To find myself, moment by moment, I take a mindful pause.
The following audio is a commentary on Step One for the 5th edition of the Proactive 12 Steps. See written transcript immediately below the audio player.
Transcript (edited for clarity):
When you hear a phrase like “find yourself,” it probably feels intimidating. It probably feels like a huge thing, some major shift, some revelation. Something that it would take a lot of work to arrive at. So you might have the intention of finding yourself, and you say: “Yeah, so it’s vital. And therefore, I will do that when I have a substantial chunk of time. When all the stars are aligned. When it feels right. When I’m okay. When something is supporting me in doing that…” And as a result, you don’t do it.
So the wording of this Step is not just “to find myself,” it is “to find myself moment by moment.” We’re not talking about something that’s going to be a significant revelation with a big drum roll. Something enormous. We’re merely talking about being in touch with yourself moment by moment. Now again, that might feel a little mysterious, but let’s take it in a very down-to-earth way.
A mindful pause
What this Step talks about is taking a mindful pause. You do this it in the middle of your day, in the middle of what you’re doing. It could be a minute, it could be two, but it could be even less than a minute. And during that moment, you stop.
Now it’s called a mindful pause as opposed to “just stop.” When you stop, what you had been doing is interrupted. Your focus is on: “Okay, so can I go now? Can I continue?” During that moment, you’re closed off to anything other than impatiently waiting for the possibility of continuing.
What’s different in a mindful pause, compared to that kind of stop, is that, during the mindful pause, you shift your attention somewhere else. A simple way of doing that is to pay attention to consciously breathing.
So you breathe in. You breathe out. Your attention follows the breath. The in-breath. The out-breath. You’re not in the middle of doing a yoga movement, or some mysterious meditation practice. You’re merely slowing down and paying attention to the quality of your breath. You’re noticing the “in” movement and the “out” movement. As you shift focus to your breath, you are no longer lost in your thoughts or lost in what you’re doing.
Mindful vs Mindless
Being mindful is the opposite of being mindless. So we’re merely shifting from mindless to mindful as we take a pause and pay attention to our breath. And so you could do this for a minute, or more, or just for a brief moment. You could even do one breath in, one breath out, and nobody will notice that you’re taking a pause. You can do that while talking to people.
What this gives you is a chance to do is to reconnect with yourself. So, again, this is not like a big thing about finding yourself in some mystical way or some surprising psychological discovery about yourself. It’s a sense you have, as you breathe in and out, that sense of: “Oh, there’s something here. There’s somebody here. What I’m noticing is me breathing. Me paying attention to what it is that I notice at this moment.”
It is possible that, when you first experiment with this, and for quite a long time, you’re either going to have a sense of: “I don’t notice anything” or you might be noticing a sense of tension, a sense of: “I can’t wait to get it over with.” And that does not mean that you’re doing this badly. There is no way to do this badly. Whatever happens, and whatever you’re noticing, is what is.
Of course, in the long run, as you do this, you will progressively find a way actually to feel calmer and more open as you do it. But you’re not going to get there by forcing yourself to be relaxed and open. It’s going to happen naturally, as you put your focus on noticing what is.
Noticing what is
If, when you’re in the middle of doing it, what you’re noticing is your tension, your impatience, or anything else, it is quite okay. Doing it right means: Noticing what is, including feeling tense or impatient.
And so, as you do this, it might occur to you, either while you are doing it or later when you think about it: “Gee, that’s interesting. When I do this thing, I’m noticing the contrast between who I want to be, which is calmer and more open, and what I do, which is to be tense or impatient. And this reminds me of Step One, noticing the difference between who I want to be and what I do, and feeling stuck in what I do.”
And so, this mindful pause that we’re doing right now as part of Step Three is very much the practical moment-by-moment application of Step One. Step One is a general principle, and you’re noticing it at the large level of your life. In contrast, Step Three is about seeing it moment by moment, noticing how that is very much part of the DNA of your life. And so, the same way as in Step One, we’re not trying to force change through willpower and “efforting,” because it does not work. For Step Three, we’re doing the same thing: We’re noticing. And, as we’re mindfully noticing, we’re allowing for this change to happen over time.
Comparison with the traditional Twelve Steps
Now, what does this third Step of the Proactive Twelve Steps have to do with the traditional wording of the third Step, which has to do with God, if you take it literally?
There is no God in the Proactive Twelve Steps, so the third Step is different. But, if you don’t take it literally, if you pay attention to the experience. The quality of the experience. The nature of the experience. As opposed to how we put some meaning around it. There may not be as much of a difference between finding God and finding yourself.
In this Step, you stop on your tracks by taking a mindful pause. In so doing, you shift out of ordinary reality, i.e., mindless functioning. You give yourself a chance to connect to what is vital to you.