Five Facets of a Mindful Person

One early analytical model of what it means to be a mindful person was developed by Ruth Baer PhD at the University of Kentucky. This model is significant in that indicates the most important factors and provides a way to measure mindful traits and how they might correlate to physical and mental outcomes. The analysis yielded five particular facets: acting with awareness, describing, non-reactivity to inner experience, non-judging of inner experience, and observing. Using this template, here are some key touchstones to orient you towards the cultivation of mindfulness on a regular basis.

1. Be aware of what you are doing.
This does not imply it is necessarily easy, pleasant, or interesting to pay attention; simply that you are showing up for the actual experience of living rather than going through the motions. Basic daily tasks can become mini- meditations: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting the mail, drinking water.

2. Find new ways to articulate your direct physical and emotional experiences.
We have lots of ways to talk about concepts and things, and often don’t know how to describe what we are sensing and feeling. There is great power in noticing what you notice and speaking from your present moment reality. Try it with simple things: How does a walk make your body feel? How does someone’s smile make you feel? How does it feel to be wrong or right about something? Or, to not know?

3. Recognize that you get stressed, triggered, reactive many times every day.
It may be related to past or future events on your mind; it may be situational or relational; it may be the state of world. Recognize that it is happening and work with the energy right now. These are your patterns and unconsciously influence how you will react and respond. Conscious breathing helps to harness the stress energy and shape the future.

4. Recognize that much of what you perceive is colored by your own judgments.
Judgements are unavoidable and limiting thoughts. It is helpful to remember that thoughts are just things, not fixed realities. They can and should evolve as we grow and learn. Play with catching some of your habitual judgmental thoughts, “Hello judgment!”

5. Awareness of Awareness.
The fifth facet has to do with the distinctly human ability to be aware of the mind itself, referred to as meta-cognition. This is where the formal practice of meditation is uniquely powerful as a way to be aware of sensations, emotions, thoughts, and not so reflexively driven by them. Meditation is linked to the phenomenon of brain integration, where the three levels of brain function coordinate in new ways.

Meditate in some way- it will help you live and lead with dignity.

Bringing Mindfulness to Grief & Loss

Let’s start with a caveat.  Grieving is natural and it is hard.  There are many forms of grief; some stemming from birth and childhood, some from particular occurrences or from a progression of causes and conditions, some that will be with us every day, and some that do eventually ebb and integrate into the weave of our life.  Each of us has our own unique array of losses and coping mechanisms.  Each of us is on a journey to understand ourselves and this life.

Mindfulness simply put, is a way of orienting our attention to the present, expanding our awareness, and softening our critical/reactive impulses to our own inner experience.  On the journey of reconciliation and healing, being more at peace with what has been and more present for the life unfolding before us, mindfulness supports the meaning making process.  What is referred to in Buddhism as insight, and what is now referred to by grief specialist David Kessler as the sixth stage of grief.  Here are some thoughts of how they go together.

It’s simple, but not easy. 

Paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally is one way to describe the technical mindfulness practice.   This can be applied to daily tasks- wash the dishes while you wash the dishes.  And it can be applied to formal meditation, be aware of your breath flowing in and out. As we attempt to be more fully present, we are often shocked with how hard or uncomfortable it can be.  Distraction and preoccupation are ingrained habits and can be exasperated with grief and trauma.   Getting pulled into difficult thoughts and feelings can also prevail.  Building connection back to the physical body and present moment awareness may take some time and work. The effort is actually part of the healing.

Kindness & Compassion are a must.

Mindfulness is like the light of the Sun, helping us to see more of what is going on in our body, mind, and heart.  Kindness & compassion are like the warmth of Sun, we need the warmth to help us make sense and meaning of our lives. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, one of the first experts in the modern field of death & dying used to frame all of our griefs as lessons to be learned so we could fully know love.  When it gets hard in any moment, find ways to evoke the warmth of kindness and compassion.  It is there, and you need and deserve it.  To be able to care about your own pain is an important inner skill to practice.  Sometimes the simple affirmation “this hurts”, “this is hard,” is enough to help you over the peaks of difficult emotions.

It’s OK that you’re not OK

When we start practicing mindfulness, we perhaps think we will feel some calm and then be able to do something productive with our messy grief…

In reality, as we learn how to be more present and aware of our inner experience we will see that it is messy!  The practice then becomes getting to know that, learning to navigate that, learning from that.

As we are able to be more aware and less reactive to our sensations, emotions, and thoughts, we see ourselves in a bigger context.  We are not just these sensations, emotions, thoughts.  They are part of us, but they do not have to snare us the same way again and again.

We can acknowledge, honor, explore, even befriend parts of our experience that we couldn’t tolerate before.  It is OK to be as you really are, right where you are, for now.

 

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 

The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.

~Elisabeth Kubler- Ross

At the time I was born, my mother was 29. She was now the mother of 3 living in Hyde Park, Illinois. She often said she missed the 1960’s because she was already with child by age 18; but she was still a woman of her time. She was an artist and writer, she had been a playboy bunny in the clubs, she married a Jew when her family had never met one, she befriended and often housed unusual, interesting, radical, struggling people, she was anti-war, she was gay friendly, had campaigned for Kennedy.

