written by Tonia Rall
“ Mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally” Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindsight is a term coined by Dr. David Siegal, a renowned author and pioneer in the field of mental health[i]. Mindsight is used to describe our human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and of others. Mindsight, as the name suggests is keeping our focused attention, or our ‘sight’ on the mind, observing the mind, becoming the observer, and sitting in the seat of the witness. It is a powerful lens through which we can understand the inner workings of our minds and our internal worlds with more clarity and insight[ii].
Mindsight is a kind of focused internalised attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our minds. It helps us get ourselves out of autopilot, ingrained and habitual responses. It allows us to ‘tame and name’ the emotions that we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed but them. It is similar to the concept of interoception, rather Interoception (intero – interior, ception – to perceive), is the brain’s perception of the body’s state through our focused awareness of our physiology, in order to notice the subtle signals, sensations and energies of the body and inside the body, another invaluable skill to improving our resilience and mental health[iii].
Mindsight is the difference between saying “I am stressed” and “I feel stress or I am experiencing stress” in this moment. As similar as these two statements may seem, they are profoundly different. “I am sad” is a kind of limited self-definition, you are thus completely identifying as the state and not separate from it. By rather saying “I feel stressed” – suggests the ability to recognise and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it. The focusing skills of Mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it and in the accepting, surrendering to it and in the surrendering, letting it go and transcending it. Mindsight is a learnable skill, it is the basic skill that underlies what we mean when we speak of having emotional and social intelligence and can be learnt with practice.
Mindfulness can be seen as a form of a healthy relationship with oneself. Attunement is the concept of how one person focuses attention on the internal world of another; “attunement is sensing another person’s experience and using empathy to create connection” [iv]. This focus on the mind of another enables both people to feel ‘felt, seen, heard and safe’. It is the foundation of any therapeutic or coaching relationship and ideally our intimate relationships with our loved ones. It is fundamentally about getting your prejudices, agendas and hidden motives out of the way and offering your compassionate presence to another person.
Attuned relationships promote mental health, resilience, and longevity. Mindful awareness is a form of intrapersonal attunement, in other words, Mindfulness is attuning to yourself much like you would attune to another, being present with your own internal world and cultivating a healthy relationship with one’s mind, much like becoming one’s own best friend. Mindfulness can promote balanced self-regulation and integration of mind and body that enables flexibility, self-compassion, self-understanding and self-reflexivity, which is the examination of one’s own beliefs, perceptions, bias, prejudice, judgements and behaviours.
Feeling felt, seen and safe by others and connected to others and the world may assist in the understanding of how becoming attuned to oneself could also promote the physical and psychological dimensions of well-being from mindful awareness. Mindfulness creates improvements in immune function, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, decreases stress, and may even help cope with pain. It may cultivate an inner sense of wellness, resilience, and peace of mind and may enhance our capacity for rewarding interpersonal relationships[v].
Mindfulness is the quality or state of being mindful, it is a state of being, it is a ‘verb’, a doing, an action, it is a skill strengthened by a moment-to-moment awareness. Daniel Seigel describes mindfulness as the ability to cultivate “an experiential understanding of the mind as a direct focus of mindful awareness”, he furthermore states that, “we come not only to know the mind but to embrace our own inner world and the minds of others with kindness and compassion”[vi]. To be mindful means to focus our attention on the present moment, Lao Tzu said; “ If you are depressed, you are living in the past, if you are anxious, you are living in the future ( that has not happened yet), if you are at peace, you are living in the present”.
Mindfulness is the idea of being aware, considerate and conscientious, with kindness and care towards oneself, much like one would be towards a dear friend or a child. It is about how to be reflective and aware of others and oneself with Curiosity, Openness, Acceptance and Love (COAL) [vii] – the qualities of mindfulness. Interesting to notice that the qualities of mindfulness are closely associated with healthy attachment, the qualities you need to raise a healthy child. So, in some way practicing mindfulness is a way of re-parenting yourself.
