“I’m a busy person; I just can’t find the time to meditate…” Sound familiar? It is important to have a regular sitting practice of a relatively long duration, but if you don’t, do not think the magic of mindfulness is out of your reach. It only takes a few seconds of attention throughout the day to be able to start to reap some of the rewards of mindfulness. That is all it takes to learn about what is happening inside, which is a big part of what mindfulness does for us.
Formal practices like meditation and yoga asana work to sharpen the tool of our mind. Then the real work comes in every moment of every day, as we go about our daily duties and interacting with the world around us.
The brain is extremely good at being efficient. It takes in over 4 million bits of information per second, but it is only able to send 2200 bits to the cortex for processing. The way it filters out what gets sent on is through classifying experience and creating patterns from what it has already learned. It learns to recognize things then files them away into neuron firing patterns we call beliefs, causing most of our taking in of new information and reacting to our environment to be automatic.
This demonstrates that we don’t really see the world as it is; rather we see the world as we are. Two ways to uncover these automatic patterns and increase our ability to perceive differently are mindfulness and utilizing the reflections of other people in relationship. Mindfulness is like a zoom lens that helps us to see and examine all the layers of patterning inside us. Relationship is an external mirror that gives us a set of eyes outside of us. When combined, we are able to truly see ourselves inside and out.
One of my teachers is fond of saying, “life is one big long sloppy probe.” Life is constantly poking and prodding us to help us to see where we currently stand. All day long we get a chance to look at our stories, our automatic behavior, patterning, and reactions. This is where the magic of mindfulness is most useful, otherwise we continue on autopilot. Some might think it is not necessary to waste any time looking at these things, we should only focus on the positive and light. However, by looking at the things in us that we do not want to look at, our shadow can often reveal many of our automatic behaviors. I know that I have personally used the veil of calling myself a “spiritual person” as a cover for not seeing some of the things I think and do that are, let’s just say less than divine.
I once thought we needed to just strive for purity of consciousness, to just think good thoughts and do good things, but I have learned to do that it is necessary to look at and know all of patterns and beliefs otherwise they come out when we least want them to. It is these patterns, habits, and beliefs that we have to work with in this life and it is through knowing these things which are not us that we can start to know who we really are. It is sort of like cleaning the mirror – you have to first know the mirror is dirty, then you need to know what kind of dirty it is in order to grab the right types of cleaners, then you have to work to clean the mirror before you can see the pure reflection underneath. When we can look at all of our patterning, we can find all the things that are not us, in order to see what is really is us.
So if we are going to look at ourselves through the lens of mindfulness in every moment, it is especially important to remember to be kind, gentle, and compassionate with ourselves. When we really start to look at ourselves in this way, honestly and thoroughly, it is easy to get down on ourselves. We must remember that everything is perfect and right – there is nothing “wrong” with us. And it is not just a good idea to be gentle with ourselves because it feels good, it is through loving the darker parts of ourselves that they lose power. When we hate them or ignore them, we just fuel them. By choosing to look at and accept our automatic responses throughout the day, we gain more awareness of our nature which leads to more freedom and more choice in not being bound by it.
The richest moments for us to use mindfulness are in every moment of every day when we are engaging with the world and the good news is that it doesn’t take long periods of time. Our brains are quick! It is engaging with the world and in relationship with other people that our patterns are most active. By tuning in to what is really happening inside, we can start to recognize when we are on auto-pilot and when we are responding with conscious awareness and choice.
Through internal self-study of a regular mindfulness practice, using moments of mindfulness throughout our day, and combining that with studying our interactions with people and our world, we can get the complete view of our system. By looking at all these layers and embracing them with love and acceptance, our patterning loses its strength. It brings our shadow into the light, and then we are not controlled by it and we are more free to be our true selves. By shining the light of mindfulness on all the things that are not us, we are able to see them more clearly, give them less power, and then start to see who we really are.
Chuck Hancock, M.Ed., NCC has been on his own inner life adventure his whole life, but has only started becoming more aware of it as a practitioner and student of yoga and contemplative practices for the past 8 years. Chuck is trained in the Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychotherapy, a mindfulness based body-centered form of self exploration and he facilitates experiential groups and individual counseling. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.