Why are so many current psychological approaches and practices focused on mindfulness? Why would one want to become mindful? The simple answer is that practicing being mindful leads to awareness of and freedom from mental conditioning.
‘Mindfulness’ is the translation of a term from Buddhism (although one definitely does NOT have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness). Essentially, mindfulness means awareness. It is an awareness of present experience that is sensitive, accepting and independent of any thoughts that may be arising. It is a way of paying attention to what is happening with kind of a ‘witness’ consciousness, a dual awareness, so to speak. With awareness we can experience our feelings, thoughts and sensations without becoming caught in them.
Usually we are kind of on automatic pilot. Our experiences pass by with our reality dominated by an unbroken stream of internal comment. We go through life in a reactive mode, responding to life from habitual patterns.
And it’s a funny thing about Life… it never seems to turn out the way we plan. No matter how much we prepare, organize, coordinate and arrange, something often happens to throw a monkey wrench into our plans.
We all know what it’s like to be stressed out and completely overwhelmed… more things to do than time to do them, people demanding attention, fear of not doing a good job, the body buzzing with the heaviness of tension.
With mindfulness, we learn that feelings and thoughts, even physical pain, will arise and leave. They’re not “me” and if we don’t try to push them away, and we don’t hold on to them, they’ll eventually pass through. Eventually, the thoughts and feelings fade into the background and we can become aware of a certain inner stillness.
Psychotherapists and counsellors use mindfulness to help people regulate their emotional states. When we are not caught up in our anger or anxiety, for example, we can more easily pause before making a decision or before saying something we can’t take back.
Moreover, mindfulness can take the edge off our day and actually teach us a different way we can be. By practicing mindfulness it can kind of automatically kick in when we need it.
When we feel overwhelmed by all we have to do, to remember, or to organize, if we bring our awareness back to the task at hand … whether it is cracking open an egg, walking from one room to another or brushing our teeth, we are able connect with a calmer place and can more easily focus simply on the task at hand. All the other fears and doubts and worries fade into the background. When they arise again, we go back to being aware of what we are doing … the ‘witness’ place. It’s simple. But it’s not easy. We usually spend our time not being where we are.
Mindfulness teaches us mindfulness. How could it be otherwise? If I practiced tennis for an hour every day I’d expect that to teach me how to play tennis. I wouldn’t expect it to teach me, say, how to play the piano or how to ski!
From this calmer state that mindfulness brings there is a kind of lucidity, a light of deeper understanding that is often so alien from our conditioned, habitual ways of being in the world. In my counselling practice here in Victoria, BC, I use mindfulness based stress reduction and other mindfulness therapy to help my clients manage anxiety and depression. It is a wonderful tool, with proven results.
November 6, 2012