Inquiry - 1st Person Forschen in eigener Sache & Kultur der
„Nicht die Sinne täuschen uns, das Urteil trügt.“
"Not the senses fool us, judgement does."
J.W. von Goethe
Nils Altner: Principles of Mindful Inquiry
An integral part of teaching mindfulness-based interventions is leading in-depth dialogues with participants about experiences they had during meditation practices and while becoming aware of the present moment during their daily life. The practises taught consist of body-focussed meditations like the body scan, meditations focussed on breath, hearing, feelings and thoughts and on open awareness, yoga sequences, mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful communication and other daily activities as well as home experiments and group sharings. After practising a 45 minute Body Scan the fascilitator might e.g. ask the group: „What did you notice about your wakefulness during this time? How much of the time did you find yourself sleeping, how much being present in your body and how much thinking thoughts?“
The way, in which MBSR group fascilitators elicit verbal expressions of internal experiences constitutes a mindfulness practice in itself. It resembles microphenomenological explorations (Petitmengin, 2006) into human consciousness and likewise follows certain principles. As part of the training of MBSR teachers, this form of inquiry is taught, practised, supervised and refined. The following passages provide a circular structure of guiding principles and discuss potential experiences, developmental insights and steps that might arise in the participants and teachers during this process of applying the principles.
The formulation of the quiding principles have emerged in an ongoing several year long process of self-inquiry into my own experiences as teacher and supervisor while training future MBSR teachers and Mind-Body-Medicine instructors/therapists at the Institute for Mindfulness-based Approaches (IMA) and at several universtities in Europe and the US. Thus, the principles are a product of a self-inquiring process, in which I have been continously asking myself, about what and especially how I notice, reflect, plan and teach. My intention for putting the principles into writing is to provide hands-on guidelines for developing the skill as well as to contribute to the meta-inquiry process and colleagual exchange about the cultivation of 1st person introspective modalities of embodied communication within settings of education and human development.
Principle 1: Set the frame and commit to connection
Principle 2: Ask about sensations guided by your own
Principle 3: Slow down, focus and stay with present sensations
Principle 4: Notice what emerges, reduce tension, breathe and wait
Principle 5: Aim to be with the other in their world
Principle 6: Open for and surrender to shared experience
Principle 7: Express gratitude
Principle 8: Treasure Silence
New awareness grows in the light of our attention at the edges of our perception. Here we literally find our „growing edges“. Mindfulness- and compassion-based educational programs are ideal settings for such „inner“ growth movements to occur, if we prepare the ground for them. Within the mutually agreed upon group atmosphere of nonthreatening safety, trust, openness, interest and appreciation the nessessity to maintain the oftentimes habituated communicative attitude to defend and/or achieve personal advantages against the others can be experienced as not neccesary any more. Here a cultural shift of the communicative intention can occur from wanting to gain egocentrically calculated advantages (compare Habermas, 1981, S. 131: „egozentrisches Nutzenkalkül“) to a more anthropo-centric interest in the interior dimensions of the shared common humanity within a group. During this process a shift at the base of self-worth may develop from self-esteem to self-compassion (Neff and Vonk, 2008).
Neuroscience has been interested in the shifts, that occur within the brain during meditation. There is growing evidence to suggest that different networks in the brain are active, when a person intentionally focusses her or his attention on present moment sensations compared to unintentional states of mind. The shift from unintentionally engaging the so called ´Default Mode Network´ to intentionally activating the ´Salience Network´ might correlate to some degree with a personality development from mostly egocentered cognition, communication and action to a more ethno- or anthropo-centered and eventually a global eco-centered habitus.
The paradigmatic shift from a communicative culture, based on ego-centered comparism and competition to a culture of getting to know each other and of co-creatively exploring, and growing together, both is the prerequisit and the outcome of a group process, that devotes time and attention to mindful in-depth inquiries. If such interventions are put into work place settings, they can in addition to individual development also inform organisational change in schools (Altner et al., 2018), universities (Dievernich et al., 2019) and in corporations (Laloux, 2015).
The role of the fascilitator here is crucial, as she or he can embody these „new“ and nessecary qualities and thus inform group culture. Authors like Lieb (2018) voice concern that in many educational settings due to decades of neo-liberal assessing, comparing and competing a culture has developed, that leads too many young people away from cultivating their inner capacities of sensing themselves, caring for themselves and each other, developing heart-felt interests, passions and skills, critical thinking, seeing themselves as part of the larger human and ecological whole, that urgently needs to solve ecological and social problems.
Gaining and sharing meaningful insights into our own psyche and into each other´s within settings of safety, compassion, humor, trust, respectful interest and appreciation can strengthen core qualities of being human. In our times of current existential, psychological, social, political, ecological and spiritual challenges people, who are committed to and are able to embody humane values can contribute to the development of these dimensions of society through the stages from ego-centrism, ethno-centric to anthropo- and eco-centric perspectives and actions. Fascilitating engaged communication and action in this sense helps to transcend the limitations of individualized mindfulness-based interventions.