From mindless to mindful: Relational mindfulness & self-regulation
It takes a pause to interrupt the mindless default mode under which we usually function. Mindlessness? Our attention is not engaged because it doesn't need to be, we can perform well enough in automatic pilot. But, when we pause, we have an opportunity to notice what is happening. That is, to take stock of what we are interacting with (other people, or, more generally, the situation we are in). And to notice what we are doing and what else we might be doing instead, to more appropriately respond to the situation.
Here is a visual metaphor of how a mindful pause helps us calibrate our interaction with experience. Think of a floodgate, just like the dam that regulates the flow of water, preventing floods, allowing for optimal irrigation:
If the floodgates are open, we get totally flooded, overwhelmed. The information is no use to us. The experience is actually destructive.
On the other hand, if the gates are closed, we get no information whatsoever. We get no experience, no benefit from experience.
To benefit from the mighty river without being flooded by it, we need to be open able to open and close the floodgates at will, in order to regulate the flow of information.
We are regulating our relationship with experience in order to integrate it optimally.
We use floodgates to allow for optimal irrigation and make agriculture possible. But this process of regulation is not just technological process. This is not just a human process. It is a natural process, one that we share with other animals. It is very clear if you observe how we, or animals, drink.
The bottle is open, and gravity gets the water to flow down to our mouth.
As we drink, we take pauses to shift from bringing water into the mouth to conveying it inside the organism:
- if we were totally open, nonstop, we'd be flooded,
- if we were totally closed, nonstop, we'd get no water,
- it works because we're able to regulate the intake of water.
It's so natural, a child does it without being taught. So, if pausing comes naturally, why would be ever need to take a mindful pause?
The answer is: When things are more difficult, especially when we are stressed. Here's an analogy: Breathing, too, comes naturally. But, inder stress, our breathing becomes shallow. This reduces the blood flow in our body (including our brain) and, in turn, reduces our capacity to deal with stress. It is good for us to intentionally break this vicious cycle by intentionally regulating our breathing (see: Beyond reactive: How to develop a proactive mindset).
The mindful pause helps us regulate interaction, in such a way that we can benefit from the experience without being overwhelmed by it.
We don’t exist in isolation (nothing is). We are always in interaction. Regulating our interactions with people and situations through the pause is, phenomenologically, how we experience ourselves as a “self” in the midst of interaction.
In other words:
- No Pause = Default Mode: Mindless
- Pause = Mindful: "I pause, therefore I am"