There’s a joke in yoga that asks, “If you had to hide something that was the most valuable thing you had, where would you hide it?” The answer is: “in the present moment.” Ouch. Very funny, yoga.
We all know the best humor has more than a grain of truth in it. And the truth is, that most of the time we are not present or engaged because we’re caught up in our stories and enamored with distraction. In short we have two options toward reality: to meet the moment with conditioned habits (of attachment and aversion) or with spontaneity and freedom (from conditioned responses).
One way to facilitate this is by naming the experience. Language gives us just the right amount of objective awareness to lower our identification. Eventually, through this practice, we begin to experience feelings as feelings – impersonal phenomena without the attachment of “I, me, or mine.”
Paradoxically, every moment of nonreactivity is a moment of action. Instead of reacting to feelings, we pay attention to what is occurring in the present moment and, in doing so, take actions that reinforce patterns in the mind-body that create conditions for being just as present in the next moment. In contemporary neuroscience, this is called “neuroplasticity.” In lay terms, it’s breaking habit.
Mindfulness-oriented psychology is basically a series of techniques that interrupt our attachment, especially to our stories of self that limit our potential. A lot of the “techniques” are simply naming tools and nonjudgmental awareness practices. It’s the breaking of habituated patterns of thinking that’s the hard part.