Mindfulness can be described in many different ways, and in this month's tip we are going to consider mindfulness from a new perspective. There are many aspects to mindfulness practice, and many different skills must come together to achieve a mindful state. This month we are going to discuss mindfulness as the combination of PRESENCE and CONNECTION. Presence is your ability to keep your attention firmly anchored in the present moment. Connection represents your willingness to consciously acknowledge the full range of your experience as it is arising right now. When presence and connection are both maximized we are living in a mindful state.
Considering mindfulness from these two dimensions of presence and connection gives us four possible categories for understanding the condition of your awareness in any moment. You might be low on both presence and connection. You might be high on presence but low on connection. You might be high on connection but low on presence. And finally you might be in the mindful state of high presence and high connection. We will consider each of these briefly below.
A state of consciousness characterized by both low presence and low connection is a state built on distraction. In many ways the recent advances in entertainment and technology have served to increase this tendency toward divided attention and a shorter attention span. While distracting yourself occasionally from the realities of life might be perfectly fine, if too much time is spent in this distracted and disconnected state of consciousness it can lead to a superficial and ineffective style of life. It is beyond the scope of this tip to discuss all of the characteristics of each category. However if you have ever tried to talk to someone who was constantly checking their phone, you understand some of the drawbacks to living a life of low presence and low connection.
A state of consciousness that is characterized by high presence and low connection is very interesting. Individuals who spend most of their time in this category tend to be extroverted, have strong egos, and often live in the present. However, as we have discussed elsewhere, your ego is the image of yourself you hope other people will see when they look at you. It is not necessarily the real truth of yourself. In fact, the heavier your reliance on this false self-image, the more out of touch with your real selves you become. So although individuals in this category may put on a good show, their outward presentation often obscures an inner hollowness and lack of self-awareness. Being disconnected from your real self in this way brings with it a host of vulnerabilities and risks for your mental health, your relationships, and the long term quality of your life.
A state of consciousness characterized by low presence and high connection also has some unique and interesting qualities and vulnerabilities. Individuals who spend the majority of their time in this state tend to be introverted, more inwardly focused, and have been described as "highly sensitive people". They are individuals who are deeply connected to their emotional experience in an embodied way without really understanding what it is about. These individuals are aware that they are having an emotional experience without really understanding why or what is truly being expressed in that experience. Many people who are in therapy are in this state of consciousness and it is the therapist's job to help them understand why they are feeling what they are feeling. Sometimes individuals in this state are even given medication to deal with these feelings rather than learning how to experience them mindfully with presence and understanding.
As we have seen, a state of true mindfulness requires a high degree of both presence and connection. If either one is missing, your meditation will not be true mindfulness. There are many benefits to living life with a high degree of presence and connection, and if you think back to the most important moments of your life you will realize that they had high degrees of both. As you continue your journey to mindfulness you will encounter many challenges from both within yourself and the world around you. In spite of these challenges, you probably already have a few moments of true mindfulness every day. And as your meditation practice improves, these moments will naturally happen with greater frequency and duration. Soon a life of presence and connection will seem as natural as a life of distraction seemed before.