Reflective intelligence refines your perceptions and answers to any event, any question. You can discover and examine complex “thinking” patterns that could derail your resilience and rewire them if you wish.
You can learn to pause and become present, to notice and name, to tolerate – accept – accept – accept, observe – increasingly complex objects of consciousness – sensations, emotions, thoughts, thought patterns, beliefs, hypotheses, values, points of view, identities. Mindfulness even allows us to observe the brain processes that create these “mental contents” and move them to something more flexible and “open-minded” if necessary.
Many people think that mindfulness is a kind of thought or cognition. Not exactly. Conscious consciousness is more about being with someone than thinking about them – knowing what you are going through while you are experiencing it. This awareness and reflection on the experience (and your reactions to your experience) create choice points in your brain. You can react flexibly to anything that happens, moment by moment, moment by moment.
This is my own shit story, but the change also happens to illustrate the mindfulness that helps me change my relationship to my thinking patterns.
When I had an office in San Francisco, I parked my car in Golden Gate Park and walked two blocks to my office. I could do it on autopilot. One day, I was worried about something, not paying enough attention to where I was walking, and I joyfully walked on a freshly poured wet cement sidewalk – up to my ankles. Ooh! Ooh! Ew! Ew!
Immediately, the self-critical discussion began. “You stupid clumsy fool! Look what you’ve done. You ruined your shoes. You’re going to be late for the customers. You will have to reschedule the customers. You’ll probably lose customers because of this. You will lose your business…” in a very short time.
At that time, I had enough awareness and practice of self-pity under my belt to be able to stop… “Wait a minute! Wait a minute! So I was worried! I’m tired of ending up feeling uncomfortable in my skin when I was only unconscious for a moment. For once, I’d like to take care of something and not pretend to be an idiot.”
With this interruption in my catastrophic thinking, I realized that I had a choice in how I would handle the situation. I took my feet off my shoes and I took my shoes off the cement. And I tried to have a little compassion for myself. “Shit happens. I’m probably not the only person on the planet who made a mistake today because she wasn’t paying attention. That’s probably not the only mistake I’m going to make today. Of course, I’m a little embarrassed, but that doesn’t mean anything more about me than not being attentive.”
There was an apartment building nearby with an outdoor water tap, and when I started washing my shoes, I understood: “Yes, shit happens. Life is happening to me that way right now.
One of the construction workers came to give me paper towels to dry my shoes – and to this day, I am grateful to him for being kind; he was not teasing or humiliating me. And then I realized that if I can change my attitude at that moment, I can change my attitude at any time. That’s a big change.
It’s the shit that happens.
Change is also happening.
If I can change my attitude right now,
I can change my attitude at any time.
All this was said more eloquently by Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived three and a half years in Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz:
“Between a stimulus and an answer, there is a space. In this space is our power to choose our answer. It is in our response that our growth and freedom lie. The last of human freedoms is to choose your attitude under any circumstances.”
Mindfulness helps us to notice what is happening in the present moment, and our reaction to what is happening in the present moment, regardless of what is happening in the present moment. We can seize the moment and make a choice. We can change our attitude, our perspective, we can change our behaviour choices at any time. This thoughtful choice supports our flexibility of response. It is the flexibility of reaction that makes.