THE NEURO-SEMANTICS OF MINDFULNESS

It is not uncommon for people who experience the Meta-States Training that we call Accessing Personal Genius (APG) to come away from it telling others that it is a training in mindfulness.  I have heard this many, many times. Others may not describe APG in those words, but will say that in learning the Meta-States Model, they have added so much to their understanding and competency in being mindful.  Recently I have had several people write and ask where I got the information about mindfulness that they were exposed to in APG.  And a few others have asked that I write more about mindfulness. So here we go.

What do we mean by mindfulness?  To be mindful is to be present to your current situation, aware, appreciative, and in sensory-awareness.  It is to be here-and-now in your awareness.  It is to be conscious of what you are experiencing- present, and not lost in thought about some other time and place.  When a person is not mindful, he or she is somewhere else or worse, may be mindlessly responding in an automatic way from old programs that may or may not be appropriate or useful for today.

Mindfulness fulfills the oft-quoted phrase from Fritz Perls when he said, “Lose your mind and come to your senses.”  The “mind” here is the chatter-box mind where we talk and talk and chatter to ourselves about all kinds of things while experiencing something- chatter that all-too-often causes us to miss the moment.  NLP took this phrase as Perls’ call for
coming into sensory-awareness so that a person sees, hears, feels, smells, and tastes one’s present moment.

The opposite is mindlessness.  Mindlessness speaks about a state of mind wherein we are not present, not conscious of the richness of the moment and so we miss out on the present.  Mindlessness occurs when we use our previous learnings in our ongoing experience of the world.  So instead of experiencing the world in a fresh way, we see it through our categories, judgments, and ideologies.  We then  dismiss things with a flip of the mind, “Oh, that’s X.”  “Oh that’s success.”  “That’s failure.”  “That’s old stuff, I already know that.”  Then, using these constructs we become blind to what is actually available to us.  Korzybski would say that this is seeing and experiencing the world intensionally rather than extensionally (note, it is intensionally, not intentionally).

By way of contrast to the automatic, robotic, and unconscious style of mindlessness, being mindful is responding with our full senses (“mind”), fully conscious of the here-and-now.  Instead of the blind and dull repetition of being mindless, in being mindful we see everything as fresh and new.  We see what we have seen a thousand times as if for the first time.  Maslow described self-actualizing people in this way.  He said they are able to see the thousandth sunrise as if it was the first one ever seen.

Another contrast is that in being mindless we use previous cognitive frameworks (judgments, evaluations, conclusions) rather than being open to the moment-that is, being mindful.  The mindless see but do not really see. “Eyes they have and see not; ears they have and hear not.”  Ellen Langer describes their mindset is that of being “motivated-not-knowing.”  Having decided that one already knows, one turns consciousness off and then dismiss whatever is present, paying it no attention.

Numerous problems can arise from that way of orienting oneself in the world. Langer also describes mindless as being trapped in one’s categories.  When a person lives by one’s labels, categories, classifications, etc. one loses the real world and lives solely in a world of constructs. “Just as mindlessness is the rigid reliance on old categories, mindfulness means the continual creation of new ones.” (Langer, 1989, p. 63).

Being mindful means making distinctions.  This is especially what we train in Coaching Mastery -how to make refined distinctions so that a person can listen so actively and intensely, one seems to enter into an entirely new world.  Whereas being mindless turns off one’s sensory awareness of the present, in mindfulness you come to your senses in a heightened way.  This explains why being mindful and living life from a state of continuous appreciation are so highly correlated.

Being mindful also entails continually creating and trying out new categories for things.  This means being able to re-experience situations and contexts in new ways thereby making the world  that is well-known new and fresh.  In other words, playfulness isn’t just for children.  As an adult you take continue to play and to be playful as you move through life.
You can mindfully play with ideas and categories.  Yet to do so requires an openness that reveals a mental receptivity to new possibilities.

In being mindful, your previous frames for understanding and interpreting a situation are not rigid or static.  You can frame things in ever-new ways. As you learn to reframe in playful and unexpected ways new meanings emerge. Maybe this explains why framing and reframing belong to the mindful- to those with an open and active mind.  The mindful can playfully re-interpret things to their benefit and to the benefit of others.

Being mindful means that you can stay aware of the process of making real choices as you move through the world.  This requires a process orientation, that is, an orientation to reality as a dynamic process, and not a static one.  Being mindful means we are alert to the variables within any decision so that we then think-through our decisions rather than deciding in a
reactive mindless way.

In the APG training that presents the Meta-States Model, mindfulness also shows up in terms of the ability to step back, expand one’s perspective, and reflexively move up the psycho-logical levels.  More about that next week.

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

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