Mindfulness, Presence and Connection

by Amina Knowlan | December 2007

We live in undeniable connectedness with all life. Every word we speak, every action we initiate creates a ripple upon this relationship. Understanding this connectedness brings a sacredness to each moment. There is no contact, no perception, no engagement that is inconsequential or insignificant. Each contact is an opportunity for deepening sensitivity and understanding. Our spirituality must touch every area of our lives." — Christina Feldman & Jack Kornfield
Stories of Spirit, Stories of the Heart

"If we really got that we are family, we couldn't drop bombs on our family. We couldn't allow children to starve or see HIV patients without drugs. WE couldn't allocate billions of dollars for defense.... WE couldn't amass personal fortunes while others are homeless."
— Desmond Tutu (i)

Mindfulness: A quality of focused, non-judgmental attention to the present moment; the capacity to witness.

Presence: A quality of being fully, yet authentically, available in the present moment; often experienced as a quality of being connected and open to what is arising or co-arising between and among us.

THE CAPACITY TO BE MINDFUL is fundamental to creating conscious, living systems. Establishing connections mindfully opens a gateway to a shift in consciousness. It is a shift that enables us to move from being reactive to being responsive and proactive. It allows us to differentiate from beliefs and actions rooted in the paradigm of separateness. It supports us in consciously choosing ways of relating that embody the truth of our interconnectedness. Early on in most groups, we are interested in cultivating mindfulness as a state of awareness or consciousness. It is a state that invites the self (of the individual and the group) to be available for learning and change. It is a state that cultivates responsiveness to the emerging whole. Mindfulness is essential to developing the capacity to be responsive to the needs and development of the group and all of its members.

"You have to know what you are doing...."
Moshe Feldenkrais said, "You have to know what you are doing, before you can do what you want."(ii) A group member has to notice his tendency to jump in to start each session, before he can sit back and trust that someone else will initiate and get things going if he is quiet. Before someone can choose to participate as a member who is valued and included, she has to notice the old, automatic (and sometimes unconscious) internal voice that refutes that possibility.

Slowing Down

Becoming mindful also requires slowing down. Speed is antithetical to awareness and sensitivity. In order to move out of an automatic behavior pattern, awareness has to be open enough to notice the subtle components of the habitual pattern. A pianist who is playing a particular sequence incorrectly, has to play the section much more slowly in order to re-learn the correct fingering or timing.(iii), The brain literally "chunks" information. In order to re-learn an incorrect pattern, it is necessary to slow down to take these "chunks" of information apart and literally re-wire the nervous system.

Similarly, if we want to interrupt or change our automatic ways of interacting with others, we have to slow down enough to notice patterns. The patterns typically include thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. We can loosen the grip of the old strategies designed to keep us separate and safe. We can find out that in the current context, there are people learning to relate consciously, inclusively and lovingly. By slowing down, we also allow our individual fields or frequencies, to come into resonance with each other.

Self Awareness: Mindfulness within the Individual

We cultivate mindfulness and presence, first, within the individual. Simply noticing our breath, noticing our own unique energy, rhythms, thoughts and feelings, brings us into connection with our bodies in the present moment. We notice and let go of the distractions that might keep us from being present and available to this group in this moment. Through the act of bringing conscious attention of our own inner experience, we can bring our own state toward a neutral, open, centered ground. Once we take our seat in the orchestra, we bring our full attention to our instrument, the orchestra and the music we are to play together.

Mindful Connection with Others

The practice of establishing a culture of mindfulness about how we automatically organize and react to others is akin to learning the alphabet necessary to develop a new language of connection. In connection with others, there is an opportunity to become mindful of our tendency to define ourselves through old stories of separation and "less than." We discover the hopes and fears that we bring to a group. We notice whether we habitually have ourselves be an outsider, whether we are excited or anxious. We notice whether we look through the lens of the skeptical cynic, or the artist who sees the fertile opportunity.

hrough person-to-person communication and feedback we recognize the aspects of ourselves that obstruct connection. One person might be quick to judge others as a way to stay safe. Someone else might habitually steer the group to make sure something worthwhile happens. We notice the patterns in ourselves and in each other. We notice where we are out of tune with our own fullness, or with the symphony we are here to play together.

There is also a fruitful opportunity to activate the field of possibility. We glimpse who is emerging in this possible story of interconnection. The new story might include an image or felt sense of how we would function if we truly experienced ourselves as connected and valued-free to inhabit our full creative potential in connection with others.

When we share these images of the old and new stories with others in the group, we are establishing allies who will re-mind us when they see us acting as if the old story is the truth about who we are. In a group of people who are all committed to learning to establish choice-full, present connection with others, we create the foundation to experience the unraveling of the old story and the embodiment of the emerging paradigm of living in relationship and community.

Connection with The Larger Whole / The Source / The Divine

We remember that we are connected to, and supported by, the larger matrix of the earth and spirit. The earth offers wisdom of the sacred nature of all of the cycles of becoming. The leaves that have fallen from the tree represent releasing of that which no longer serves the tree as it moves into the fallow time of winter. The acorn that has fallen to the earth holds the seed of possibility that a new tree will sprout in the spring. Honoring our connection to the Source is like taking that collective breath before the conductor steps onto the stage: that breath of remembrance. Remembering that we are in-formed by Spirit.

This collective breath of remembrance can be as simple as beginning a group or a meeting with a moment of silence. A moment that allows the frenetic energy of doing to rest into the receptive energy of being. In a high-powered business meeting, a moment of silence can be posed as an opportunity to really arrive and be present for the work at hand. It is a moment to reflect and open to a larger inspiration or purpose. Even a moment of silence presented as a moment to "catch your breath," allows a group of individuals to come into a resonance with each other that creates a connection to that Source of greater possibility.

When we form and open the connections between us, we are collectively creating a kind of chalice that can tap into the nested matrices that support all of life. Metaphorically we open to receive the "will of heaven."(iv) Others might call it opening to the co-arising, emerging intelligence that will choreograph our evolution. All of our interconnected hands and hearts create the capacity to receive the intelligence that is larger than our own individual egos. When we mindfully weave the web of human connections, it is like opening to the channels of connection that already exist. When the individual musicians are listening and responding to each other's instrument while playing their own brilliantly, the whole emerges.

© Knowlan, Amina, reprinted and excerpted from the forthcoming book on Matrix Leadership, August, 2007
(i) Tutu, Desmond. From a lecture delivered on March 29, 2003 at the University of Colorado-Boulder, World Affairs Conference.
(ii) Ron Kurtz, founder of Hakomi Body-Centered Psychotherapy, quoting Moshe Feldenkrais
(iii) Kurtz, Ron, ibid
(iv) Cogburn, Elizabeth, a phrase from the Qabalah that she used at Sundance, 1986.

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