By Tomislav Tomic – the founder of the TT Mindfulness program
First of all, it is a term that refers to a set of techniques, principles, and approaches that direct and influences our attention in a specific way. This way of managing attention has a positive effect on developing a strong and sharp focus and helps us to be more present and aware of ourselves, our thoughts, emotions and our surroundings. As we will learn in Levels 3 and 4 of this program, it also helps us to become more aware of our higher spiritual centers and soul impulses that are present in our consciousness – and want to express themselves through us.
Although this method in its basic form originated more than 2500 years ago and was used and perfected primarily in some monasteries and schools of traditional martial arts, it is only in the last twenty years that science and business have recognized the tremendous value of mindfulness for the age in which we live and work.
A stronger immune system, more balanced blood pressure, better quality of sleep, a clearer mind, less stress, increased cognitive ability and memory, better concentration, and increased mental and emotional agility and flexibility are just some of the benefits of regular mindfulness training.
MINDFULNESS IS A FREE SPACE IN OUR MIND
The essence of this skill is the creation of “FREE SPACE” in our mind that allows us to briefly DETACH or CREATE DISTANCE from our usual thoughts, emotions and emotional reactions, bodily sensations, and the way we are used to processing information from our environment – especially in challenging moments. Such a DETACHMENT or DISTANCE allows us to look REALISTICALLY and OBJECTIVELY at what is going on inside us and BASE OUR DECISIONS ON REAL FACTS not rely on subjective assumptions and memories from the past.
MINDFULNESS IS A BRIEF MOMENT OF PURE AWARENESS
From another perspective, mindfulness refers to STATE or ASPECT OF OUR CONSCIOUSNESS when we are aware of certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, or information that are within the radius of our awareness but WE HAVE NOT YET GIVEN THEM THE MEANING WE USUALLY DO.
Before we automatically attach meaning to a thought that arises in our mind, the emotions we feel, or the information we receive, there arises in our consciousness a BRIEF “MOMENT” OF PURE AWARENESS of that thought, emotion, or information. This awareness is free of the meaning we otherwise automatically attach to those thoughts, emotions, or information. This “moment” of pure awareness, which FREE from the MEANING we normally automatically attach, lasts so briefly that we do not even notice it in everyday life, and we can only develop an awareness of this moment with regular training. Mindfulness is not only used as a name for a skill or a set of methods that have a common approach and basic philosophy but also stands for this brief “moment” of pure awareness.
Let me explain…
If you could travel through time and visit, say, a prehistoric man and show him a very ordinary jar, he would probably just look at it strangely and certainly not be interested in what you put in it, nor would he care where you bought it. He would not be able to associate the “object” he sees in front of him with anything. Not having in his consciousness any (preliminary) information about glass in general, or about the function of glass in general, and not being familiar with the facts that are known to us today, he would not be able to give this “object” the meaning of a jar.
We, on the other hand, who live in modern times, when we see a jar, we automatically associate with that “object” the meaning of a jar and all that goes with it, without thinking about it. So we automatically classify it in a certain compartment in our mind without doing anything consciously. Just as we attach meaning to things we know, we do the same when it comes to our thoughts and feelings or our attitudes and emotional reactions and the information we receive from the environment.
This automatic assignment of meaning makes our lives easier in the vast majority of cases and saves us energy because we rely on known information. It would be really impractical if every time we saw an ordinary jar in the store, we had to consciously turn on our brain and start the deep process of analysis. However, the problem occurs when we automatically attach meaning to certain thoughts, emotions, and information we receive from our environment, and the way we do that does not support the specific steps we need to take to achieve the change we want.
