When you have an image representing mindfulness, it helps you understand it and feel it.
Mindfulness is a physical thing.
In the diagram above, the circles represent the spirit. The stick figures represent the body. When the spirit and the body are in the same place—the 1st Circle above—we feel calm. In everyday language, we say we’re centered or grounded. Here, we are composed, self-contained, comfortable, and we feel safe. This is where we can learn, rest, recover, renew, be ourselves, and have fun. Staying here is “staying true to ourselves.”
The 2nd Circle is how we look when we’re nervous. The spirit is starting to leave the body. We leave through the top of the head. In everyday language, we say someone has cold feet, or that they feel weak in the knees. We don’t feel terrible when we’re nervous, but we’re not as comfortable or in-control as we are in the 1st Circle. We can proceed.
In the 3rd Circle, when we’re really uncomfortable due to fear, lack of safety, or an objection to what is happening, the spirit has left our body beyond our stomach. In this stage, we say we have butterflies in our stomach or a knot in the stomach. Our hands and feet may be clammy. We’re not having fun anymore. The feeling is “Get me out of here!” We need to say, “No.” Or, we need to return to the 1st Circle.
The 4th Circle is loss of movement. At this point the spirit has left the body up to the neck or chin. In our everyday language, we say, “paralyzed by fear” or “scared stiff.” We cannot move because there’s no presence of the spirit below the neck. If someone must move his or her body in order to leave a dangerous situation, the 4th Circle may be life-threatening.
The 5th Circle is panic. We say, “out of it, not there, gone, out to lunch, not home, freaked out.” The spirit has not disconnected from the body—the person hasn’t died—but he/she is not in control of coming back into the body: returning happens by chance.
Mindfulness is presence of mind. Presence of mind is presence of the spirit in the body: the 1st Circle.
This 5 Circles trajectory is the route we take when we “lose it.” It’s going from calm to panic, from control to loss of control. We all do it. We come and go from our bodies in varying degrees all day long. What puts you in the 1st Circle?
I needed this image when I opened my adult swim school in 1983: I needed an explanation of what happens when adults who are afraid in water panic. I needed to know how to fix this problem. I asked, and I received this image. It has never once failed our five thousand students or our licensed instructors in hundreds of thousands of lessons.
Everyone is a spirit in a body.
The goal of learning is to stay in your body: in the 1st Circle. That is the location of control. It is there that we can choose the actions we make and the words we use. It’s there that we feel safe to ask questions and to say no. It’s there that we receive insights and hunches. There, we can feel which direction to turn. We can feel it because we’re in our bodies where feeling happens.
This image of mindfulness has given us a mind-blowing experience for thirty-six years. If it has been successful for us and every one of our students, it can be successful for you.