Enhancing Receptivity through Mindfulness

Jamie Bristow and Rosie Bell maintain from their research that mindfulness enhances our receptivity thus enabling us to reclaim our attention and sense of agency – our sense of the ability to positively influence our relationships and our external environment.  According to their research, mindfulness increases our receptivity in a number of ways – widening the “bandwidth of perception”, overcoming unhelpful habituated responses, reducing our distorted perceptions,  improving our relationships, and developing our “don’t know mind”. 

Widening the bandwidth of perception

Mindfulness increases our capacity to take in information through its emphasis on acceptance of “what is”, consciously noticing bodily sensations and heightened development of our senses.  Acceptance is a precondition for action, not inaction – if we cannot accept what is happening to us (e.g. through internal dialogue such as “Why me?”, “What have I done to deserve this?” or “This can’t be happening to me”), then we cannot move forward and take constructive action to redress our situation. 

Mindfulness meditation often focuses on our bodily sensations – we are encouraged to notice what is happening in us bodily when we experience difficult emotions.  By noticing our bodily sensations, we are better able to name our emotions and tame them. Our bodies are windows to our feelings – by paying attention to them we widen the bandwidth of our perception and gain better access to our inner landscape.

Mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, in his book, Coming to Our Senses, shows us how to access all our senses – e.g., our seeing,  touchscape, soundscape, smellscape, tastescape – to enable us to heal ourselves and act positively on our world.  Being open to our senses enhances the depth and width of our perception and increases our sense of connection with nature – developing a sense of empowerment and resulting in healing ourselves.

Overcoming unhelpful habituated responses

As we come to understand our inner landscape through mindfulness, we gain insight into our negative triggers and their origins. This leads to awareness of our reactivity and habituated responses.  Often, we are triggered by our distorted perceptions that arise because of our bias, projections, prejudice, and unfounded assumptions.  As we unearth these distortions in perception through mindfulness meditation, we are better able to understand their influence over us and what we perceive, and to exercise control over our reactions.

Improving our relationships

Through mindfulness, we not only reduce our perceptual distortions but also emotional baggage that can destroy relationships.  We are able to bring to the relationship increased self-awareness and self-regulation.  For example, by reflecting on any resentment we carry towards another person, we can come to see their side of the story, understand where they are coming from and reduce our self-absorption and hurt – thus healing our relationship.  Through mindfulness we can also bring to the relationship an increased consciousness of our inner landscape, a sense of personal empowerment (not disabling dependence) and a growing capacity to feel and express empathy.  We are better able to engage in active listening because we can be present in the moment of the conversation, attentive to non-verbal cues and less defensive and self-protective.  Mantra meditations, as one form of mindfulness, can increase our capacity for deep listening.

Developing our “don’t know mind”

Jamie and Rosie write about the “beginner’s mind” developed through openness and curiosity  – which are hallmarks of mindfulness according to the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC).  In discussing the lessons from death and dying, Frank Ostaseski encourages us to develop what he calls, the “don’t know mind” which has the same characteristics of openness and curiosity and he suggests that these characteristics can be developed through mindfulness meditation.  The result is that we are able to enter conversations with others not trying to be “interesting” but demonstrating being “interested in” the other person – a stance that enhances trust and relationships.  Mindfulness enables us to listen for understanding rather than attempting to always persuade others to our point of view – in the process, developing our influence and strengthening our relationships.

Reflection

As we grow in mindfulness, we can strengthen our sense of agency by developing our receptivity – to information and to others.  We can gain better awareness of our distorted perceptions and their impacts, develop greater self-control over our reactions to negative triggers, improve our relationships and grow our influence through our curiosity and openness.  Our enhanced perceptual bandwidth developed through paying attention to our senses gives us uncluttered access to our inner landscape and the healing power and sense of empowerment of our natural landscape.

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Image by yamabon from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Reclaiming Attention through Mindfulness

In a recent research paper published by the mindfulnessinitiative.org, Jamie Bristow and Rosie Bell identified how mindfulness strengthens agency in these challenging times.  Their paper focuses on three main outcomes of mindfulness that build agency.  The first of these was “perceiving, gathering and processing information”.  Drawing on extensive research, they showed how mindfulness builds our capacities in these areas by progressively developing our attention, receptivity and “cognitive resilience”.

