Noticing What You’re Experiencing While You’re Experiencing It
“Noticing what you’re experiencing while you’re experiencing it” is senior meditation teacher Guy Armstrong’s very useful description of mindfulness, the foundation of the reflective intelligence we’ll explore in this month’s posts.
Conscious awareness of what we’re experiencing – and our reactions to what we’re experiencing – is essential if we are to even notice that an old well-grooved but less than helpful pattern of response needs shifting.
You may have noticed some changes in the format of these Resources posts, and even your reactions to those changes. I hope to provide links to good research and resources each week, as well as a quote of pith wisdom relevant to the topic.
You can apply these basic steps of mindfulness to help you notice your experience and your reactions to your experience as you accommodate this new learning.
Basic Mindfulness Applied to Recovering Resilience
1. Pause and become present
Whether from inexperience, overwhelm, defensiveness, or the upheaval of a crisis, too often people do not have the time or take the time to step back from the dilemma-disaster of the moment to reflect and then discern options.
“Don’t just sit there! Do something!” And sometimes you do need to act very quickly and reflect very slowly later. But reflecting before reacting gives your brain time and space to best do the job you are strengthening it for – your reflective intelligence that underlies your response flexibility and thus your resilience.
When you become present, you step out of denial, out of distraction, out of dissociation. You show up, pay attention, and engage with your experience as it is happening in the present moment.
2. Notice and name
This…is…happening. And whatever is happening, noticing and acknowledging your reactions to “this” as well. Acknowledging any confusion, any overwhelm, any fear is the first step in being able to step back from what’s happening and observe it rather than being it.
Naming the experience, and your reactions to your experience, makes sure your pre-frontal cortex is online to manage your reactivity so you can discern how to manage your response to the experience.
One of my clients told me her new mantra is, “May I accept without judgment all that I encounter today.”
Allowing doesn’t mean liking or agreeing or condoning. It simply means being in conscious relationship to whatever is happening. Making room for it to be there and being with it. Tolerating is another step: moving beyond any hair-trigger reactivity to the experience to further allow whatever is to be, and being with it. Accepting is the “yes” or “okay” that allows you to engage and work with whatever is happening, skillfully and effectively.
Rather than staying caught in or identifying with the experience of the moment, disentangling from it; cultivating a “witness awareness” of it; observing it as though from sitting high in the stands watching a basketball game below.
You can observe what’s happening – and your reactions to what’s happening – without believing that “this” is who you are or that “that” is permanently true. This disentangling and observation is essential to create choice points in the brain and not simply act (or react) automatically as you have acted before.
In coming posts, we will explore many practical tools to become mindfully aware of the processes of the mind that create and sustain our perceptions and reactions to our experience, that create and sustain all of the thoughts, patterns of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, values, points of view, identities that either support or derail our resilience. With mindfulness, as you become aware of the processes of the mind that can create, get stuck in those “mental contents”, you can learn to shift and rewire them.
(You will find this practice and similar exercises in Resilience, forthcoming in September 2018.)