Mindfulness Psychotherapy & Counseling: Boulder Center for Mindfulness Therapy
Mindfulness Psychotherapy is often described as the Direct Path for Inner Transformation, because it works on resolving the underlying compulsive emotions that generate anxiety, depression and trauma.
What is mindfulness and why are so many psychotherapists and counsellors now incorporating mindfulness into their practices?
There is no doubt that mindfulness has become a buzz word that is attracting considerable interest, especially after the tremendous success of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others. Such mindfulness-based programs have now become the method of choice for effective stress management and are having a major effect on how we approach psychotherapy and the management of anxiety and depression.
Of course, mindfulness was central to the Buddha’s path of enlightenment and awakening, so the practice of mindfulness has been around for a very long time. Today we are gaining a new appreciation of the remarkable place that mindfulness has in our own lives as a tool for healing the mental afflictions that assail us and the conflict and violence endemic in our world. Now, more than ever, people from around the world are re-investigating this ancient state of consciousness that has remained central to Buddhist meditation and practice.
Mindfulness itself is a remarkably simple practice, and the full understanding of the principle of mindfulness is easily overlooked and poorly understood. But we are already faced by many concepts that have central importance in our lives, but which cannot be easily understood, except through approaching them over and over again at different times and from different angles. Love is one such concept, as is God and Buddha.
The other important consideration to appreciate, before we attempt to define mindfulness, is that the word is multi-dimensional and incorporates several different qualities of conscious awareness, which I will attempt to outline below.
First and foremost, mindfulness, or sati in the Pali language used at the time of the Buddha, means to be fully aware of what is happening as it is happening. It is the opposite of daydreaming and absent-mindedness and the usual condition of habitual reactivity that governs most of our waking consciousness. In its most basic aspect, mindfulness means to remember to be present and this means to be able to recognize when we are not mindful. This I call the RECOGNITION function of mindfulness.
Most of the time, we are not aware of ourselves, but simply react out of habit. This happens, and I react that way. He says this, and I feel hurt. She says this, and I react by becoming angry. Such patterns of reactivity are very common in our personal relationships and are at the root of most marital conflict and suffering. We just cannot seem to stop ourselves reacting. This is a universal problem that affects not only our relationships with people and partners, but also how we relate to our inner experience and emotions. We seldom really experience our inner suffering, anxiety or depression, but most often all that we experience are the products of our reactivity. We may feel anxious, but instead of focusing our attention on this feeling, we become embroiled in reactive thinking and worrying. The original emotional complex becomes repressed and frozen in the recesses of the mind where it will continue to fester and generate suffering.
It is also a universal principle that if we are unable to be present for our inner suffering, or to be present with our tendency to react, then nothing will change. If we cannot be fully present for our partner, then we cannot learn how to relate differently and more skilfully. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that we wake up and learn to recognize our reactions and get to know them in great detail. This marks the beginning of the path to change and transformation and the healing of conflict and suffering. Mindfulness is a process of tuning in to what is happening in our minds so that we can recognize when we are becoming reactive so that we introduce the element of choice. This choice about whether to react or not may be very brief, but it is a beginning and a sound foundation for transformation.
The first function of mindfulness is, therefore, about learning to be present and aware of reactivity. It is simply learning to show up for your own experience, rather than being compelled down a path of mental activity that takes you further and further away from the present. However, this is only the beginning of mindfulness. Recognition is a great skill to learn, but mindfulness has much, much more to offer. The second dimension of mindfulness is learning to establish a relationship with whatever you are experiencing - whether this is your inner experience of a painful emotion, or outer experience of your partner.
Mindfulness describes a particular form of awareness that is present-centered, direct and non-reactive towards an object of awareness. It is best described as the combination of PRESENCE and INVESTIGATION in which there is an openness of mind and heart to fully experience and know what is present in our field of awareness. Presence is one of the most important components of sensitive listening as when we are listening to a friend who is suffering. As we know from experience, simply being there with him or her in this way with complete attention and presence is often more important than what we say or do. In this same way, learning to be fully present for our emotional suffering is highly therapeutic and is perhaps one of the major contributions to the healing process. When we can be fully present for our experience, then it responds quite naturally by unfolding and differentiating - we simply start to see and experience more. This is a natural consequence of a mindfulness-based relationship: the movement from the superficial first appearance of things to an awareness of a much deeper structure; the movement from the gross to the subtle; from falseness to truth. If you look with a mind that is open, you will discover more than if you simply react out of habit.
This second dimension of mindfulness which allows us to see more of the truth and fine inner structure of our emotions and reactions not only gives us more material to solve our problems, but actually opens us to the intuitive dimension of experience and the natural innate intelligence that already knows how to heal conflict and suffering, but is hidden from us by our reactivity. Therefore, there is a third dimension to mindfulness: THE TRANSFORMATIONAL DIMENSION in which the psyche heals itself through intuitive awareness and intuitive intelligence. Over and over again, I find that my clients already know how to resolve their anxiety, depression or even phobias and post-traumatic stress. But, the solutions are very subtle and this demands a very refined quality of listening and investigation at the core level of their suffering and conflicts. This is where mindfulness really comes to its own, because the quality of sensitivity and subtle attention to detailed that is developed during mindfulness psychotherapy creates the ideal environment and space in which transformation can occur.
The healing effects of mindfulness are often likened to the warming and life-giving effect of sunlight. Our inner suffering is caused by emotional energy that becomes frozen in place around core beliefs and patterns of negative thinking. Illuminating this frozen energy is like opening the curtains and allowing the sun's rays to shine on a block of ice: It responds to the sunlight by spontaneously melting. The same happens when we illuminate painful emotions with mindfulness: It promotes direct healing.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Peter Strong, PhD is a scientist and Buddhist psychotherapist who specializes in the study of mindfulness. He teaches mindfulness meditation and works with individuals and couples using Mindfulness Meditation Therapy for resolving difficult emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, phobias, grief and trauma and the management of anger and stress. Online Mindfulness Psychotherapy is a very popular option for those not living in Colorado. Learn more athttp://www.mindfulnessmeditationtherapy.com Email enquiries welcome.