In the first term of the Dynamic Aging Program (DAP) I teach that we can de-stabilize our sense of self, thereby increasing our propensity for positive personal change, by intentionally improving our levels of self-awareness through a process Freud referred to as “making the unconscious conscious.” However, instead of using psychotherapy for this purpose, which is what Freud had in mind, we can improve our self-awareness any time we want by becoming more mindful. Mindfulness is the intentional, accepting, and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment.
Mindfulness is not just bringing all your awareness to the current moment, but also letting the experience of that moment simply “be” – regardless of whether the experience is good, bad, or indifferent. If we look at our inner reactions to certain experiences closely, we might find that we frequently try to change, repress, distort, rationalize, perpetuate, or fix the phenomenon we are experiencing. For instance, there was a person I encountered a few days ago with whom I have had a couple of negative experiences in the past. By bringing my awareness completely into the moment, I discovered that I was avoiding this person, while also making up a story in my head about why he didn’t like me, and how it would be better if we just kept our distance from one another.
Taking this line of personal inquiry even further, I realized that I did not want my ego to be hurt again by interacting with this person and being rejected – and how unfair it was that he didn’t like me, because he didn’t really know me very well. Going even further, I realized how this experience was just one of many similar experiences I have had over the years regarding these same issues, and how this has been a repeating pattern in my life. I even began to see the origins of this pattern. At this point, there was a sudden sense of relief and opening and spaciousness.
In the past I would have simply repressed all these thoughts and feelings that were actually going on, but by being mindful with this experience I was able to understand how I was distorting reality, and how this person’s prior reactions to me could have been due to any number of things – or perhaps even be a complete misperception on my part. Through this practice, I have effectively turned someone I previously thought to be an enemy, into my teacher.
The insidious thing about this tendency to somehow distort the moment, is that it happens almost all the time. Notice for yourself the next time you interact with a person, and have trouble feeling some connection. I have found that almost invariably (if I am paying attention to him or her at all) I am judging something about that person – whether it is their language, speech patterns, facial features, body language, clothes they are wearing; or I make assumptions about their intelligence, personality, political opinions, reaction to me, etc. – and these tiny projections, transferences, and assumptions I am placing on the person are keeping us from connecting at a level we both would find more satisfying.
This process also works the other way around. If I think I am making a connection with someone I just met, then it is probably because I am projecting, transferring, or assuming something positive onto that person – and our feelings of connection are nothing more than illusion. The experience might feel good, but it is not an experience of my True Nature. I have discovered I must question and inquire into both positive and negative distortions.
Why this emphasis on connection? I personally find connecting with another person very rewarding, and it may very nearly be the meaning to life itself – but it is not the only important thing about this practice. When we distort our experience, we might also miss out on some idea or other opportunity that is presenting itself to us, and the possibilities for what we could be missing are endless. In addition, there is an underlying sense of unrest caused by this process of distortion that prevents us from achieving our ultimate potential as a human being. But perhaps the greatest reward for being mindful, is that we are more likely to see the actual truth or reality in any given situation – and the truth is not only its own reward, but the major reason why we are on this journey to begin with.
The capability I have tried to develop in this practice is simply letting things be the way they are – without trying to fix, change, judge, or alter the situation in any way. Once I can clear my ego out of the way, then I sometimes find a quality (such as compassion, empathy, discernment, etc.) arising spontaneously – one that is appropriate and satisfying for dealing with that particular interaction. If this feeling arises spontaneously and authentically, it might have the feeling of something almost spiritual to me. However, if the quality arises from my need to fix or change things, or present myself in a certain way, then it can seem forced or habitual – and this is usually a sign that I am attached to this quality through my ego.
So, for me, the process of being mindful is not simply bringing my awareness to the present situation. It also includes trying to experience each moment in its purest, most objective, and raw experiential form – one moment after the other, in a flow-like state. If feelings come up – I try to recognize and examine them. If I have thoughts about fixing, repressing, or changing the situation – I try to recognize and examine them. I try to recognize and examine anything coming up in my body, thoughts, or feelings that prevent me from simply experiencing the reality of each situation – from one moment to the next – as truthfully as possible.
If you try this methodology in a self-loving and inquisitive manner, I guarantee you this will be one of the most fun and exciting parts of your practice.