Dynamic Mindfulness is a term I coined for a systematic meditation technique I developed in the course of honing an integrated view of human nature encompassing both traditional descriptions of human subjective experience based on thousands of years of collective human experience and the newest insights gained into the way our embodied brain functions. The uniqueness of this approach lies in the fact that each step taken during meditation, which can be defined as a way of using one’s mind to rewire the brain through attentional and awareness training, correlates rather specifically with what we nowadays know about the brain and its workings. In memorizing the different steps of this technique we simultaneously tour the functional anatomy of the brain, giving our meditation practice a particularly tangible and embodied sense of reality.
At first blush the term ‘Dynamic Mindfulness’ may seem like a tautology, since mindfulness is naturally dynamic. A closer look at the way we experience life makes it clear though that juxtaposing these two notions of ‘mindfulness’ and ‘dynamic’ is not as redundant as it seems. All you need to do is a quick experiment looking out the window onto a country landscape for example and notice what you see. Your thoughts will abound with nouns such as trees, grass, a field, a mountain, a river, a horse, a house etc. The reality that all these nouns are in fact verbs, processes unfolding before your eyes, escapes us for the most part, even though intellectually we can all agree that it is the case. Experientially we do not pay attention to the dynamic nature of reality, focusing instead on its static appearance. We then live our lives accordingly, out of touch with the dynamic nature of reality, manipulating objects instead. We live as if we were part of a large canvas of objects interacting with each other, out of touch with and unaware of the fact that every object, including ourselves, are processes unfolding in the first place. This leads to such phenomena as ‘bringing my sore knee with a torn meniscus to the doctor to be fixed’, thus leaving myself out of the equation of the healing process, oblivious to the fact that I, my knee, my relationship to my knee and the whole organism the knee is part of are all intertwined dynamic processes involved in both the reason for the torn knee and its healing. Such an approach to the living organism that we are is limiting and therefore causing unnecessary suffering.
Why do we objectify reality into a collection of interacting nouns and forget the deep dynamic nature of reality as verb? The reason has to do with three mechanisms by which we forget the deep dynamic nature of reality. They relate to the nature of beliefs, the relationship between the left and the right brain, and psychological development through childhood.
- The first mechanism by which we forget the deep dynamic nature of reality pertains to how the brain processes beliefs in its main sensory areas, the very same areas where we perceive pain. As surprising as this might seem, belief centers are not located in the flexible intellectual thought-based areas of the frontal cortex. Instead, they are located in the sensory areas that we rely so heavily on to keep us safe. It is through our perception of pain sensation, touch, pressure, position, motion, vibration, temperature, sight, sound, smell and taste that we test reality and decide how to change and adapt for survival. Our beliefs, deeply embedded and embodied in these brain areas that define our concrete reality, define who we are in a very fixed and defined way, and are therefore not easily amenable to exploration and questioning.
- As for the second mechanism, the problem-solving left brain is for most of us unfortunately not properly integrated into right-brain functioning and therefore quite literally a lose tyrant without checks and balances controlling our lives. Its mode of functioning is to parse reality into bits without noticing context, and then crystallize these bits as conceptual things or objects in our awareness. In addition, contrary to the way the right brain presents reality to our awareness in the form of direct experience, the left brain gone rogue only represents it to us conceptually. Locked into such a controlled, objectifying construction of reality as a virtual world of interacting things or objects, we are incapable of seeing the deeper truth, namely the fact that the perception of things as objects is but a rough, imprecise, disembodied and limited view of reality (although under certain circumstances useful in its own right) that misses the deeper truth of reality as a limitless dynamic field. This comes with a hefty price, the price of a very bad habit, the habit of unnecessary, optional suffering.
- The third mechanism is deeply embedded in our childhood development. As we grow from a young child into preadolescence and adolescence, our capacity for abstraction evolves. Young children are not capable of complex abstract reasoning (thought differentiation). Their world is concrete, and their not yet very evolved reasoning capacities not very differentiated from fantasy (Piaget: concrete operational stage). This is the reason why there is no logical conflict in their minds when they envision Santa Claus fly on a sleigh and descend through the chimney to bring gifts. As we grow older our capacity for abstraction and differentiation of complex thought processes increases, and what seemed conflict-free and logical in the past suddenly poses serious logical problems. In other words, our ability to differentiate complex mind processes from one another and realize different facets of consciousness changes and grows as we age. For different complex reasons I cannot possibly elaborate on here, many people remain stuck in preadolescent ways of thought processing and remain incapable of sophisticated reasoning. The result is an overly concrete, rigid, dissociated view of the world full of conflicting parts, coupled with an unawareness of inconsistencies. Its hallmark is belief and dogma. An example of that is the creationist belief in how the physical universe came into being, which is essentially a version of the Santa Claus story. I am not saying that the physical universe cannot possibly have come into existence through an act of divine creation. I am simply identifying creationism as a rigid dogmatic structure, when it manifests socially in the form of schools that forbid the study of evolution in their curriculum, thus expressing more the anxieties of their proponents than anything worthwhile about truth or reality.
