The concept of mindfulness is deceptively simple. Attempts at describing or explaining mindfulness cannot do the subject justice. Often it really comes down to actively engaging in rather than passively reading or hearing about the ideas. It is not a new concept. It is, however, showing great promise as a way of helping people deal better with the way they feel. It has emerged from ancient Eastern Philosophical traditions. It has also been on the margins of Western “Positive Psychology” for some time. The resurgence of these ideas may have much to owe the recent transformation in “Psychological Therapies”. Emerging out of and working alongside Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness Based Approaches can be used in many ways to help people deal with a range of psychological and physical difficulties.
Consider the idea that, for the most part, our thoughts (no matter how distressing they may seem) are not the actual problem. Rather, the importance or meaning we attach to those thoughts is what causes the problem. When someone experiences an emotional problem, the mind can end up attaching unhelpful meanings to aspects of ourselves, and other people. On top of that we can also end up “over focusing” on particular aspects of these unhelpful meanings (thoughts about cravings, sleeplessness, anxious or sad thoughts, about what this means or what other people’s motives are). Fortunately we can learn to use our attention in a ‘mindful’ way which can reduce anxiety, improve mood and lead to the belief that we have some skills to deal better with whatever the distress is. So Mindfulness is one way of managing problematic thoughts and body sensations and exerting some power over how we attend to things.
“Mindfulness is based on the ability to focus on the present moment, with full participation in the experience, without passing judgement about the experience.”
Responding vs. Reacting…
The process is so simple in theory. I believe it needs to be cultivated, developed, and shown to others. When we allow our attention to be focused on the moment, (right here and right now) we are experiencing, we learn to be responsive, generating choices rather than operating on “auto-pilot” and reacting from old, unhelpful habitual patterns. Let go your judgement about what you’re feeling or thinking. Simply observe (with a simple, bare attention) what’s going on around you, in your mind, in your body without holding on or pushing anything away. Just allow yourself to be aware of what’s happening. Letting come what comes, letting go what goes. Then notice how easily the mind wonders. This does not mean anything is wrong, it simply demonstrates how our minds work. It may also be affected by the modern World which is busy, noisy and bombarding us with information.
The time is now…
In a very real sense the more difficult and uncertain the times are the more important it is that we learn to have such skills. Applying strategies from Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Compassionate Mind Therapy, Mindfulness Based Approaches can help us access new skills by getting in the present moment with a simple, accepting, welcoming ‘bare attention’. To begin with, I believe we need to be shown these skills and then we can use them for ourselves and with others.
I am running a course in Nottingham on ‘Mindfulness Based Approaches for Change’. If you are interested in attending or finding out more please see the event’s page.