Mindfulness as a Skill

by | Aug 30, 2022 | Mindfulness & Meditation | 7 comments

mindfulness as a skill

Dhyana, the seventh limb of yoga, is a state of keen awareness without judgment or attachment, and is akin to the “flow state” experienced by artists and performers. The practice of yoga offers a return to this state through the art of mindfulness.

All through school, I was an accomplished pianist, performing and earning awards. I heard often about the talent others saw in my work, but I knew that the flow I achieved on stage had more to do with the hours I had put in when no one was looking. 

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the key factors which contributes to a state of flow is achieving a balance between two aspects of performance: degree of challenge and level of skill.

Just as a high-performance athlete does strength training, or a swimmer builds their core, a pianist must strengthen their fingers, arms and back through disciplined posture and hours of drills. Having this foundation in place, my fingers knew what to do when it came time for recital. 

When I inevitably stumbled across the keys at certain times, it was the shadow passages, those I hadn’t spent as much time on, which struck fear into me. Those were the sequences which required demanding stretches and key transitions–the ones I had avoided during practice. 

Later, I came to learn that it was the fear of being afraid on stage which caused me to stumble. I was afraid of stagefright. Take that interference of the brain away, however, and miracles happen. The pianist’s fingers know what to do. All that is required is pure, focused attention.

In a chaotic and noisy world, quieting the monkey mind can seem impossible.

How do we acquire the skill of mindfulness, which can support us when we need it most? As with any skill that can become a work of art, we start small and do the work. Our knowledge is mostly procedural to begin with: reminders to be present, exercises and breathing techniques, useful mantras that are meaningful. No matter when or for how long, every moment of mindful attention or minute of meditation is well and truly banked for later. 

As fingers remember musical scales, your mind remembers conscious attention. New neural pathways begin to form.

Mindfulness on its own can be a solitary endeavor, and a yoga practice is the most manageable and enjoyable way to begin a powerful mindfulness practice while being with others of like intention. A good teacher is a prerequisite to committing to a practice long term. We need a teacher whose wisdom and experience can guide us back into the room when our minds wander, help us attend to discomfort in our bodies, encourage us to stretch a little beyond where we think our limits are, and provide a space to be present with ourselves before we once again return to the work of coping with a modern world. 

Mindfulness as a flow state happens when challenge meets skill, when the work you’ve done becomes something you can stand on when your world tilts.

There is nothing more powerful than watching something unfold in front of you which–months before–would have made you fearful or angry and, in that powerful present moment, knowing exactly and completely what is required. This is what it means to move, slowly and deliberately, from being reactive to being responsive.

The fruit of our conscious, compassionate and present attention is forgiveness, allowance and tolerance. More than that, as these moments start to occur more often, an understanding begins to dawn that this ‘self’ which we walk around in is more capable than we imagined.

If peace is what I wish for the world, then that is what I must become.

About the Author:

Bel Austin is a business analyst, writer, mindfulness mentor and mother who is devoted to guiding others from trauma and conflict to peace and inspired action both in the workplace and in the home.

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7 Comments

  1. Tad

    I love this connection you make between mindfulness, yoga, and the flow state. I first experienced that as a young athlete, and it really is an extraordinary place for the body and mind. Looking forward to more posts from the wise Bel Austin!

    Reply
  2. Kelsie Leonhardt

    I love reading the diverse experiences of mindfulness, meditation and presence. Bel Austin, thank you so much for sharing! The sacred moments and realizations very similar at the core, but it’s fun to see how people get to the flow state through different paths. For example, a pianist vs an athlete. I experience my flow state through science. Tina, our NFT artist experiences hers through art.

    So cool <3

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  3. Michael

    “ If peace is what I wish for the world, then that is what I must become.”

    Love this article and the concluding advice that in the beginning and the end we can only change ourselves. I love the analogy of mindfulness and meditation being similar to practicing, playing and then performing on the piano. I agree our lives are being played out on the state of life… we (meaning I) better go practice now yoga and meditation

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  4. Bel

    Thank you all for your insights! Indeed, Kelsie, my passion is to show people that flow is not limited to art or sports, but is a state of being that can be called upon even in the midst of the mundane. A mindful practice can start small and simple and grow into a powerful, resilient focus, even when things seem to go wrong. Conflict of any kind is a call for love, but we have to get really quiet and determined to hear it, because more often than we realize, that call is coming from the inside.

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  5. Renara

    thank you Bell for this post, I am very touched by it, especially it brought me back to music school where I had to be perfect and shaped me in a competitive environment… on the one hand I was well prepared physically for playing the piano, musically, touching the instrument… . and on the other hand I was broken by the psychosis of perfection and the obligation to play technically brilliantly…. I quit music because it seemed crazy to me to work 8 hours a day and have an estimate of 15 blinks and even be compared with someone …… it took me my whole life to gradually get rid of this trauma .. I’m happy that I don’t one has to interpret the feelings of Chopin, Razmaninov, Tchaikovsky… this is their experience of their vibration… I play what goes through me like an instrument… and I’m still stage fright… yoga is self-knowledge, postures on the head obviously won’t make me feel full and unity with God, but Yoga as a way of knowing my wholeness, one with God, thanks to honesty with the very gathering and clarity of what I want will lead me to inner freedom! I remember my first concert, when I performed only my statements, I had to hear what my sick brain was saying to me on stage … and I didn’t understand how people in the hall could feel Love at the same time …… because God has always been and will be in to each of my notes coming from the Source…. I am very very very grateful to you for your post full of love and presence

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  6. Renara

    And I forgot to say , this Way of authenticity .and understanding that my vulnerability is my force and truth , I learned with Marshall Rosenberg, with whom I cleaned his inner space where music from Source came …
    It is just impossible be Mindful Yogi without non violent communication with myself and with others , without self empathy i never can be 💯present to world and people around me , actually which make ONE with myself through my authenticity…

    Reply
  7. Kay

    A brilliant addition to the world of healing and spiritual introspection

    Reply

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