What is mindfulness? How does mindfulness work?
17th January, 2011
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a very simple process that helps us to feel more connected with the self and some people say that it helps them to feel more ‘grounded’. It has been shown to help in the recovery of depression and anxiety and can help concentration, and mood.
A mindful attitude is one in which you bring your attention to focus on your very real, current experience. You are encouraged to do this in a gentle way rather than a critical way.
A mindful moment is one in which you are experimenting with the activity of noticing. You are simply paying attention to ‘what is’ without trying to change, fix or correct it. Here is an example of a mindfulness experiment: If you find yourself struggling to get to sleep at night, a mindful moment might consist of ‘simply noticing’ the thoughts in your head, or your position in the bed, your breathing or your feelings as you lie there. The shift from a non-mindful state to mindful state would, in this case, be the shift from ‘trying to get to sleep’ to one of ‘acceptance of what is'…(eg that I am still awake and feeling tired/ wide awake etc…’ ). If you do ever struggle to get to sleep, you may want to try this mindfulness exercise.
How does mindfulness work?
There are a number of ‘models’ that describe the value of mindfulness and then they use of their own language to say how works. Buddhism is the most obvious source of training on the subject. (See Glenn Wallis: Basic teachings of Buddha).
Gestalt theory borrows many ideas from eastern philosophy and encourages therapists to bring the client's awareness into the ‘here and now’. The ‘paradoxical nature of change’ is a model that suggests that we don’t need to strive in order to 'fix' ourselves: if we simply stay with what is and learn to tolerate our current experience of self, then we will shift and grow into a healthier state.
Gestalt theory says that it is our old, learned and (now) out-dated interruptions to our healthy process that may give rise to our anxiety, depression and dis-ease. This means that when we accept our current reality and pay attention to our own true nature, then we find that we do not need to ‘fix’ our selves. We learn to trust that what we want and what we feel can, once again, be a source of information and energy for change and growth. In other words, by being mindful (rather than solution-focussed), we will find ourselves moving towards self awareness, health, responsibility and with greater potential to complete our gestalts (to live ‘in the flow’).
Cognitive Therapy: John Teasdale in his book ‘MBCT’ talks about ‘modes’ of the mind. In particular, he distinguishes between the ‘doing mode’ and the ‘being mode’. The being mode is one that can be arrived at through mindfulness practice. This mode is one in which the client finds that they are much less likely to experience the depressive process of rumination. (Rumination is that process of endlessly ‘chewing over’ thoughts. eg “why do I have a problem”, “how long will I have it,?” “is it normal?” How will I fix it?”…etc etc).
Clients who experience gestalt therapy may find that they are then naturally drawn towards mindfulness practice for further Personal development and self-support. Members of groups and clients report feeling ‘rested for the first time in ages’ even after just 5 minutes of mindfulness grounding. They say that they no longer feel at the mercy of their thoughts: They describe how it is possible to allow their thoughts and feelings to continue but they no longer feel 'lost in’ them.
Mindful awareness of the ‘now’ brings the gentle observer of the self into a new perspective and experience of self. The client becomes a kind witness to ‘what is’ instead of being enmeshed with thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness practice :
I witness myself gently
I sit with myself kindly.
I am thinking but I am not my thoughts.
I am feeling but I am not my feelings.
My experience as neither good nor bad.
(Even when I do judge myself, I do not judge my judge as good or bad)
This is what is.
I do not try to hold on to my thoughts or my feelings.
I do not try to get rid of my thoughts or my feelings.
In this moment, I do not strive.
I witness, I accept and I trust
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