What is Mindfulness and Why is Everyone Talking About it?
I was not familiar with the term "mindfulness" until I entered graduate school at Naropa University. Before that time, I heard mindfulness used in yoga classes and teachings, but it wasn't until my studies at Naropa that I began to learn the meaning of mindfulness, practice mindfulness, and down right love it! A big piece for me was the practice. Practice of present moment awareness, slow motion, a slowing down I was not used to. As I practiced, I felt the shift for me, from unconscious functioning to conscious functioning. My eyes were opened, all my senses expanded, my experience grew larger, I developed a deeper relationship with myself, my body, and with those around me. Let me tell you, at the beginning of my practice and even to this day it has not been easy! Being mindful is not always easy, yet so rewarding, and has opened the door for me to do my self work and embark on the spiritual journey that is my birthright.
The term "mindfulness" has become a mainstream concept and tool in western culture over the past decade. What many may not know is that mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice. Mindfulness is not about being a Buddhist or practicing Buddhism, "but it has everything to do with waking up and living in harmony with oneself and the with the world" (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Mindfulness is about observing the present moment with non-judgment, waking up to who we are, our thoughts and feelings, what we experience on a daily basis, how we interact with others, awareness of the world around us, and living fully with appreciation of each moment.
In "Wherever You Go There You Are", Jon Kabat-Zinn states, "Meditation help us to wake up from this sleep of automaticity and unconsciousness, thereby making it possible for us to live our lives with access to the full spectrum of our conscious and unconscious possibilities" (1994). Mindfulness is achieved through tuning your attention to the present moment with curiosity and non-judgment. Without the practice of mindfulness, we live in a place of fear and insecurity due to diminished awareness and unconscious impulsive actions based on automatic responses, actions, and behaviors.
So why mindfulness in the therapeutic space?
Mindfulness is the foundation for waking up and the beginning step to creating a life worth living, owning our behaviors and words, witnessing the way we show up in relationship to ourselves and others, getting to know ourselves, accessing our truth, waking up to the world around us, our beliefs, how we want to show up in life, and finding contentment. It's a practice where we get to observe and witness ourselves, learn more about why we function the way we do and the logic behind our thought processes and patterns, become more alive, and make informed choices.
From Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) model, we cultivate "wise mind", a mix between "emotional mind" and "rational mind." Wise mind is the combination of emotional mind: the development of emotional intelligence, awareness of your feelings and emotions to a particular event, and rational mind: staying witness to the logic, reason, explanation of your reaction to the experience of a particular event. The above picture is a venn diagram of this concept. Through this process, in the therapeutic space, we get to move with intention, awareness, non-judgment, and compassion in the present moment to unpack emotions, feelings, patterns, need and wants, requests, skills to support you in relationships, communication, understanding, struggles, and choices.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT skills training manual. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.