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Dr. G. & Friends  |  

Mindfulness and Differentiation

“Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting ourselves unstuck, back into touch with our own wisdom and vitality. It is a way to take charge of the direction and quality of our lives, including our relationships within the family, our relationship to work and to the larger world and planet, and most fundamentally, our relationship with our self as a person.”

— Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are


How does the saying go, “crisis as an opportunity”?

As a result of three medical emergencies in my family, one with my husband and two with my father, I have discovered mindfulness meditation as a resource for self-regulation, self-definition and connection.

I’d tried mindfulness before without knowing it, as part of a “research project” of working on self and “staying in my own skin,” as Larry Matthews calls it.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is about paying attention to process—to what is happening inside a person and without—to practice awareness and observing one’s experience, to be present and intentional with the stance of a learner.

Mindfulness may seem simple, but it is not easy, and it is a life-long project.

Sound familiar?


Mindlessness is the opposite of being mindful, which occurs when anxiety increases and one gets carried away, even driven, by automatic thoughts and reactions.

Along similar lines, in A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman distinguished between “cerebration” which he considers to be reactive and “thinking” which comes from “the differentiation of the thinker’s self.” (p.129)

Brain research has allowed us to learn that thoughtful reflection and meditation help lower anxiety, promote right and left brain connectivity and assist access to the cortex, the higher ground, opening the way for creativity, imagination and insight to emerge.

Slowing down, noticing one’s breathing, listening to the body, and paying attention to senses and experiences are but a few ways to practice mindfulness and to self-regulate in order to get clearer about a well-defined response.

The opportunity awaits you.

Carla Toenniessen is a family systems coach and practitioner. She has participated in the LIM Workshops since 1998 and joined the faculty in 2008. Visit her website Systems Journey.

Dr. G. & Friends