In the first three Friday Sessions, we covered various strategies to find inner calm and clarity during this unprecedented time. So far, we’ve learned how awareness of breath can help us manage stress, how mindful gratitude can bring us from a mindset of scarcity to abundance, and how the body scan yields various benefits that range from deep relaxation to improved fitness. You can reap the benefits of these practices not only through a sitting meditation, but also on the go by returning to the breath, to a place of gratitude, or to your body sensations.
This week, we talked about mindful awareness and practiced the open awareness meditation. If you missed the Zoom meeting, you can find the video below, with the the Open Awareness practice starting at around 31 minutes into the video. In today’s blog post, I’ll briefly break down mindfulness and how it’s different from simple attention or awareness. I’ll also discuss a framework which I developed to help my clients understand their minds, see their patterns of reactivity, and build better habits. Finally, I’ll share some resources to help you develop mindful awareness.
What Makes Mindful Awareness Different?
When I ask people what they believe mindfulness to be, they often mention being focused, living in the present moment, or having greater awareness. While mindfulness can entail all of these things, it is more than simply holding attention or awareness.
Attention is like shining a flashlight in a dark room and being able to look closely at one object at a time. While attention is essential for completing certain tasks (e.g. reading an article) without distraction, it may lead us to miss other important details in our surroundings and within ourselves. For example, if we are too focused on consuming the negative news and media surrounding coronavirus, we may ourselves become overly pessimistic and ignore the good things in our lives. We may forget to attend to our families or even miss out on financially beneficial opportunities.
Awareness is like turning the light on in the room and seeing everything inside. It is of course useful to be aware of our surroundings and ourselves, and ideally, to be able to switch deliberately between awareness and attention in different situations. In the absence of mindfulness, however, our awareness is clouded by judgments and beliefs (e.g. “this thought is good,” “that feeling is bad,” “this experience is scary”). We see everything through the lens of our conditioned mind.
Mindfulness moves beyond the conditioned mind. With mindfulness, the quality of awareness that we develop allows us to see things as they are, from moment to moment. We can look at our thoughts and feelings and receive information from our surroundings without reacting or attaching labels to them. Further, it is practiced in our everyday lives, not just during our sitting meditations. As we build this quality, we are not only able to better manage our stress and tame our reactive habits, but we can also find more joy in our lives and discover creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
The ABCs Of The Mind Model
The ABCs of the mind model, which you can view at the top of this page, can help you see the chain of events that lead to your behaviors. A refers to activating events that can be internal – a memory or a thought – or external – something someone says or does that affects us. With A, anything can happen: a car cuts us off and we are nearly driven off the road, or we land the dream job that we never thought we would get.
B refers to our beliefs and conditioning that have been ingrained in us over the years. These beliefs automatically get triggered by the activating event, causing an immediate reaction in the body and mind. For example, if we have experienced a car crash in the past as a result of another driver’s recklessness, we are more than likely going to get angry and honk at the next driver that cuts us off. However, if we have had to drive a loved one to the hospital in a medical emergency, we may be more likely to assume that the driver who cuts us off is experiencing their own emergency, leading us to remain calm and to give this driver more space on the road.
C is where we can choose whether to act on our default reactions or with mindfulness. We know from experiments dating back to the 1990s, when people are exposed to a stimulus, their brain automatically prepares to act based on past conditioning and beliefs. In the absence of mindfulness, we act based on these default settings. While we hold little to no choice in the activating events or in our conditioned beliefs and immediate reactions, we have a great deal of choice in how we act once we can step back and clearly see levels A and B.
The Main Takeaways From The ABCs Model
1. We can’t control what happens at levels A and B, but we can take a step back to choose how we act at level C. We may be lost in levels A and B, where we blame the world or our conditioned minds for causing us to think and react in certain ways. However, we must realize that we don’t have control in these levels, and our focus can then turn to level C, where we do have the ability to reflect and use the eight mindful qualities to proceed more skillfully.
2. Over time, we may be able to change our reactivity and even our most deeply ingrained beliefs. It is more likely, however, that even after years of practicing mindfulness, we’ll still have reactions that don’t always serve us well. It’s okay to feel these reactions and to experience difficult emotions. After stepping back and seeing these reactions, we can make better choices.
1. Check out these free guided meditations on my website. There’s a 10 minute Open Awareness meditation on there, as well as other samples ranging from five to 20 minutes.
2. You can download the Insight Timer app for free and find my profile (I have multiple free recordings available on the app) or just search the app for open awareness. There are a variety of options on this app, and it’s great for other types of guided meditations as well.
3. If you would like more of my guided meditations, you can check out my Teachable page. Here, you’ll find more guided meditations that vary in duration, level of guidance/instruction throughout the recording, and mindfulness skills being developed. You’ll get access to 19 different meditations, which you can download or access easily on your phone through the Teachable app or on your computer, for $19.