How we focus our attention helps to directly shape the mind, where attention goes, energy flows and those ‘things grow’ and in neurobiological terms the neural pathways that ‘fire together, wire together’ and create deeply rooted beliefs, patterns and behaviours. So, notice where your attention goes and do you want those negative constructs, unhelpful thoughts, critical self-talk or limiting beliefs to grow? Mindful awareness involves the AWARENESS of awareness, present moment awareness, and being able to focus in the HERE and NOW and feel into ourselves in an embodied (IN body) way as we travel through the world on our path.
Reflective ‘awareness of awareness’ means that people approach their here-and-now experiences with COAL no matter what they may be experiencing. Our state of mind and state of being is not dependent on the external situation, but rather how we respond to it. I think of Victor Frankl’s quote:“Between the stimulus and response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and freedom”. Mindfulness enables us to create that space. We have the power to control our thoughts and state of being, by taking a moment to pause and to become fully present to what is unfolding in the moment and thus making a choice on how to respond, but in order to do that, we need to train the mind to become aware of awareness itself and to pay attention to one’s own hidden motives, intention and beliefs.
Unless one brings them into conscious awareness, your unconscious beliefs, emotions and behaviours will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient, sick or unworthy self. One does this by being able to shift through the activities of the mind; by being aware of physical sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, one can see these activities as just as “waves on the surface of the mental sea” ( Daniel, J Siegal, 2007).
Here I am sharing a mindfulness and self-compassion meditation practice by Tara Brach, mindfulness expert. It is an easy-to-remember tool for practising mindfulness and self-compassion when feeling anxious, stressed, dysregulated or overwhelmed. RAIN. [viii]
- R – Recognise what is going on (this means consciously taking a moment to breathe, observe and notice what is present, in order to acknowledge the thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations and behaviours that are impacting us.
- A – Allow the experience to be there, just as it is (Taking a life-giving pause, with the intention of relaxing our resistance. Allowing means letting the thoughts, feelings, emotions or sensations we have recognized to simply be there, without needing to judge, change, fix or without going into defences – fight, flight, freeze or fawn).
- I – Investigate with kindness (This means calling on our natural curiosity, the desire to know truth and directing a more focused attention to our present experience, by simply asking what is happening inside of me right now? You might want to ask yourself “What needs my attention?” “What and how am I experiencing in this body in this moment?” “What am I believing and is it true and relevant? Or use the HALTS model for the enquiry – am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Sad, Sick or Stressed?
- N – Natural loving awareness – there is nothing to do in the last part of RAIN, we simply rest in the witness – natural awareness which comes from not identifying with the experience, when the identification with the small self or little ego is loosened. This practice of non-identification means that our sense of who we are at the core is not fused with any limiting beliefs, sensations or stories. We are not stressed; we are simply experiencing stress in this moment. We are not sad, we are feeling sad.
Mindfulness is not achieving a state of ‘no-mind’ or no thoughts or meditating for hours each day and reaching a zen-like state. Mindfulness in everyday life feels like inserting a few short pauses into your day to take a few belly breaths and check in with yourself and ask yourself how you are feeling, and what needs attention. It may look like being aware and conscious of the everyday attention-demanding activities we are engaged in, like driving, walking, eating, washing dishes, playing with our pets, and spending time with family, without letting our minds wander too much towards distractions or into the past or into the future, this is especially challenging with so many distractions all around us. So, ask yourself to what extent are you present in your own life? To the extent with which you are able to present in your own life is the extent to which you are present in the lives of your loved ones and correlates to how one can respond to challenges and stressors in healthy ways and being able to respond to difficulty from a place of groundedness and consciousness will greatly contribute to wellbeing, healing and optimising function.
[ii] Mindsight: the new power of personal transformation. Daniel, J, Siegal, 2009
[iii] Interoception definition taken from Science Direct website. Clinical psychology Review, 2010
[iv] Goodtherapy.org – Attunement – what is it and why is it important? Denise Renye, 2022
[v] Newsinhealth.nih.gov Mindfulness for your health – the benefits of living moment by moment
[vi] Reflections on the Mindful brain, Danil J Siegal, 2007 p2 to 12.
[vii] The mindful Brain- reflection and attunement in the cultivation of wellbeing. Daniel, J, Siegal,
[viii] Rain exercise taken from Mindful.org/tara-brach-rain-mindfulness-practice