We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize
– Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness. Presence. Awareness. Connection. Centred. Focused.
We hear about the miracles of mindfulness alot. Originally an idea taken from the Buddhist philosophy school, the technique of mindfulness has made it’s way through self improvement, self-improvement and therapy and now into our common parlance. I’m no buddhist monk, but let’s explore what mindfulness means and how we can use it in our lives and therapeutic growth.
It seems mindfulness, awareness and presence are interchangeable words when thinking about this idea. Mindfulness involves being aware of your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviours, your situation, the others around you and what I would describe as spirit or psyche or “who you are”. Putting up a mirror in this way towards yourself, your thoughts, actions and reality allows for insight and the experience of beauty.
Much of our experience is automatic. We breathe automatically, we blink automatically, we dream automatically. Whether we’ve gotten used to our realities, routines and relationships or we tune out to not feel psychological pain, it seems our brain often go into an ‘auto-pilot’ state where our minds are running primarily subconsciously. Mindfulness is the task of actively bringing this information into the conscious mind for us to experience fully in the present moment.
Awareness in this way can bring us into union with our experience and begin to foster a relationship of knowing and deep insight. It’s no wonder then that this practice has been adopted by many therapeutic communities. A branch of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can MBCBT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive behavioural therapy) uses the practice of mindfulness to aid in becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and felt sensations and how they relate. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), mindfulness is used as a tool to aid in recognising distress triggers and build-ups.
Mindfulness can be developed through meditation, as it is a key part of meditation, however mindfulness is not the same as meditation and you do not need to be a meditator to grow your mindfulness. Mindfulness can simply be taking moments to notice your feelings, taking a moment to really experience your senses or taking a moment to realise what your thinking. I find that actively breathing is a great practice to jump into awareness as that in itself is an act of making what is usually unconscious conscious.
Here’s an exercise for mindfulness:
- Firstly take a deep-breath and slow your breathing, 4 seconds in, 4 seconds out
- Notice our surroundings visually. See the whole field of your vision as one and then pick out three things you notice
- Notice your hearing. What can you hear? Listen and pick out something loud and something quiet
- Feel your body. Not by touch but through awareness. Are you moving or are you still? Can you sense your hands without touching them? Your legs? Your torso? Zoom out and experience them all together as your full body
- Experience your mind. Is it busy and loud or quiet and subtle? What thoughts come up? Just notice them as they come and go. If you engage in the thoughts, just notice that and don’t resist them
- Experience your world. Notice that you are one with a much larger system. The outside, the universe, humanity, God, however you perceive it.
Mindfulness is a subtle practice that helps us be more aware of our life and thus helps us engage with it more actively and willfully. With more knowledge we can act more appropriately or simply just experience life in truth and fullness