We practice mindfulness specifically to strengthen our capacities to see clearly, no matter what is going on. To see clearly, without distortion or denial, so that we can make wise choices and change our behaviors when need be. One way to begin is through the practice of noticing and naming, which keeps the CEO of resilience in the brain – our pre-frontal cortex – online and allows us to stay calm as emotions flare up, threatening to knock us off center. This same practice of noticing and naming can be expanded to naming patterns as patterns, shifting perspectives, and discerning options when the really big flak hits the fan.
Exercise: Noticing and Naming
- Imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk in the neighborhood where you live. You notice a friend walking toward you on the sidewalk on the other side of the somewhat busy street. You call out and wave “hello!” but there’s no response. Notice your own split-second reaction to that “no response” in your own body, a contraction, a drop in energy. Notice whatever thoughts might begin to cascade in response to your body’s reaction. “Hmm, that’s unusual. I’d better try again.” Or “Whew! He has a lot on his mind. I wonder if I should even bother him?” Notice any reactivity to those thoughts. “Gee, he seems a little stuck up today.” Or “Oh, no! What have I done wrong?” Notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you have noticed before. Feeling badly about yourself or wanting to reach out even more, for example.
- Now imagine that your friend sees you and, on his own, calls out and waves “hello!” to you. Again, notice your own split-second reaction in your body to him connecting with you now, a smile, an uplift of energy. Bring awareness to any shifts in your body, notice any shifts in your thoughts. “He noticed me!” “I’m glad we weren’t disconnected after all.” As you reflect on your experience, notice if your thoughts follow a pattern that you have also noticed before, perhaps relief or gratitude.
- Take a moment to name the reactions and the patterns you discovered, with compassion for any reactions that may have been triggered by the noticing. With every moment of practice in noticing and naming, you are strengthening the CEO of resilience. And by pausing to do this, you are conditioning your brain to create choice points, giving yourself the chance to respond with more flexibility and choose a different response the next time.