Reclaiming attention

By definition, mindfulness involves “paying attention in the present moment” to develop awareness.  Mindfulness meditation builds our “awareness muscle” by helping us to overcome distractions while focusing on an anchor.  We can become distracted by our own incessant thoughts, our basic drives and the relentless marketing that stimulates our desire to have, hold and enjoy.  Through mindfulness, we can progressively regain control over our attention and direct it to more meaningful and healthful endeavours.

In discussing “reclaiming attention”, Jamie and Rosie make the point that what we attend to creates our reality.  They draw on the work by cognitive neuroscientist Professor Stanislas Dehaene featured in his 2020 book, How We Learn, when they maintain that what we choose to pay attention to, shapes our inner and outer world – “our brains and our whole reality”.  

The lack of paying attention in a meaningful and healthful way can lead to disconnection – a loss of connection to others, meaningful work, and  childhood traumas.  This disconnectedness, in turn, can result in alienation and loneliness along with depression and anxiety.  Mindfulness meditation, on the other hand, can help us to train our attention so that we can value our external connectedness, build our inner landscape, and manage difficult emotions.

Reflection

The paper by Jamie and Rosie reinforce the idea that we have choice – we can choose what we pay attention to and how we pay attention.  We can create our own reality – the quality of our life, our health, and our relationships.  As we grow in mindfulness, we can build our agency – our capacity to act on our inner and outer world.  So, mindfulness will not only help us to realise effective self-care in these challenging times, but also enable us to have the awareness and focus to act wisely in the world for the benefit of others.

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Image by yamabon from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Overcoming Hasty Judgments

Daniel Kahneman highlighted the tendency to develop hasty judgements in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. Daniel, Nobel prize winner in economics, explains that most often we make hasty, automatic and intuitive judgments that are helpful in crisis times but can rupture relationships. He describes this “fast thinking” as System 1 thinking. In contrast, “slow thinking” (System 2 thinking) is more considered, reflective, deliberative and analytical. Fast thinking is resource efficient for the brain, taking less time and brain power. However, as neuroscientist Gina Rippon points out, these “pervasive shortcuts” are riddled with stereotypical thinking, half-truths, myths and untruths.

Overcoming hasty judgments

Mindfulness coach, Brian Shiers, highlights the fact that one of the problems with System 1 thinking is that we tend to have blind faith in our perception, however ill-informed or inadequate it is. We do not subject it to scrutiny or challenge because such activity would be time consuming in our time-poor world. The increasing pace of life and our heightened reactivity make it more likely that we will resort to the time efficient System 1 thinking. We end up seeing the world and individuals through the veil of our biases and prejudices.

Brian Shiers suggests that we can overcome this tendency to make hasty judgments, by developing “meta-attention” – an outcome of mindfulness which heightens the depth and “granularity” of our inner awareness. He suggests that to truly understand other people we first need to get in touch with our System 1 thinking which hastily boxes them into one of more of our easy-to-use stereotypes. He offers a meditation to look inside our self to observe our thinking and how it shapes our judgments about individuals.

Developing “meta attention”

In a MARC guided meditation podcast, Brian leads us in a meditation designed to increase our attention and power of concentration. The meditation is grounded in our body through a focus on the breath. He suggests that it is important during this meditation to avoid a tendency to perfectionism and to ensure that we engage in observation of our “thought stream”, rather than analysis.

The guided meditation involves extended focus on our breathing, without trying to control our breath. As thoughts about another person appear during the meditation, we notice them and observe what they are saying about the individual – staying in observation mode, not reverting to analysis. As we capture these thoughts, we return to the focus on the breath.

Brain’s guided meditation builds inner awareness – helping us to get to know our self better and understand what thoughts are passing through our mind in relation to another person. At the mid-point, he suggests that we get in touch, too, with what is happening in our body – noticing any points of tension such as tightness in our fingers, arms, shoulders or legs.

