How many times
have you heard a counselor or therapist ask the question, "How do you
feel?" I have asked some variation of this question countless
times. Interestingly, the majority of the times I ask "How do you feel,"
my client responds with a report of what they think. And others
are limited to reporting that they feel "bad" without being able to
explain further. In fact, many of us are often very unaware of how we
feel. Is this important? Yes, it is very important! Because
quite often, humans are motivated to act based upon emotion rather than
reason. Most of the times that we act foolishly, it is because we are
reacting to our hurt, anger, lust, fear, shame, or other powerful
emotion. And so, if we don't know how we really feel, we can't know what
is really motivating our actions! In my practice I find that this
frequently leads to very destructive trends in the lives of my
So, then, what is "mindfulness"? We all
know what it means to live "mindlessly". But how often do we
practice living mindfully? Mindfulness, simply put, is paying
attention. It is paying attention to what is happening inside of
ourselves. Mindfulness requires that we stop, calm ourselves, and
pay attention to the emotions at our core. "Is that frustration I
feel? Or has it become anger? And what's behind the anger?
Am I hurt? Have I been more vulnerable lately?" The more we
know what's motivating ourselves, the easier it is for us to act on our most
mature and noble intentions.
How do we begin to practice mindfulness? With any new
skill, practice improves our ability. And so it is with
mindfulness. We must take time to practice. Take a half hour every
day to sit alone, in silence, without any distraction, and look inward.
Pay attention to your breath. Try to merely follow your breath.
Your mind will wander, naturally. Notice that your mind has wandered,
and gently return to your breath. Over and over again, repeat this
process. Cultivate an attitude of compassion toward yourself. Open
your awareness to the feelings that arise inside. You will notice
them; the irritability toward someone in your life, the stress from thinking
you mustn't waste time, the worry that you are "not doing it right",
perhaps an unexplained sadness, or the creeping loneliness that you usually
avoid with alcohol or food.
And here is
where the benefit comes. You don't run from the feelings. You
don't distract yourself with television, alcohol, or food. Instead, you
face the feelings head on, accepting that these feelings come and go
naturally. While some may be difficult to tolerate, you learn that
uncomfortable feelings don't have to be overwhelming. You learn to not
react to the uncomfortable feelings. Non-reactivity is
powerful practice to use in the difficult times of our daily lives. In
practicing non-reactivity, we may be angry, but we choose not to act on the
anger. Someone may have hurt us, but we choose not to react to the
hurt. We may be afraid to look at our faults, but we look anyway, not
running from the fear. We may feel loneliness, but we don't hide out in
a bad relationship just to avoid that loneliness. In essence, we are no
longer ruled by our need to avoid uncomfortable emotions! This practice
can make us quite courageous, and hence, more powerful in our lives.
In my therapy
practice, I am commonly awed and inspired by the courage my clients show in
facing painful memories, intimidating challenges, and overcoming great
obstacles. I help them do this by teaching mindfulness techniques.
The mindfulness techniques are integrated into the therapeutic process.
The result is significant improvement in personal power, self esteem, and
relationship skills. Mindfulness is a practice, that can be
taught and learned. If you find yourself limited by your fear, anxiety,
shame, or other uncomfortable emotions, therapy can help. And if you
find you act in irrational ways that you cannot explain, mindfulness practice
can open your eyes to the source of the problem.
For more on this topic
contact David Peters, MFT at 619 491-3492