She is gone now so I can’t ask her to refresh me, but I imagine she was devastated by the assassinations of President Kennedy and years later, in my third term in her womb, Martin Luther King. I was born the day Robert Kennedy won the California primary for their Democratic Presidential Nominee, he was killed the next day. And we lived minutes away from the riot scene of the Democratic National Convention. I was probably in her arms when she watched the TV those days and heard the city around her in chaos.

Flash to now: I watch, listen, and sense into the events of these past weeks. The tragic death of Ahmaud Arbery. The knee on the neck of George Floyd. The ridiculous responses of our president, who has fanned racial tensions flagrantly all along. What am I to do? How am I to meet the moment? Me, a babe of the civil rights era, the daughter of a performance poet, and an ordained minister?

Looking around my life, I am aware, more than ever, that it is lily white. No black friends or neighbors, very few places where I come into contact with any diversity. I had not noticed. It happened gradually as I left work in organizations and focused on creating something of my own. Like my mother, who was sucked into domestic and suburban life; only worse because I don’t even have children to draw me out into the community they might have, or make me think about the youth perspective.

I attended the “Black Lives Matter” event on the U of A campus this past weekend and thought of her, my mother. She was more socially active than I am. More dramatic. She would have carried a sign. She would have known some of these performers on stage, or their equivalents in her day. She was someone who could get up on stage and speak and sing of the aches of the wounded heart and the ravages of oppression. She was someone who would affirm anyone who tried to as well. She wasn’t political, but she was a champion of truth and justice and the power of the spoken word.
Two of the speakers at the rally spoke of the need to stand up, the need for all marginalized people to raise their voices, the need to risk offending the powers that be. I heard them. And then heard them again, when they said that those who are standing here will turn away again. White people in particular. Will retreat. Will collude. Will comply. Again. They were scolding us and I felt it, and deserved it. They also were voicing their despair; you might feel good about being here letting us be us, but you will forget about us tomorrow….

A client I had been with earlier in the day- grieving deeply the wounds of her family combined with the grief of our country and world, likewise had doubted that any protest would matter. Not just this but in general- all that has been trampled these last 3 years….
It’s too big and pervasive. All the brokenness. And the Powers That Be, that serve themselves and their kind alone.

And yet: Something finally does seem to be happening. Moving the needle. Shaking the status quo. What can I do? How can I contribute to the moment? How will I remember, tomorrow and in the weeks, months, years to come what is happening and what is needed to help others up and out of not only personal despair (which I am trained to do), but systemic oppression (which I am not)?

Please know this reflection is primarily personal. I am sharing it to expose my own process rather than to wave a sign of any kind. As a contemplative, someone who is more introverted than extroverted- more emotional than intellectual- more spiritual than practical- I am searching for my authentic response to how will I remember and act.

I will take heart and inspiration from those I see standing up, speaking out, calling out, crying out. One of the presenters yesterday, sang a song about the places she can’t go because of the risk of being killed by police. It was stunning and at one point she screeched and screeched and it was just, right. Just as we would hope in our grief workshops when people connect to the rage or fear or desperation that really was a natural way to react, but most likely was repressed to stay alive. We have to allow ourselves and others to grieve, which includes rage and anger properly directed.

I will continue to listen and care and beam a deep faith in the potential of individuals to connect with deeper powers than the powers that be. As a black minister said of Trump’s photo op at St. John’s Church, “The God I serve is higher than that.”
I will continue to commit to my own contemplative path of Yoga. Prayer. Meditation. Not as an escape or evasion, or personal pursuit of health or wisdom, but as a form of purification and the innate desire to provide places of refuge and processes of insight for others. Refuge, that Thomas Merton referred to as necessary to make active work “fruitful.”

And I l will commit to learning more about systemic oppression, about my own bias, about what is now referred to as white fragility. I truly don’t understand these things- have not felt it was relative to me yet. Now it is.

All this does not alieve the pain of those actively oppressed, the real suffering of so many, but it is something I can and will sincerely do. From a black president to a racist president to the unknown future. We each have plenty we can do that matters.

While the moment is ripe for change, while the situation is dire for so many, while hope is sincere, it will not be easy. In the words of Thomas Merton again, and in the spirit of the long view, and the contemplative I am, “concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. ” Thomas Merton

We are all feeling so much right now, processing a lot of news, figuring out how to prepare and how to adapt- at home and at work.  What we may not realize is that we are grieving as well.  Grieving for what is unfolding, for what will not be, and also for the unknowns of the future.

While this situation is enormously complex, and the effects of it all will affect us each differently, there is also something surprisingly unifying.  We are all in this together, it is not just one country or state or city or family.

Here are some tips and tools from my yoga, mindfulness, and grief practices to support your mind/mind/spirit in this trans-formative time.  I hope they can help, and I know personally they do.

