Michael Nolden, Ed.D
Well-being and mental health are equal partners in our daily experience. What we think, worry and celebrate all have an impact on our psychophysiology. Without thinking, many of us often employ simple awareness practices that enhance one’s outlook, from distraction to greater awareness. Taking a deep breath before entering an important meeting at work, grounding yourself before having “that” conversation with your teenage son … or noticing the beauty of California vineyards in bloom. All of these examples suggest a present moment awareness intimately felt and personally nuanced.
Human history is reflected through contemplative practice. Strengthening skills of awareness contributed to our survival success. Failure to develop awareness skills would mean survival extinction. Why is this analysis important today? Specifically, contemplative experience from the historical lens of evolution supports our common humanity. What affects the group matters, both to the individual and the group. Species-wise, we are hardwired to awareness skills. Focusing, attending, and imagining all relate to present moment clarity. Pausing to reflect on a sunset, or playing three sets of tennis … each moment presents itself to ground our experience in total awareness. Athletes know this experience well. This type of awareness is often referred to as “being in the zone.” Other scholars refer to a sense of “natural awareness,” in a way mimicking the felt sense of being present and knowing what it feels like at the same time.
Awareness skills handed down through the lineage of human knowledge, teach us the importance of kindness in all of our interactions. Kindness and kind intentions matter. Kindness prepares our heart for the inclusion of others and compassion for personal trauma. Skilled contemplative practice through the telescope of kindness could heal layers of self-identity, i.e. shame, regret, guilt, and emotional trauma. Kindness and self-compassion strengthen our inner resources of resilience, courage and inter-connectedness. Kindness reflected in the generosity of community and individual behavior leads to personal well-being. Imagine kindness as the social elixir society requires. Contemplative practice rooted in kindness assuages the individual heart and strengthens community bonds.