As we increase our awareness of our thought processes, we begin to notice the accompanying feelings which Brian suggests we treat with “acceptance, curiosity and friendliness”. As the meditation comes to an end, we are invited to take some deep breaths and, on exhaling, let the thoughts and feelings pass through us into the open.

In one sense, this guided meditation is another form of building our “awareness muscle” but the approach here is to focus purely on being-with-our-breathing, not controlling it – unlike the fifty conscious breaths described in my previous post as a way to use the “Awareness-Focus Loop” to overcome procrastination.

As we grow in mindfulness by engaging in meditations designed to develop meta-attention, we can become more conscious of our thought stream and the automatic thoughts that shape our hasty judgments about people. Through this process, we can gain better control over our thoughts about others and adopt a more considered, understanding position while maintaining self-compassion.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Overcoming Procrastination by Building the Awareness Muscle

We can handle procrastination by adopting the direct approach of focusing on a task that we are putting off and exploring through meditation what is the self-story behind the procrastination. This involves bringing the story “above the line” – bringing the messages we are telling our self to the level of conscious awareness. However, procrastination may be a habit related to a range of activities and the habit will often be accompanied by inertia – a lack of energy to move forward. In this case, it could be useful to attack the problem of procrastination indirectly by building what I call, your “awareness muscle”.

Building your awareness muscle

Tony Stubblebine offers a meditation exercise that can progressively develop your awareness muscle (or what he describes as your “mental muscle”). His exercise is a variation on mindful breathing that takes distractions or mental diversions as a source of awareness strengthening. His argument is that every time that your focus wanders represents an opportunity to increase your awareness of what is going on for you and hence building your awareness muscle – both the mental element and the energetic element in terms of readiness/energy to deal with the feelings/emotions behind the wandering.

Tony sees the exercise involving restoring your focus to your breath, after naming your source of distraction, as a form of “reps” like you would undertake in a gym or a series of exercises with a personal trainer. The “reps” serve to build the capability to undertake a given activity when the demand arises e.g. running a race, lifting heavy weights, undertaking housework, handling a stressful job (or in our case here, dealing with a specific procrastination). The repeated action of bringing your attention back to your focus, after raising your awareness, is embedding a “focus-awareness-focus” mental cycle that can be applied anywhere to any activity. Tony describes this cycle as the “Awareness-Focus Loop”.

Utilising the “Awareness-Focus Loop”

Tony describes an “I Am Aware” meditation that can take five to ten minutes of your time. The basic four-step approach is as follows:

  1. make yourself comfortable and close your eyes
  2. Focus on your breathing by counting 1 to 50 (or more if you want to extend the meditation for mental endurance training)
  3. Whenever your mind wanders away from the focus on your breath, pay attention to what is happening and frame it as a “I am aware that…” statement. This needs to be a complete sentence to elevate the unconscious source of wandering to the conscious level e.g. “I am aware that I am thinking of a major meeting coming up later today”; “I am aware that I am getting anxious about what I forgot to do this morning”; or “I am aware that I am wondering whether I got the job I applied for a week ago”.
  4. When you have noticed and named your distraction, you resume your focus on counting your breaths from where you left off counting. I found that I lost track of where I was up to in my counting once a distraction set in. If this happens, you can restart your counting somewhere, without cheating to get to the end in a hurry.

Using your awareness muscle to deal with a specific procrastination

Having developed your awareness muscle, you can now apply this mental capacity, and associated energetic impetus, to dealing with a procrastination over a specific task. Once you notice yourself procrastinating you can use your highly developed awareness muscle to become aware of the anxiety underlying the procrastination, name the anxiety and related feelings (e.g. fear) and deal with the anxiety without seeking a diversion or some form of flight.

The mindfulness exercise serves as a form of mental training that can develop the self-regulation necessary to overcome your natural tendency to avoid what is perceived as painful or personally challenging. The awareness muscle has stored the history of your personal distraction tendencies and these can be more readily noticed and dealt with.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation exercises designed to build our awareness muscle, we can develop the consciousness, willingness and strength to deal with procrastination as it occurs in our daily lives. The “I am aware that…” meditation is designed for this specific purpose.

