Mindfulness


WHAT IS IT?

Mindfulness has been written about for centuries.  Spiritual teachers have spoken about it for even longer.  In simple terms, mindfulness is paying attention in the moment to our immediate experience without adding any interpretation or judgment.  That is, being present in each moment with compassion and acceptance.  Our immediate experience may include our breath, our thoughts, our emotions, our physical sensations, and sounds around us.  Bringing a quiet, mindful attention to our experience can be calming and comforting, especially when we are experiencing emotional distress.


HOW CAN IT HELP?

Feeling calmer and more comfortable, we are more able to think clearly and that helps us cope better with any distress we are feeling.  Also mindfulness as a part of therapy greatly helps with becoming more aware, and every aspect of therapeutic work begins with awareness.  We may have long standing patterns and most of those patterns are strategies for avoiding our most painful experiences.  It’s not until we slow down and become more aware of ourselves, our behavior, and our patterns that we begin to notice how we have stayed away from ourselves and consequently from our natural inner wisdom.

As we become more aware we begin to notice more aspects of our experience.    This deepens our understanding.  When we are dealing with significant issues in life we want to understand these issues as deeply as possible.  This understanding leads us to our inner wisdom which guides our way to resolving and letting go of destructive patterns and negative ways of relating to our self and others.

Then something else begins to happen as we become more aware and have more understanding of our self.  We slowly begin to notice we have more compassion for our self and gradually have more compassion for loved ones as well.  Having more compassion for our self makes a big difference in how we relate to our self and our struggles.  This compassion, in turn, helps us soften around our experience, and enables us to hold difficult issues and emotions more lightly.  This helps us relax more into these difficulties rather than being tense and judging ourself.  As a result, we are less overwhelmed and more able to approach these difficulties with more hope and optimism. Having compassion for ourself also improves our self-esteem which can lead to developing inner strength.


MINDFULNESS EXERCISE

I want to give you a simple mindfulness exercise.  Just sit in an upright but relaxed position and gently close your eyes.  Now feel your body making contact with the chair and the floor.   You will likely notice that your mind is distracted.  So when your “mind goes away” just gently bring your attention back to feeling your body making contact.  It might be best to pick one part of your body that is making contact—one part where this contact feels the strongest. For instance, if it is your back, just feel your back making contact and if your mind wanders bring your attention back to this feeling of contact.  Try this for a few minutes.  It’s harder than it seems.  The mind is very busy and takes you away from yourself over and over.  Just stay with it and notice what happens.  Do you feel more stressed or less stressed?  Do you feel more anxious or less anxious?  Surprisingly, as we get more connected to ourself and to our body we begin to feel less stressed and less anxious—not always but often.  This simple but challenging exercise is where I begin to introduce mindfulness into your experience.


 MINDFULNESS GROUPS

I’ve developed mindfulness-based small group (4 to 6 members each) experiences that focus on stress, anxiety and panic disorder, depression, or pain management.  In part these groups are patterned after the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD at the University of Massachusetts in the Department of Medicine.  Each group is for 8 weeks and each member is asked to make a commitment to attend each session.  Groups help each member know that others are dealing with similar issues and support from other group members is vital.  Also I keep the groups small so there is the possibility of individual attention.