Experience with the vicious circle
I believe that at least once in your life, you have been in a situation where you desperately wanted to change something and tried wholeheartedly to do what you thought was right. You were even willing to listen to advice from various experts and try it out in practice. But whatever you tried, after a small glimmer of hope that appeared at the beginning of an endeavor, you eventually found that despite the steps you took, you were back at the same starting point. You may have managed to change some of the details on the surface, but what you felt inside, that is, your emotional experience, remained the same. This is a classic example of a situation where, despite our desire and will to change, we still unconsciously attach meaning to certain thoughts, emotions, and information THAT ARE CRUCIAL TO THE CHANGE WE DESIRE and the way we attach meaning to them does not support the change we desire. This is exactly why, in these situations, we feel like we are constantly stuck in the same vicious cycle, despite our tremendous efforts and good intentions.
Here is a real life example…
Ana is a department manager in a large company that is doing very well. She is hardworking, young, energetic, dedicated, and capable, but her behavior towards the people in the company she often works with is quite ARROGANT AND SHE OFTEN HAS AGGRESSIVE OUTBREAKS. She does not see it that way, but a large number of complaints from her closest team and other employees, just about her behavior, led her to believe that there was something wrong with her behavior. Realizing this, she took several courses on communication skills. Although she learned a wealth of useful information, it did not help her solve the core problem she was having. Her friend suggested mindfulness training and so she came to me. After a few conversations we had, and after she had practiced one of the mindfulness techniques you will learn in this course for a few weeks, Ana began to understand how her, as Bruce Lee says, “mechanical conditioning” was working. She began to realize that in situations where her colleagues promise her to get something done on time and then fail to do so, such as responding to her email, AUTOMATICALLY she perceives this as a direct gesture of disrespect toward her and feels unimportant. In response to her feeling of unimportance, AUTOMATICALLY she reacts with arrogant and aggressive behavior.
However, as she began to realize through mindfulness training how she unconsciously attaches meaning to her colleagues’ behavior, she began to realize that her previous reaction was only ONE POSSIBLE WAY OF LOOKING AT THE SAME THING. She began to realize that the same behavior could be interpreted in several other ways, not just as a gesture of disrespect toward her.
As she changed her attitude toward her colleagues’ behavior at work and became more open to talking to find solutions to what she thought was wrong, her colleagues became more open to suggestions and collaboration.
THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS ARE NOT FACTS
Viewed through the prism of mindfulness, life is a constant PROCESS OF BECOMING and consists of the sum of all the moments you have experienced so far. The way you relate to the present moment largely determines your current experience and influences the experiences you will have in the future. The present moment is all you really have. From a mindfulness perspective, every moment is literally a NEW BEGINNING. And that frees you to take a look at the real options available to you HERE and NOW, let go of an image of yourself that does not match what you want and intend to become, and let go of the ways of seeing and thinking that keep leading you back to OLD behaviors. Regular mindfulness training helps us create a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT VIEW OF OUR THOUGHTS and EMOTIONS and the INFORMATION WE RECEIVE FROM THE ENVIRONMENT that opens the door to a world of new possibilities. Instead of being slaves to our “mechanical conditioning” that no longer serves us, we will realize that WE HAVE THE POSSIBILITY TO CHANGE AND LET GO EVERYTHING THAT IS STOPPING US TO BECOME THE PERSON WE WANT TO BE.
Mindfulness will make it clearer to you that YOUR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS ARE NOT FACTS and no matter how persistent and persuasive they can sometimes be, you do not have to accept them, nor do you have to base your choices and decisions on them if they do not lead you in the direction you want your life to go.
FREEDOM OF CHOICE VS. OUR “REAL CHOICE”
We all have the freedom of choice to think the thoughts we want to think most of the day. But just because we have freedom of choice does not mean we can put that freedom of choice into action. Freedom of choice is not the same as a REAL choice, and the better we learn to manage our attention and make it INDEPENDENT of our emotional reactions, the more our REAL choices expand.
A well-known psychiatrist and man who went through four concentration camps during World War II, Viktor Frankl, wrote in his book Man’s Search for the Meaning:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. And in that space lies our freedom and power to choose our responses. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Mindfulness is a magical “space” between stimulus and response, and it is up to you how much you want to develop it and thus expand your REAL choices.