Mindfulness is the process of consciously focusing one’s attention, without judgment, to experiences happening to that individual at a precise point in time. It can be explained as being the deliberate action of the individual to marry sensual input with an experienced environment: e.g. an individual’s focus on a feeling or sensation experienced by them at the point of contact between their leg and the chair that they are sitting on. Mindfulness could be likened to ‘information’. The depth and speed of attaining mindful focus can be developed through the practice of meditation or other training.
Awareness, or to be more precise self-awareness, occurs at a deeper and more personal level. It takes place within the individual. It is where the mind processes and evaluates the experience against their internal knowledge. Just as processed information leads to knowledge, so processed mindfulness can lead to self-awareness. While these comments may appear reasonable or obvious, can they be substantiated?
An article by Blair Sanders et.al at the University of Toronto1 reports that by focusing on emotion resulted in higher neural sensitivity to errors when performing tasks. Focusing on thoughts however had no effect. Sanders research showed that where the individual ‘plugged into’ their feelings as opposed to a simple thought processes, there were increased reactions to errors when asked to take action on a given task.
Sander’s research suggest that introducing mindfulness will boost early neural performance.1 This conclusive evidence is also in line with Antonia Damasio’s theory of how consciousness is made. Damasio2, draws on numerous case studies of patients with extreme consciousness impairments in order to build and demonstrate the relationship between ‘feeling’ and the evolving of human consciousness from the proto-self to the autobiographical self that we experience as members of society.
St Andrews College is proactive in promoting mindfulness in its policies and activities such as our Yoga classes of 2019. In addition, the college is supporting a Millennial Self-Mentoring3 program. This is a new program whereby the individual is evaluated for their conditioned behavioral responses to both the physical and digital environments. They are then stepped through processes that identifies the core drivers of their behavioral responses. This is followed by workshops where the individual examines and is guided in tailoring their known behavioral responses to meet the demands of living in a duality of environments. The real world and the digital environment.
Mindfulness is essential to this process. By becoming accomplished in mindfulness we can increase our ability for self-awareness. Self-awareness tends to boost sensitivity to error responses.
1 Saunders, B., et al. (in press 2020). “Mindful awareness of feelings increases neural performance monitoring.” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.
2 Damasio, A. (2000). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness
3 Spencer-Scarr, D. C. (2016). Digital engagement: An investigation of how Information and Communication Technology professionals engage with technology and why digital engagement affects them differently. School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts. Perth, Australia, Curtin University. Doctor of Philosophy: 322.