The ultimate goal of Mindfulness, in a DBT framework, is to get into Wise Mind. We teach clients to hit the pause button, check in on the states of mind, and find a middle path between emotion and logic. By noticing what thoughts, emotions, and/or urges are driving our behavior, we are able to take the wheel back and drive in the direction we choose. Mindful awareness helps us take control of the mind by allowing us to choose where to focus our attention in the present moment, to accept reality for what it is so we can tolerate pain without creating suffering, and to make effective decisions that we won’t regret later. Intellectually grasping this process and putting the skill into action in relevant contexts can be very different. Teaching The What Skills and The How Skills of Mindfulness provides the steps for what to do and how to do it. The emphasis here is on the doing. Facilitating mastery of a skill requires this initial focus. An unfortunate downside, however, can be sacrificing some of the essence of Mindfulness for the practicality of instruction. A broader concept of Mindfulness is found in the notion of Heartfulness. Heartfulness encapsulates the affectionate and compassionate presence that comes with being mindful and being human. The How Skill, Non-Judgmentally, is the closest representation of Heartfulness in DBT. By engaging in judgmental thinking, we are fighting against reality by imposing our will on what we think things should be like. When we fight against what is, we end up raising our emotions and keep ourselves in a more emotional place (Emotion Mind). Removing judgment and focusing on the facts helps us accept reality and access our Wise Mind. Heartfulness takes non-judgment a step further. It goes beyond simply removing judgment and encourages we approach the world with a shared sense of humanity with others and kindness to ourselves. Heartfulness is very much a way of being where the goal is not only getting into wise mind. The goal is being your wise mind.
In many Asian languages the word for “mind” and the word for “heart” is the same word. So when you hear the word “mindfulness,” you have to hear the word “heartfulness” simultaneously to understand or feel what mindfulness really is.
That is why mindfulness is sometimes described as an affectionate attention and why I encourage you to practice with a very light touch, bringing an attitude of gentleness and compassion to yourself at every turn.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Mindfulness for Beginners”
It has been about 10 years since I first read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are. I was drawn to the notion of increasing non-judgmental awareness of the present moment as a means to 1) gain a greater sense of control over my active mind and 2) more fully appreciate the daily experiences of my life. At the time, my interest was personal. I had no awareness that mindfulness would eventually play a significant role in my professional life.
While my personal practice (formal and informal) often drifts from and returns to the present (much like the mind), my professional life has serendipitously allowed me to engage in the regular teaching and practice of mindfulness with DBT patients (and anyone else with an interest).
In the spirit of mindfulness (which teaches us to engage in the world with a beginner’s mind) with the hope to refresh my personal practice and professional teaching, I am re-introducing myself to mindfulness in both theory and practice. I am letting go of preconceived notions about what mindfulness is and how to practice mindfulness.
Today, I’m starting to read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness for Beginners.
I am immensely excited to discover the gift of mindfulness for the first time…again.
Turn Up the Mindfulness, Turn Down the Pain
The research supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness training for an increased capacity of emotion regulation and stress reduction is continually expanding its breadth. In this recent research from Brown University, mindfulness was observed to work like a “volume knob” that can turn down the intensity of emotion, pain, and depressive cognitions.
I continue to come across simple and accessible pieces of wisdom in Brene Brown’s The Gift’s of Imperfection:
These are anxious and fearful times, both of which breed scarcity. We’re afraid to lose what we love the most, and we hate that there are no guarantees. We think not being grateful and feeling joy will make it hurt less. We think that if we beat vulnerability to the punch by imagining loss, we’ll suffer less. We’re wrong. There is only one guarantee: if we’re not practicing gratitude and allowing ourselves to know joy, we are missing out on the two things that will actually sustain us during the inevitable hard times.
Brene discusses scarcity in terms of the way fear and the expectation of loss can impact joy. I often encounter scarcity in the expectation of disappointment and its impact on change. I frequently hear, “It’s not gonna work,” “nothing will help,” and “there is no point of trying.” Hoping we will eventually feel better is a risk. Trying something new is a risk. What if nothing changes? With hope and action, we open ourselves up to the possibility of being disappointed. We think a stance of hopelessness and inaction is an effective means to protect ourselves. As Brene points out (with loss and joy), we think we can avoid vulnerability by predicting disappointment because we’ll “suffer less.” And, “We’re wrong.” What we actually do is ensure that our situation will not change and perpetuate our sense of hopelessness, stagnation, and suffering. The truth is: the only way to combat hopelessness it to choose to embrace hope; the only way to curb the fear of disappointment is to approach the challenge anyway; the only way to make change is to accept that we are doing the best we can AND we can do better and try harder.