Jon Kabat-Zinn the American Doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness in Western medicine talks about an ‘orthogonal rotation in consciousness’ when we practice mindfulness. There is a shift in perspective.
It can be described in different ways. I see it as a shift from thinking to awareness, from being a victim of our thoughts and feelings, to an intimate witness of them. Others have talked about no longer being on a train of thought, but looking at the train of thought from a hillside.
Now in a very important and technical phrase Mark Williams defines what attentional training (mindfulness meditations or mindful awareness practices) is doing, ‘Attentional training in mindfulness programs cultivate the ability to shift modes as an essential first step to being able to hold all experience (sensory and conceptual) in a wider awareness that is itself neither merely sensory nor conceptual.’
This is a shift from doing to being, from the narrative self (conceptual mode) to the experiential self (sensory-perceptual mode), followed by an ability to hold both in an open wider awareness. Instead of being held by the experience you are holding the experience.
In this attached video I have a little visual illustration of this rotation. It is a video of two hour-glasses, egg-timers, whatever you want to call them. In the traditional one on the left the sand rushes down through the narrow gap until it is all gone.
That is a picture of our self following our thoughts, which is what we normally do, down into a, narrow, negative, automatic reactive place – where we are a victim of our thoughts.
The one on the right shows the red particles rising upwards, it is a clever alternative. It can also be seen as an image of what happens when we have this rotation in consciousness. When we shift to awareness, it is as if the thoughts rise into that awareness enabling us to observe them, and in that intimate observation we can chose a skilled response. We are no longer in our self, rushing down with our thoughts into that negative, automatic place of reaction. We are holding the experience rather than being held by the experience.
I’d be interested to hear if you find the visual illustration of this shift in perspective helpful?