In an effort to share a range of perspectives on the meaning of mindfulness and to facilitate a discussion about this important topic, we are posting a series of short essays by different contributors on What Mindfulness Means to Me. Below is an essay by Sang H. Kim.
Synchrony of Action and Stillness
Mindfulness to me is an experience of the synchrony of engagement and disengagement. It’s a mental yin-yang state where there is no yin-yang but the experience. This experience of synchrony allows me to feel a part of the whole wherever I am.
I like to engage with people, place, nature, moment, or a particular situation that I involve. It nurtures my sense of belonging to the life and space we all share. Where there is a living force attractive enough that is where my mind always goes. That includes the sufferings of others. This, naturally, slows down my engagement with many other things such as my work or other commitments. But almost always attraction overrides. When I notice it, I am more mindful of where I am going.
On the other hand disengagement gives me space for perspective and freedom to choose new paths. It changes the way I think of others and helps me reshape the way I think of myself. Was and am I kind to others, including my pets, and myself? I ask inside after disengagement. While entangled with people’s lives face to face, it’s hard to know and be kind to each other. It’s true that we are social beings who love to engage with others, but it’s also true that we are at times antisocial in nature, needing to be alone. Being away completes what’s missing during engaging. When I notice it, I am more compassionate to others and myself.
For mind-body engagement, I find deep breathing useful for two reasons. For one, it helps to access my sense of consciousness and focus. When I stop breathing, even for ten seconds, nothing is more urgent in the moment. The single goal becomes having one more breath in. Nothing really matters when I can’t breathe. What matters though is that awakening to the feeling of the sweetness of one breath. That takes me to the closest point of living mindfulness. The second reason is that deep breathing helps me disengage from the thoughts and engage with what really happens with my body, in real time. Unlike the thoughts that are abstract and illusive, senses from the body are real and instant attention grabbers. Through real time feedback my body and mind interact, raising consciousness inside. By the time I am no longer counting my breath I am in a consciousness of no consciousness. Here I relax deeply.
I also find mindful movement intuitively engaging. Controlled motions in particular stimulate and connect the body and brain while containing the energy flow. When I practice mindful movement, my thoughts are cooperative and less likely to hijack my mind throughout the day.
As the stillness of the outside falls on my moving body, movements are tamed to a gentler form of energy, like dancing willow tree branches. The gentle silent stillness slowly permeates into the body. Deep inside, the flowing stillness meets the innate stillness. As they connect, the yin and yang leave the circle. Only the experience of being stays. In the midst of the synchrony, I am.
Sang H. Kim is a research associate at the Stroke Research and Recovery Institute at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation of Harvard Medical School in Boston, and the director of mindful movement project. Previously, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and has a PhD in Exercise Science with an emphasis on neurophysiology of movement-based mindfulness. He is the author of a book, Mindful Movement: Mastering Your Hidden Energy. He blogs at OneMindOneBreath.com and MBX12.org.