Q. Why is mindfulness useful?
A. In modern American life, there is an emphasis on doing, on achieving, and on accomplishing; there is nothing wrong with this except that it often comes at the expense of being, at the expense of intimacy, and at the expense of enjoying the beauty of the world we live in. Our overemphasis on doing often prevents us from truly seeing the vivid beauty of a red rose, for example, not to mention seeing the rich splendor of the rest of the garden of our lives.
Mindfulness offers an antidote to our overemphasis on doing. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of these moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives, but also fail to realize the richness and the depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation.
Mindfulness opens us up to the richness of our lives, and to new possibilities for personal growth and change. Mindfulness is both a type of meditation and a way of living. It emphasizes living in the present moment with awareness and compassion. Mindfulness takes us away from ruminating about the pain, disappointments, and resentments of the past. It also takes us away from worrying about possible problems that may confront us in the future. Mindfulness helps us live more fully and completely in the present moment.
Mindfulness emphasizes living in the rich beauty of the present moment with awareness and compassion. It takes us away from ruminating about the pain, disappointments, and resentments of the past, and from worrying about possible problems that may confront us in the future.
Q. What is mindfulness?
A. Mindfulness has two components: awareness and compassion; it is a combination of clear seeing and open-hearted acceptance. As we learn to live more mindfully, greater awareness helps us see that our minds construct our reality. That is, our minds construct a story about our lives that seems “true” but is actually interpretation rather than objective truth. Long ago, Mark Twain pointed out with his usual humor the consequence of blindly believing the stories our minds tell us:
I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.
While many of us have been through truly terrible experiences, how many times have we been convinced something terrible was happening, only to later decide differently? How many times have we labelled ourselves “clever”, “fortunate”, “victim”, or something else, only to later realize the label didn’t really fit? Mindfulness helps us see that the stories constructed by our minds are just that, and that these stories are sometimes useful and sometimes not. It is not unusual for people to come to psychotherapy with the story that they are inadequate or even worthless. In my experience, these stories are never helpful and never true; psychotherapy then becomes a process of examining this narrative and coming up with a more compassionate and accurate life story.
As Stephen Levine has put it in:
When awareness penetrates a bit deeper, we discover that we’ve invested the thinking mind with a reality which it doesn’t independently possess, an absolute reality, not understanding that it is a relative part of something much greater…Thinking is choosing thoughts, it’s working, it’s measuring, it’s planning, it’s creating a reality instead of directly experiencing what’s actually happening each moment.
Mindfulness allows us to experience reality directly in the moment, rather than through the filter of our thoughts and experience.
The other component of mindfulness is compassion, which brings warmth, caring, acceptance, and forgiveness to our experience. Self-compassion is like a lubricant that makes our inner life flow more freely and easily. It allows us to accept our imperfections and mistakes as a natural and inevitable part of life, and it allows us to relate to others in a more loving and generous manner. Tara Brach writes that compassion:
…is our capacity to relate in a tender and sympathetic way to what we perceive. Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child. Rather than judging or indulging our desire for attention or chocolate or sex, we regard our grasping with gentleness and care. Compassion honors our experience; it allows us to be intimate with the life of this moment as it is. Compassion makes our acceptance wholehearted and complete.
In summaryMindfulness has two components: clear-seeing awareness and compassion. Clear seeing allows us to experience reality directly in the moment, rather than through the filter of our thoughts and experience. Compassion brings warmth, caring, acceptance, and forgiveness to our experience; self-compassion is like a lubricant that makes our inner life flow more freely and easily.
Q. I’ve heard that mindfulness is a Buddhist concept. Can you be Christian and practice mindfulness?
A. Mindfulness is a concept from ancient Buddhist philosophy that has been adopted by modern Western psychology. Mindfulness has nothing to do with becoming a “Buddhist”, however; it refers to a way of living your life that is available to anyone, regardless of religious belief or affiliation. Christians can certainly practice mindfulness if they want to. In fact, the philosophy of mindfulness is identical to the philosophy offered by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. Here is Luke 12:27:
Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Q. How is mindfulness used in therapy?
A.Mindfulness—this unique combination of awareness and compassion—can be a powerful force for healing in therapy. It can allow us to see through the dark thoughts that create depression, and the fearful and insecure thoughts that create anxiety. Self-compassion can also help heal wounds to our self-esteem, including feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Mindfulness can be profoundly useful in working with anxiety, depression, and other problems in living. A daily mindfulness meditation practice is a powerful self-management tool, a way of working with troublesome thoughts, moods, and feelings.
With the assisstance of a therapist, the practice of mindfulness can help us see through the dark thoughts that create depression and the fearful thoughts that cause anxiety. Self-compassion, another aspect of mindfulness, can also heal wounds to our self-esteem, including feelings of inadequacy and a sense of worthlessness.
Q. What are some mindfulness exercises?
A. See the Resources section of this web site; it includes two guided mindfulness meditations and a guided self-compassion meditation. They will give you a good start in practicing mindfulness. Please use these meditations as often as you would like.
Q. What is a mindful therapist?
A. A mindful therapist is a therapist who has had training in mindfulness and who preferably has a daily mindfulness practice. I have a great deal of experience with mindfulness which includes professional training, a daily practice, and many years of attending intensive mindfulness retreats. I have had a daily mindfulness meditation practice since the late 1980’s, and I have attended more than 25 mindfulness meditation retreats since 2003. The first meditation retreat I attended was a profound, life-changing experience, and one of the most meaningful weeks of my life. Over the years, mindfulness meditation has made my life richer, more vivid and intimate, and it has freed me from many of the beliefs and thoughts that limited me and narrowed my life.
Q. Are there specific mindfulness approaches to psychotherapy? Is mindfulness the same as CBT?
A.There are specific mindfulness-based approaches to therapy. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a therapeutic application of mindfulness, created by Jon Kabat Zinn in 1979. It was originally created for work with chronic pain patients, but it has proven helpful with the stress of other medical conditions, the stress of modern life, depression, and anxiety disorders.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is another therapeutic application of mindfulness; it is a combination of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. It mixes CBT techniques for eliminating the negative thought patterns that cause depression and anxiety with mindfulness meditation and breathing techniques. MBCT is a useful and powerful therapeutic tool. Mindfulness is not the same thing as CBT, but MBCT mixes mindfulness with CBT, and offers the best of both worlds.
Yes, there are specific mindfulness-based approaches to therapy. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is one therapeutic application of mindfulness. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is another; it is a useful and powerful therapeutic tool. MBCT mixes mindfulness with cognitive-behavioral therapy and offers the best of both worlds.
In summary, mindfulness can be useful in treating depression and anxiety, and in dealing with the stress of life. It can also simply make your life richer and more meaningful, as you learn to be more present and mindful. As a therapist, I use a combination of traditional mindfulness meditation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in my work with clients to help my clients find a richer, more satisfying, more peaceful, and more joyful way of living their lives. If you are interested in exploring mindfulness-based approaches to therapy, please feel free to call me at 615-828-1054 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brach, Tara. (2003) Radical acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a Buddha. New York: Bantam Books.
Levine, Stephen. (1979) A gradual awakening. New York: Anchor Books,
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2013). Full catastrophe living: using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Bantam Books.
Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M. G., & Teasdale, J. D. (2013). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.