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Image by A. Debus from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

The Potential of the Present Moment

 

As you develop your appreciation of the power of mindfulness to make a difference, you become increasingly aware of the potential of the present moment. In the present moment lies creativity, gratitude, zest for life, happiness and the capacity to love.

The famous Irish novelist, Cecilia Ahern, has her central character, Christine, describe the potential of the present moment when reflecting on her life experiences:

Life is a series of moments and moments are always changing, just like thoughts, negative and positive.  …  Moments are precious; sometimes they linger and other times they’re fleeting, and yet so much could be done in them; you could change your mind, you could save a life and you could even fall in love. (How to Fall in Love, p.327)

Heather Bestel, in an email communication, expresses her growing appreciation of the present moment when she writes:

The longer I live the more I’ve come to understand that life is just a moment in time and space. It’s a moment to cherish, treasure, value and honour.

Heather works tirelessly through her blog, publications, videos and email communications to help women appreciate the present moment, to value themselves, overcome depression and find happiness in their daily lives.

She is an great example of making a difference through mindfulness and helping people to appreciate the power of the present moment.

The more you learn to reside in the present moment, the more you are able to realise its potential for improving the quality of your life and that of others.  The present moment is the pathway to happiness, gratitude, creativity and wellness.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Making a Difference Through Mindfulness

One of the things that we often fail to realise is what impact our own consciousness has on people around us – how we can make a real difference through being mindful.

Paulo Coelho captures this principle in his book, The Alchemist:

That’s what alchemists do. They show that, where we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too. (The Alchemist, p.150)

Recent research reinforces the fact that our moods are contagious – so if we are happy and calm, then we can positively impact those around us. We can make a difference in other people’s lives by living mindfully – by developing our emotional intelligence and building our sense of gratitude and contentment.

Joseph Folkman, who has made a personal study of the contagiousness of mood and engagement, reminds us:

Since doing this research, I have begun thinking about the fact that every interaction I have with other people can be inspiring and building, or discouraging and frustrating. We can build others up or tear them down.

The impact of our mindfulness can spread to our social network just as a person’s grief can impact those connected to them to “three degrees of separation” (friends of friends of friends) – like the concentric ripples that result when a stone drops into a pool of water.  Nicholas Christakis has studied this ripple effect over 15 years and demonstrated the pervasive influence of social networks.  His study can explain the growth of obesity, drug use and depression within a social network over time.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, our mindfulness can impact others in a positive way and make a real difference in their lives.  This was recently reinforced for me with the death of a friend, Pam Kruse.  People from all walks of life and different phases in her life, expressed their appreciation and gratitude for her sense of fun and humour, her zest for life, her thoughtfulness, her energy and readiness to serve others in a generous and unassuming manner.  In a lot of ways, Pam epitomized the “servant-leader“.

So let the warmth of your smile and your sense of contentment shine on those around you, just as the setting sun brightens the darkness of the night sky.

Image Source: Copyright R. Passfield

 

What Am I Doing This For?

Richardo Semler, entrepreneur and author, became well known for his ground-breaking book on the democratization of organisations.  In Maverick, he describes his approach to managing his business, Semco, which involves allowing employees unprecedented autonomy in many aspects of organization life.

What is not so well known is his personal philosophy of life.  His comments give some insight into his own approach to mindfulness and his perspective on idleness:

The opposite of work is idleness. But very few of us know what to do with idleness. When you look at the way that we distribute our lives in general, you realize that in the periods in which we have a lot of money, we have very little time. And then when we finally have time, we have neither the money nor the health.

Semler suggests that we put off so much in life because we are so busy about the future that we cannot enjoy the present.  In the process, we miss the opportunity to develop wisdom and to pursue the fundamental question of “What am I doing this for?”

And so, what we’ve done all of these years is very simple, is use the little tool, which is ask three whys in a row. Because the first why you always have a good answer for. The second why, it starts getting difficult. By the third why, you don’t really know why you’re doing what you’re doing. What I want to leave you with is the seed and the thought that maybe if you do this, you will come to the question, what for? What am I doing this for? And hopefully, as a result of that, and over time, I hope that with this, and that’s what I’m wishing you, you’ll have a much wiser future.

