Living consciously with alert interest has a powerful effect on interpersonal life.
In a University of Georgia study subjects were told that other subjects were forming a group—and taking a vote on whether she could join. Five minutes later, the experimenter announced the results—either the subject had gotten the least number of votes and been rejected or they had been accepted. Beforehand, half the subjects had undergone a mindfulness exercise in which each slowly ate a raisin, savoring its taste and texture and focusing on each sensation.
Later, in what they thought was a separate experiment, subjects had the opportunity to deliver a painful blast of noise to another person. Among subjects who hadn’t eaten the raisin, those who were told they’d been rejected by the group became aggressive, inflicting long and painful sonic blasts without provocation. Stung by social rejection, they took it out on other people.
But among those who’d eaten the raisin first, it didn’t matter whether they’d been ostracized or embraced. Either way, they were serene and unwilling to inflict pain on others—exactly like those who were given word of social acceptance.
How does being in the moment make you less aggressive? Mindfulness decreases ego involvement. So people are less likely to link their self-esteem to events and more likely to take things at face value. Mindfulness also makes people feel more connected to other people—that empathic feeling of being “at one with the universe.”
Mindfulness boosts your awareness of how you interpret and react to what’s happening in your mind. It increases the gap between emotional impulse and action, allowing you to do what Buddhists call recognizing the spark before the flame. Focusing on the present reboots your mind so you can respond thoughtfully rather than automatically. Instead of lashing out in anger, backing down in fear, or mindlessly indulging a passing craving, you get the opportunity to say to yourself, “This is the emotion I’m feeling. How should I respond?”
The biggest point? Inhabiting your own mind more fully has a powerful effect on your interactions with others.
You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels—pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad—you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, Now. Now. Now.
Peace and Love, Jim