Mindsight, or Hindsight?

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In his book, The Mindful Brain (2007), psychiatrist Daniel Siegel writes:

“For some people…’living on automatic’ is a routine way of life. If our attention is on something other than what we are doing for most of our lives, we can come to feel empty and numb….Instead of experience having an emergent feeling of fresh discovery, as a child sensing the world for the first time, we come to feel dead inside, ‘dead before we die.’ Living on automatic also places us at risk of mindlessly reacting to situations without reflecting on various options of response. The result can often be knee-jerk reactions that in turn initiate similar mindless reflexes in others.”

This capacity to attend to oneself (thoughts, feelings, body sensations) , Siegel calls “mindsight.” He even recommends the acronym – YODA (You Observe and Decouple Automaticity) – as a mnemonic aid. I’m reminded of the renowned Jedi warrior “Yoda” in “Star Wars”; responsible for training Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi. The acronym (YODA) becomes a powerful mnemonic warrior that resists the “dark side” of automaticity.

Obviously, or perhaps not so obvious, our capacity to live in the here-and-now, to be fully present in the moment is important. But, browsing through the new arrivals at a local bookstore a few months ago, I became “mindful” of another form of “sight”:  Hindsight! In his book, Hindsight; the Promise and Peril of Looking Backward (2010), psychologist and educator Mark Freeman writes:

“In speaking of hindsight…I am referring specifically to the process of looking back over the terrain of the past from the standpoint of the present, and either seeing things anew or drawing ‘connections’…that could not possibly be drawn during the course of ongoing moments but only in retrospect….Hence…self-understanding occurs, in significant part, through narrative reflection, which is itself a product of hindsight.”

A few pages later, Freeman writes, “[H]indsight remains the primary source of the examined life. And while the examined life in no way guarantees its goodness, it surely ups the chances.” Freeman’s mention of “the examined life” reminds me of Socrates’ bold defense before his death, “The unexamined life is not worth living” in Plato’s Apology.

Psychologist Erik Erikson was no doubt thinking about “hindsight” when he identified his eighth and final stage of individual human development: “integrity versus despair”; that is, we look back toward the end of life with some sense of fulfillment – or not.

So, which is it? Mindsight? Or, Hindsight? It’s both!             Bill Bray, Colorado Springs, CO

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