These comments by Richard Semler are extracts from a TED Talk that he gave in 2014, “How to run a company with (almost) no rules.”  The video of this talk is embed below and the transcript is available online for those who prefer to read rather than listen.

Semler asks some fundamental questions about life and work and how we spend out time.  Busyness is the greatest impediment to mindfulness – the pathway to wisdom, calm, clarity and happiness.

Postcript: I often take a short detour in the morning via the Manly Esplanade so that I can see the bay, the islands and the emergent sunrise. On the morning I watched Richardo’s video, I asked myself, “Why don’t I stop and capture the image that I see, instead of rushing back home?” And so the image in this blog post captures calmness in the spotlight of the sunrise.

Image Source: Copyright R. Passfield

Dying for Tomorrow or Living Today?

In February 2016, news.com.au reported on the story of Jake Bailey who got out of his hospital bed to deliver his Captain’s address at the 2015 Christchurch Boys’ High School Prize Giving ceremony.  Jake, in his final year, had been diagnosed with cancer and was on his fourth chemotherapy treatment when he left his hospital bed to give the speech.

Despite his illness, Jake passed the year 12 exams and expressed gratitude for the support he received from near and far.  His speech is very moving and, at times, confronting.  He makes the point that when you are confronted with death you are forced to reflect on who you are and what you are doing with your life.  In his own words, Jake reminds us that we so often overlook the present because we are so focused on tomorrow:

I was dying for the weekends, I was dying for the school holidays.  Before I knew it, I was dying.

Jake reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to live the present fully:

Here’s the thing – none of us get out of life alive. So be gallant, be great, be gracious, and be grateful for the opportunities that you have.

The full speech is available on YouTube and the video of his speech has been viewed by more than 1.7 million people at the time of writing this post.

Jake’s speech causes you to ask the question:

Are you dying for tomorrow or living today?

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com

Living in the Present – Not the Future

 

Maria, in Paulo Coelho’s book, Eleven Minutes, records in her diary:

I spend all day …longing for work to begin, and, when I’m working, longing to get back to the boarding house.  In other words, I’m living the future not the present. (p.34, emphasis added)

Recent neuroscience research shows that we spend more than 50% of our time either in the past or in the future – we spend so little time in the present.

The downside of spending so much time “living the future” is that we can develop anxiety because we are constantly concerned about future events that may never happen.  We are also missing the opportunity to fully experience the present – to enjoy the beauty, relationships and positive experiences that surround us.

We also miss the opportunity to appreciate what we do have and be grateful for the many things that make our life enjoyable.

Living in the future can be precipitated by envy – we “want to have what they have got” and so we look to the future in the hope that we too will be like them.

One way to check whether you are living the future is to monitor your words:

  • I wish it was Friday
  • I can’t wait for the weekend
  • Summer holidays can’t come soon enough

If we find ourselves constantly expressing desire for the future rather than experiencing and enjoying the present, then we can stop talking this way – we have the power to shape our reality by choosing our words consciously.

The present moment is the only true reality.  If we miss it, we miss so much that life has to offer and potentially harm ourselves and our wellbeing.

Image Source: Copyright R. Passfield

 

Building Mindfulness through Open Awareness

Open awareness is something that you can practice anywhere.  It is basically being fully present through your senses.

From my lounge room and deck I can see Moreton Bay with Stradbroke Island in the background.  I used to wake up of a morning and note the sunrise across the bay on my way to making a cup of tea in the kitchen.  I would walk past what is an ever-changing  view.

Now I am developing the habit of standing still and taking in the view for the few minutes while the water in the jug is boiling.

In this way I can practice open awareness – listening to the sounds of birds waking, watching the changing hues as the sun comes up, observing the breeze in the trees and sensing the weather.

I find that my body immediately relaxes and I am able to quickly drop into mindful breathing as a matter of course.  So one mindfulness practice leads onto the next.

What you can do to develop open awareness is to link it to something that you do on a daily basis – a morning walk, the morning cuppa or coffee, the early morning bike ride.  If you structure open awareness into your day, you will be more likely to persist with the habit and progressively build mindfulness.  You will also find that you will more frequently stop what you are doing and become openly aware of your surroundings.

Image source:  Copyright R. Passfield