Friday, May 27, 2005

Mindfulness Is A Learned Behavior

Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment without judgement, but rather, with intention, so that we interact with our environment directly. Most of us get caught up in the filters of our minds: what we want to hear, what we are tired of hearing or what we want to say...

Most of us live in the presence of a mind that dominates, that dictates, that thinks randomly, in effect, a car with no driver. My own experience with becoming more mindful was initial surprise at how much of my thinking revolved around evaluating and judging experience rather than just being present. I was amazed to find out how my perception was ruled by unconscious conditioning, like a dog wrestling with a bone I was unable to let go of habitual thought patterns and responses.

What is the difference? Have you ever noticed how five people in the same circumstance may have five entirely different reactions? Why is this? Have you ever heard of a person with emphysema who chose to smoke while receiving oxygen? What about the diabetic who continues to eat sugar? Clearly what is an absolute truth to one person may be inconsequential to another. Yes, these are extreme examples, but what about the compulsion to eat more on your day off than you would when working? The very idea of eating out of boredom rather than hunger suggests mindlessness or a mind that is in charge of you rather than you being able to use your mind for what it is: a tool for making intelligent decisions, just as your body is a vehicle for enacting those decisions.

Feldenkrais developed the bulk of ATM lessons during the fifties and sixties, way before new age thinking became a fad. Yet, already then he was thinking in terms of maturity as relying on the development of voluntary control. Control of what? Taking responsibilty for our own actions which is reflected by how we behave and think. This requires making conscious decisions, not mindlessly acting out of conditioned expectation. It's only by paying attention that we can catch ourselves in the midst of acting in ways that conflict with our intentions.

Most of us don't realize that when we are conflicted in this way there is a somatic price tag. What that means is that if we stay to watch the kid's ball game when all we really want to do is be at home lying on the couch, low level resentment is expressed, unwittingly, as static low level tension in the musculature of the body. This translates as aches and pains. Now if you can sort out your thoughts, let go of what you want for yourself and commit to hanging out at the ball game so that you can be there for your kid, then you won't be carrying excessive tension because you will have resolved the latent conflict. You can resolve that conflict at the level of the mind, or you can resolve it at the level of the body. Either way is an opening to resolution.

The beauty of ATM is that it gives you time to find and resolve these latent conflicts through the doorway of what you feel in your body rather than by sitting on the analyst's couch. (I know of at least one FELDENKRAIS practitioner, I'm sure there are more, who was a practicing psychologist and gave it up to teach FELDENKRAIS because it's a way to address many of the same issues without the anguish of constant mental examination.) It's a form of moving meditation. It's like training wheels for people who want to learn to meditate.

Professor of Medicine Emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical school, Jon Kabat-Zinn has done research to validate what most people who meditate already know: that measurable benefits on the psyche, the brain and the immune system are derived by continuous practice. I would affirm that ATM does the same. Kabat-Zinn says, "What we're really talking about with mindfulness is awareness. But, no one, I'd like to point out, teaches us how to cultivate awareness." Well, come to my class, or hit the Guild link to find a practitioner near you, because that is exactly what I teach as a FELDENKRAIS practitioner in my ATM classes. Hope to see you soon. Movement without conflict is a joy because it is a return to complete spontaneity.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments and questions are always welcome.