
When we are able to experience emotions and sensations as seperate from any story or perception, then we avoid making them mean anything. If we can accept what is happening without measurement or comparison then we remain free to choose our next action.
If we compare each feeling and sensation to what happened in the past or project what that may mean for our future, then our actions will be limited by our beliefs. Our meanings will determine and limit our actions.
While we are remembering past events or considering possible future impacts our attention is largely in our thoughts so we have reduced our sensitivity to real relationships in the present moment.
If we are able to remain present with the feelings and sensations as they arise, we remain fully sensitive, fully aware of our situation and all the rich possibilities it presents. We notice tiny differences and what creates them, we begin to understand the relationships between events with greater clarity.
This understanding of relationship and our own inter-relationship with everything and everyone usually results in us being more kind. We recognise the commonality of both joy and suffering and see ourselves in others.
Doorways into Mindfulness
Be the act of observation, rather than the observer.
The observer is the aggregation of comparisons and judgements, of values and stories, comforts, fears, pride and shame. The observer who has created an identity out of their likes and dislikes is full of assumptions.
Observation without judgement is curiosity itself. It is perhaps the reason that trillions of cells work together to produce a nervous system capable of abstract thought. Sensitivity to reality rather than to meanings allows Mindfulness.
Identity determines Mindfulness
Simply being aware of the rich sensation pouring into our bodies gives rise to a felt sense of self. Developing talents, skills and traumas differentiates how we “feel” and come to know ourselves.
When our identity is determined by the quality of attention that others give to us, how we feel, and who we feel ourselves to be, will be dependant on those other people. Attention seeking behaviour emerges from this part of our identity.
The perception of threat keeps us reacting with inappropriate emotions and thoughts. The threats are most often to our stories of self, to all the assumptions, likes and dislikes that form our identity. The more stories we have, the more we depend on others to validate us, the more often we will feel emotions that have nothing to do with reality.
Much of thought itself is an inappropriate reaction that further de-sensitizes us to current happenings, making graceful action impossible.
To be mindful, I release the “I” of my Identity and allow all my biology to resonate with what is happening. The Christian cross is the Letter I with a line crossing it out.
To identify through the reality of biology and its current situation rather than through stories of how and why things should be is called “acceptance”. Our biology is interdependent with all the biology that coats this planet. The self as seperate is a perspective that can be set aside and a great deal of fear goes with it.