Dynamic Mindfulness investigates these mechanisms that distort our sense of reality. It is the experiential realization that
- All objects of observation are energy and information flow (EIF),
- No object of observation can ever be seen in isolation from all other objects of observation (interbeing),
- Every object of observation is both caused by a multitude of other objects of observation and causes a multitude of other objects of observation (this is, because that is; this is not, because that is not),
- There is a relationship between the objects of observation, the known, and the subject that observes, awareness or the knowing,
- Every observed object is automatically modified by the awareness brought to the object,
- Awareness and its objects is the dualistic aspect of awareness, and
- Awareness itself encompasses both the knowing and the known and is non-dualistic.
In Dynamic Mindfulness we base our work on a 5-dimensional view of reality as we explore the 5 aspects of human experience in an integrated fashion:
- Physical dimension: The brain, the body and behavior as they are objectively observable and measurable through science.
- Somatic dimension: The mind as it is subjectively experienced as body through physical sensations and emotions.
- Psychological dimension: The mind as it is subjectively experienced as psyche through emotions, thoughts and narratives in relation to day-to-day living.
- Existential dimension: The mind as it is subjectively experienced as sense of an independent and embodied self and human organism (or bodymind) in relation to its own finite existence within the boundaries of time and space.
- Spiritual dimension: The mind as it is subjectively and transcendentally experienced as dissolution of an independent sense of self in relation to the nameless, timeless and spaceless essence of reality called transcendence.
Because we express these different aspects of experience through action, one form being language, different facets of consciousness in different experience modes will be expressed in different language modes. In Dynamic Mindfulness we need to familiarize ourselves with these language modes, learning how to use and interpret them. The four language modes allowing us to access different facets of consciousness and different experience modes are:
- Unstructured everyday language: It re-presents and expresses a running commentary on life experience. The criterion of truth is unexamined subjective experience.
- Left-brain descriptive language: It re-presents external reality as being separate from the speaking subject, and gives us objective knowledge into the physical world. The criterion of truth is out there in the physical world – if it corresponds to something physical and concrete in the world, it must be true. The speaking subject is minimally involved. It emphasizes aboutness. Examples are history, biography and science.
- Left-brain conceptual or dialectic language: It re-presents internal reality as being separate from the speaking subject, but less separate than in description, and gives us knowledge into the psychological world. The criterion of truth is in its internal consistency or coherence – if it sounds logical and well thought out, it must be true. The speaking subject is more intensely involved. It emphasizes aboutness. Examples are psychology, meditation, philosophy.
- Right-brain metaphorical language: It presents the whole (internal and external) reality as lived by the speaking subject (no subject-object separation) and gives us knowledge about how to live. The criterion of truth is in its efficacy when lived and compelling sense of wisdom. The speaking subject and the objective world he/she lives in manifest as a whole in the here and now. It emphasizes direct experience and wholeness. Examples are myths and metaphors, sacred stories.
The challenge is to become aware which aspect of experience is being accessed with what language mode. They all express different facets of consciousness that give us clues about the nature of reality. No level of experience is better or worthier of inquiry than any other. They all need to be investigated in an integrated fashion. When we master that, we are not in danger of confusing facets of consciousness, language modes and levels of experience, and we will gain the freedom to access reality in its complex entirety without dissociating any part of it. We will get a glimpse of the whole elephant.
Dynamic mindfulness gives us a systematic and clear roadmap to explore awareness, which we define as the subjective experience of consciousness. Awareness entails four aspects we learn to become familiar with:
- The objects of awareness (i.e. the content of awareness, the known, experience phenomena),
- The subject of awareness (i.e. the witness, the knowing),
- The dynamic process by which the subject and its objects are related, and
- The quality of the whole awareness experience.
Dynamic Mindfulness highlights the way awareness is an EIF (energy and information flow) tracker and modifier, tracking everything it modifies, and modifying everything it tracks. Why? Because where awareness goes, neurons fire, and where they fire, they rewire. Result? Awareness differentiates details of what seems uniform, thus dissolving rigidity, and creatively links disparate parts that seem unrelated, thus ordering chaos.
In Dynamic Mindfulness we use a very specific set of practices and tools that first close all the doors of avoidance the organism is conditioned and used to mobilize, then lead us through the processes of differentiation and linkage to integration. We explore in a sequential and systematic way first the objects of awareness, and once we are solidly anchored in the world of phenomena, we then move on to the much more difficult topic of the subject of awareness. We proceed by first grounding ourselves in the world of objects of our experience through stable concentration as the core tool for differentiation, spacious equanimity (COAL – curiosity, openness, acceptance and love) as the core tool for linkage, strong somatic awareness without which no liberation from identification is possible, and clear view of the different categories of experience. In a later stage, we then move on to explore the witness, the subject of our experience, including the relationship between the objects of awareness and awareness itself, until we ultimately discover the non-dual foundations of reality and Being.
Copyright © 2016 by Dr. Stéphane Treyvaud. All rights reserved.