Mindful Moments: A Practice to Turn Off Autopilot (Pt. 2)

By Mary Alice Grady, MA, PLPC, NCC, APRN, Qualified MBSR Teacher

Only 10% of your experience is shaped by the actual situation. What makes up the remaining 90% of the experience? Your perception. So, whether you are experiencing physical or emotional pain, the actual situation only accounts for a small percentage of how you experience it. The interpretation you give to a difficult situation is often based on the “story” you tell yourself about the situation.  Thoughts, emotions, and body sensations are fueled by this story and may float below your awareness, impacting many aspects of the day.  When you are on automatic pilot in “doing” mode, your experience of stress, pain, and suffering can intensify significantly. 

Take, for example, what many people would consider a common, uncomfortable situation: A silent lull in conversation. While the moment itself is simply a pause of quiet between two people talking to each other, the perception for many is much more. To many, a silence in conversation can mean awkwardness, fear of rejection, lack of social skills, or even inadequacy. How can a simple experience of silence cause so much discomfort? Because of the perception of the individual.

Luckily, mindfulness practices can help you become more aware of YOUR perceptions so that you can adjust the perceptual 90%. Mindfulness can be a gentle encouragement to move back to “being” mode so that you can become more aware of your perceptions. For example, in a lull in conversation, you might take a deep breath, meet your feelings of discomfort with love and acceptance, and ask the other person a genuine question.

The following mindfulness technique, called the Breathing Space, is a quick, easy practice that can help you come into awareness during an uncomfortable moment. The intention of this practice is to simply bring awareness to what is happening right now in your body and mind.

The 3 Step Breathing Space to Bring Awareness to Your Present Moment

  • Step 1- Awareness: Waking up from automatic pilot and turning towards the present moment experience. What THOUGHTS are going through the mind?  Acknowledge thoughts as mental events. What EMOTIONS are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, recognizing them, acknowledging them. What BODY SENSATIONS are here right now?  Quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing.

  • Step 2- Gathering: Anchoring awareness on the breath or feet on the floor. Next, gather your attention to focus on the physical sensations of the breath and the breathing process. Focus on the sensations of the breath in the nose or the rise and fall of the abdomen.  Try to follow the breath all the way in and all the way out.  Gather awareness towards the feet on the floor. Practice using the breath or the feet on the floor as an anchor into the present.

  • Step 3- Expanding: Putting it all together & experiencing the present moment. Finally, expand your field of awareness around the breathing or feet on the floor so that it includes a sense of the body as a whole.  If there are sensations of discomfort, tension, or resistance, gently turn towards them and breathe into them with the intention of softening, releasing, or letting go with each exhale.

Your perceptions greatly impact your experience. With this mindfulness practice, you will gain the tools you need to be present and gentle with your current experience. Then, as best as you can, bring this expanded awareness into the next moments of your day.

Below is a recording of a 3 Step Breathing Space Mindfulness practice.  Once you are familiar with the 3 steps of the breathing space, you can use this practice throughout the day.

Mary Alice is leading a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Online Course starting September 27 in the evenings. Click here for more information about the course.

now offering video therapy sessions

It's more important than ever to take care of your mental health, so all of our therapists are doing Telehealth and many have immediate openings for new clients.