Tracking Shifts in Experience
When I stepped off a dock last winter, missed the boat, and plunged right into the ocean with my computer in my backpack on my back, (see How You Respond to the Issue…Is the Issue post) I had amply opportunity to watch my own reactions shift second by split-second: “Oh, no!” “But I’m alive!” “The computer is fritzed for sure.” “But I’m alive.” “Darn! Darn! Darn!” “Linda, you’re alive. You get to deal.”
Tracking these shifts – in our experiences, in our reactions to our experiences – is an important aspect of strengthening our mindfulness of what is happening that we wish wasn’t happening, strengthening our acceptance of what has happened that we certainly wish hadn’t happened. And that mindful acceptance is the first step in being able to be resilient, to deal.
The exercise below begins to cultivate our capacity to notice how quickly our experiences – and our reactions to our experiences – shift all the time on their own anyway. Tracking these shifts prepares us to be able to shift our perceptions and our responses more consciously on our own when we choose to, the foundation of resilient coping.
Exercise: Tracking Shifts in Experience
1. Choose a single object of awareness to track for a week, a day, the next two hours, or the next two minutes. What you choose to track could be very simple, like the sound of doors opening and closing or the beauty of any single flower.
2. As you track the object, also track the shifts in the object or in your perception of it and your reactions to it, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.
3. Also note the background process that is the steady awareness that allows you to perceive what you are perceiving, regardless of any shifts in the content.
4. As you become more skilled in steady awareness, you may want to choose a more complex object of your awareness, like feelings of resentment or dread. Notice when they are present; notice when they are not. Notice the voice of any inner part, your daydreamer or your procrastinator, coming and going. Notice if it comes and takes up residence, not departing as a messenger should. Notice any shift in the dynamics between you and another person, in your moods or theirs.
5. Notice your capacity to stay steady, aware but not reactive, as you practice with more and more difficult objects of awareness. Resting like a great tree in the midst of them all.
As you become more adept at paying attention, you begin to focus as much on the shifts of the content as you do on their presence. You become more aware, more comfortable with the idea that all things come and go. And if you are focusing attention on feelings that get stuck, you can shift to noticing the background awareness that isn’t stuck, that is simply aware.
As my meditation teacher James Baraz teaches, “That which is aware of fear is not itself afraid.” Steadying your awareness, becoming adept at tracking shifts, is good groundwork for increasing resilience as life experiences come and go.
(You will find this practice and similar exercises in Resilience, forthcoming in September 2018.)