  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross laid out the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, acceptance.  They were not her last words about the process and often are taken too literally, yet they are good signposts.  Notice what you are thinking and feeling- which one might apply to your current state of being with all this?
  • This is a chaotic time, whether your life has come to a full stop, or you are actively engaged in an essential function.  What can you do that helps you personally calm down, slow down, tune in, pause, and be present.  Ask yourself, “what am I aware of right now?…How am I relating to myself and the moment right now?…What is needed, if anything?..
  • One of the most powerful self-compassion tools is to bring your awareness to your heart center, or to breathe into your heart center, or to put your hand or hands upon your sternum.  Sometimes, this is enough.  Feel the sensations. No words needed.  Just the feeling of connecting to your heart center can be soothing. Think of this as stocking up on compassion, kindness, and patience too.
  • Find safe ways to express your feelings and ideally to feel them through for a few minutes at a time.  The more we deny, distract, project, suppress our feelings- the more problems they create in our body and in our relationships.  In lieu of a safe person, there is always pen and paper- write them down, let it rip, and rip it up or burn it if you are worried about it being read.  The point is to get it out, externalize it.  Sometimes it is pure catharsis (it is a good sign if you cry while you are writing), sometimes it leads to insight (it doesn’t have to), let go of analyzing why or problem solving (you can talk back to the voice that goes there quickly).
  • We all have different ways of processing our feelings:  exercise, dance, art, music, nature, talking, meditating, praying, playing.  You don’t have to put words to them, but you do need to feel them, honor them, let them flow rather than simply sit.  Emotion implies motion.  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and see where it takes you.  There is a short poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this perfectly:
    We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
    What a time they have, these two
    housed as they are in the same body.
  • One practice I have been doing spontaneously lately is simple breath awareness, or conscious breathing.  Just being more aware of my breath coming and going throughout the day, as I am doing what I am doing.  Letting it be and appreciating what it is.  I am thinking of this as breath affiliation.  We all need to breathe to be alive.  Breath is the symbol of our birth and death.  For now I am indeed alive and well.  I can breathe well for all those that may be struggling.  Jon Kabat Zinn often said “practice as if your life depends on it, because it does.”  I always marveled that he made the mindfulness practice truly seem so critical. Today it truly is.

Take care

Natasha

Here are some reflections from my practice and hopefully some inspiration for yours:

This winter and spring I have been concentrating on getting stronger through hiking.  It has felt important as I enter into middle age to not just move more, but to be in nature and to be reminded that my body is a vehicle for connecting with the wilderness.

My asana practice is simple and sweet these days.  I don’t try and get much out of my body- rather I attend to it so it feels good and balanced.  This attitude has been distilled from years of practicing in ways that were not necessarily simple and sweet.

Even though I have always gravitated to gentle styles and found teachers who understood the meditative and spiritual dimension of yoga, I still pressured myself to do more and more.  I imagine I thought that was my duty as a professional yoga teacher.   It took some time to realize I was inflicting pain upon myself rather than resolving it, and that was serving no one!

This is really a lesson regarding the Mind.  I didn’t know I was being aggressive.  I didn’t know I was off track.  My teacher Rama always emphasized a will-less way of progressing and I loved the message.  It just took years to bear fruit and flowers. Perhaps there is much more to come.   Meanwhile, I am pain free, at ease, and in awe with the way my practice has evolved.

This brings me to the concept of Mind/Body that I am playing with lately.  In the new brain science we see more than ever that the mind and body are integral, not distinct.  The mind is the body, the body is the mind.  Awareness and sensitivity are keys to integration, thinking and dissecting are disturbances.  Yogis and Buddhas and Mystics of all stripes have essentially agreed upon this- now there is a modern wave of contemplative science and study that affirms and explains the phenomena of integration.

It is an exciting and exhilarating new way of conceiving of self and human potential.   What does your body tell you?  How does the thinking and judging mind distort the information?  How do we enter into the energy and information of the mind/body, learn from it directly?  How do we translate this integration of being into our lives and world? What might it mean for the future?

In regards to your practice, I hope you have the opportunity to move more and the wisdom to will-less from your body.  I wish you the enjoyment of nature and the opportunity to touch into wilderness.  I pray that your own mind/body journey flowers into good health and spiritual integration.  And that each of our practices aids to the healing of the world.

Blessings and Light, Natasha

Mindfulness is sometimes referred to as self – recollection. I offer a few simple examples of how this can work, and benefit you in profound ways.

  • You are lost in thoughts (a form of virtual reality) and you realize that you are gone, and then direct attention to the feeling of body and breath, room and present moment reality. This is a basic self-regulation skill, it helps to keep the nervous system from unnecessary activation.
  • You are talking about something and realize it may not be that appropriate or useful and come back to the point and the attempt to express yourself or dialogue with others. This is a basic relational skill, it helps us build respectful connection.
  • You are doing something and notice that it may be a diversion and pause and consider, is this the best way to spend my time right now? This is mindful time management.
  • You realize you are anxious or agitated by something or someone and you give yourself permission to acknowledge it, make space for it and make intentional choices regarding it. This is basic emotional intelligence, our emotions provide vital information.
  • You realize that persistent memories come to mind and create emotional upset in your body and mind, you notice and breathe and honor what is arising naturally this is the skill of restoration, integrating the past into the present as it is tolerable.