Interpersonal Benefits of Mindfulness: Part II

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Guest

This is a guest blog post by Suzanne Parker, research associate in the department of psychology at the University of Miami.

As discussed in the previous post, mindfulness practices often cultivate a sense of presence that enhances moment-to-moment awareness. This direct experience of the present moment – minimizing interpretation, ingrained emotional reactivity, and cognitive restructuring – is conducive to facilitating interpersonal attunement, the resonance that occurs between people while interacting.

A great deal of the significance of presence is in the ability to attend to the most authentic – the least automatic – experience possible. Opening one’s present experience to “bottom-up” processing means sensing perceptual stimuli as directly as possible with a minimization of “top-down” filtering by cognitive and emotional mechanisms that have formed over time through past experience. This is not to say that the mental schemas we have established over time are harmful; indeed, they are what categorize our experience into manageable information as we move through the world. However, sometimes these schemas, while streamlining perception, can limit our direct observation of the present moment by shaping our experience to fit patterns we have come to expect.

The receptivity of presence allows us to more directly perceive the person in front of us, as well as our own reactions to them, in an authentic manner that goes above seeing what we expect – or want – to see. Brown and Cordon (2009) describe this suspension of a habitual, automatic mode of processing and assert that this flexibility of attention enables us to bring a sense of freshness and clarity to our individual experience. Dr. Dan Siegel refers to this idea as such:

“In the presence mindful awareness reveals, top-down constraints that filter, distort, limit, and restrict sensation are minimized … it seems that mindful awareness permits us to get as close as we can to clear vision, that there is some kind of ‘ground of being’ or some grounded receptive state, some spaciousness of the mind, that is as free from top-down filter constraints as is humanly possible.” (Siegel, 2007, p. 161-2)

Presence in interpersonal interaction includes not only being receptive to the experience of the person across from you, but also to your own internal experience during that interaction. This intrapersonal attunement is a necessary part of interpersonal attunement, in that your awareness of your own reactions while interacting with another person are key to the ability to resonate deeply with the other person.

“Receptivity demands a conscious intention and commitment to remain open, accepting, and allowing to all of the dimensions and experiences that arise. The allowing quality of receptivity is a distinct process of letting in experience and allowing it to flow through one’s self, as opposed to observing experience from an emotional or clinical distance.” (Geller & Greenberg, 2002, p. 78)

Being present with another person simultaneously involves being fully present with yourself and your own experience.

Photo Credits: davidyuweb, Martin LaBar

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