The Thanksgiving holiday provides a nice opportunity to remind ourselves that research shows one of the keys to happiness is…gratitude.
When we are unhappy, the natural inclination is to believe that if we just had all those things “missing” from our lives that it would bring us the happiness we are searching for. When, in fact, our joy can be found by looking at what we already have. It may not always be easy to stop and take note of what we have, particularly in moments of distress. And, at the same time, that is exactly what would be helpful for us to do.
We all have something we can be thankful for. Whether its the roof over our head, the food at our table, the people who support us, or simply the fact that we are alive. So, on this Thanksgiving, I encourage anyone who hopes to be happier to focus on giving thanks for whatever or whoever it is that you are thankful for.
Today, I would like to give thanks to all the wonderful clients I have been fortunate enough to work with this year. I am grateful for the meaning and purpose I receive from our work together and the strength and courage I am honored to witness everyday.
Happy Thanksgiving! Thank you!
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”
Mindfulness can initially sound like a pretty nebulous concept. Because of its seemingly abstract nature, when learning the skill, its helpful to initially focus on the more practical aspects of mindfulness. At the same time, its important to maintain a connection to the essence of what mindfulness is all about.
What is mindfulness all about? Mindfulness has been described, simply, as focused awareness of the present moment. From a DBT perspective, the goal is to use this awareness of the present moment to get ourselves into Wise Mind. By hitting the pause button and noticing the moment we are in we can acknowledge our emotions, identify our current state of mind (Emotion Mind, Reasonable Mind, or a synthesis of the two, which is our Wise Mind), and take note of what is driving our behavior. This process is referred to as taking hold of the mind. By choosing where to focus our attention we gain control over our mind and, ultimately, we can take the wheel and drive our actions.
As skills trainers, after facilitating an understanding of taking hold of the mind, we teach the steps for what to do and how to do it with the What Skills and the How Skills. The emphasis here is on the doing. Facilitating trainee mastery of a skill requires this initial focus. As the skill of Mindfulness is cultivated, a broader concept of Mindfulness can be incorporated with the notion of Heartfulness. Heartfulness, a beautiful embodiment of the spirit of mindfulness, encapsulates the affectionate and compassionate presence that comes with being mindful and being human. The How Skill of doing things Non-Judgmentally is the closest representation of Heartfulness in the DBT skills manual. By engaging in judgmental thinking, we are fighting against reality by imposing our will on how we think things should be. When we fight against what is, we end up raising our emotions and we keep ourselves in a more emotional place. By removing judgment and focusing on the facts, it 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 and kindness to ourselves. While subtle, I would liken this to the difference between noticing the moment and accepting the moment. 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.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages, it would be helpful if we all approached our mindfulness practice with Heartfulness. In the Distress Tolerance module, we learn to be kind to ourselves in moments of intense emotion by self-soothing. Heartfulness allows us to be gentle and compassionate to ourselves and those around us in every moment. Whatever the moment brings. If we approach our emotions, behaviors, and thoughts with Heartfulness, we allow ourselves to gracefully accept all that enters our experience without judgment or acting on impulse. And in the moments that we do judge and act impulsively, which we all do, we once again access our Heartfulness. We kindly accept ourselves for being human. And we continue to work on nurturing a focused awareness of what it is to be human and what it is to be wise. In this moment…and this moment…and the next.
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.