Mindful Awareness…A Double-Edged Sword
When I work with my clients and friends, it is increasingly obvious that because of our continuous digital connectedness (and especially recently during Covid) we are more “disconnected.” Our “social distancing” has been detrimental to true interpersonal connectivity. Additionally, in many other areas, people are having a hard time staying “connected.” We’re all having difficulties with paying attention and staying on task. You may recall in various articles, we talk about the meditative skill of coming back to the present moment. I call this ability, “the meditative motion of the mind.”
The formal exercise I’ve offered (and it is always free) is The Beginners Meditation on the Breath™. We’ve talked about it in several articles including the last two (CLICK HERE), which show how the messages in this meditation, such as gaining “presence” or “being in the moment,” are metaphors for life in the now.
As one regularly practices the “Three-Legged Stool techniques,” (CLICK HERE) one is more and more able to stay in the present moment, pay attention, and notice things. This is precisely what the double-edged sword is. As we become more aware by practicing, we notice more and more, that is, the good and the bad! As we pay attention to what we are thinking, and where our thoughts are going, the double-edged sword comes into play. Our thoughts can go in two directions. If they are positive and pleasant (or at least neutral), then they don’t harm us. However, if our thoughts are negative or detrimental in some way – let’s say they bring us down, make us anxious, or cause us to feel uneasy or overwhelmed – they can actually harm us on many levels – body, mind, and soul. We need to become aware, but at the same time take charge and become the “chooser” of which thoughts we entertain, and which we don’t, which thoughts are resourceful and beneficial to us, and which are not.
Many people are not aware of the physiological harm that our thoughts can bring about. We’ve spoken about our runaway thoughts. I compare them to the “Merry-Go-Round of the Mind” that takes us away from what we should be truly experiencing in the here and now to other “places.” I think many people will agree, that when our thoughts are not in the present moment, they can either be beneficial or detrimental. If a person is not in the present, where is s/he? Obviously, in the future or the past. If our thoughts are in the past, we can go to a wonderful memory of something that went well, or the opposite. In the past, we can dwell on thoughts, feelings, experiences, and images that either bring us up or down. In the future, we are anticipating things that may or may not occur, so we worry. In summary, often a negative past focus leans us toward depressive thoughts, and negative anticipation of the future causes us to become anxious.
There is a Mishna that states, “Who is the wise one, ha ro’eh es ha nolad – the one who can project imagining a future event.” However, clearly, the wise person will do it constructively. So, as we said, we can project a positive or an exciting thing that is anticipated, or something frightening or upsetting. When we don’t project in a useful and resourceful way, we accidentally whittle away our time, fritter away our emotions, and actually harm ourselves physiologically as well. Due to our negative past memories and futuristic projections, we cause a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones to flow throughout the body. This is harmful to our body, mind, and soul. I call this, “The past and future TENSE!!”
A person can project into the future or the past in either a positive and resourceful way, or one that is disadvantageous. The question is our awareness to choose. The double-edge of the sword is that the more we practice the Three-Legged Stool (especially with augmented practice meditating) we become “the chooser” of where our thoughts go. We utilize the benefits of our new awareness to our advantage – our wise-minded, prefrontal cortex (or in Chassidic philosophy, our Chabad faculties). In this way, we don’t need to upset ourselves and dwell on things that are not actually happening at this moment. We use the better side of the double-edged sword – awareness – to our advantage.
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