Mindfulness Based Counseling
Article by M. Joy Young, LCSW, ACSW Portland Oregon
Mindfulness is your conscious attention or awareness of the present moment. It is the non-judging awareness that recognizes the moment by moment experience and allows it without trying to change, fix, alter, judge, avoid, or escape it. As defined by Tara Brach, Ph.D., it is recognizing the present moment experience and allowing it.
Mindfulness practice by its nature fosters a sense of “okayness” about yourself and life in general. This is not to say that everything is roses and sunshine and no problems or difficulties exist. On the contrary, with mindfulness you become very aware of problems and stuff you don’t like. However, mindfulness helps you to cultivate greater tolerance and compassion for what is real and happening in the present momentrather than trying to judge, change, avoid, or fix it. From the place of greater tolerance and compassion one is less emotionally fired up, less judgmental, and better able to make healthier decisions and take healthier action.
It is human nature to try to control or pull away from moment by moment experience. This pulling away is part of the body’s flinch response and the fight/flight/freeze response. When we come in contact with something we don’t like or understand or something that frightens us (this can include not only daily events but our own emotional reactions) our automatic response is to pull away (flee or flight), judge, criticize, fix, (fight), or blank out or get emotionally numb (freeze). Mindfulness helps us become aware of this process and see it as a natural bodily response that comes and goes -not something we have to get rid of or avoid.
It is also human nature to identify ourselves with emotional states and thoughts. For example, if we have experienced lots of sadness in our lives some people will identify with it and define themselves as a “depressed person”. This identification with our emotions and our thoughts traps us into an identify that is static and non-changing. Mindfulness helps break this misidentification up so one moves from identifying one’s self with emotions and events to viewing emotions and events as something happening around you or to you. For example moving from the belief “I am a sad person or a depressed person” to sadness is here with me right now.
Lastly it is human nature to get lost in thought. Many of us are usually caught in our own thoughts so much so that we don’t even hear what others say to us. Inside we have an internal dialog going on and often this internal dialog is filled with criticism, judgments, false beliefs, memories of the past, and fears of the future. Mindfulness helps us return to the present moment, disengage from the internal dialog, and stay connected to what is real which is the present moment pleasant or unpleasant.
Mindfulness: Key concepts and skills
In working with mindfulness there are some important concepts and skills you will learn about and develop. Here is a brief list that I hope will aid you in this journey.
Breathing meditation – In cultivating mindfulness many of the exercises given in this handout will use breathing as part of the exercise. For this work, the breath will be used as a focus point for your attention or awareness of not only the present moment outside of yourself but also as a way of connecting you to your body and inner -emotional world in the present moment .
Compassion – you will explore compassion as a feeling or emotional state of experience and of a sensation in your body. Compassion is positive regard and wishing well for yourself and all beings. It is your ability to consciously remember the pain suffering and with that memory wishing for the lessening of suffering for all beings including you. it is not a “gooey nice pretend to love everybody” kind of thing but rather the memory of the pain of life that comes to us all no matter who we are. And with this memory the sincere desire to lessen the suffering for all beings because we too know that pain and wish it on no one. In practicing mindfulness you will learn about how to cultivate compassion for yourself and others.
Acceptance – Carl Rogers was a famous psychotherapist who spoke about acceptance. He said that it was not until he accepted himself just as he was that he felt free to change. Acceptance is the precondition to everything we want. We have to begin where we are not where we think we should be. Accepting does not mean that everything stays the same it is actually the beginning of real change.
Allowing – This is our ability to expand our awareness to include that which we have placed outside of some boundary that is no longer serving us. Like acceptance, allowing does not mean that we allow everything into ourselves or that we magically become okay with everything. Instead allowing is just being willing to allow what is happening or what we are feeling to be in our awareness without having to control it or have it be a certain way. It is really our ability to experience freedom.
Forgiveness – We all know what forgiveness is but what might be helpful is to think about is a time when you really wanted forgiveness for yourself and didn’t get it. it is important to remember this because if we can remember the pain we felt when we were remorseful about our behavior, wanted forgiveness and didn’t get it we will be less likely to not give our forgiveness to others who need it.
Loving Kindness – This is similar to compassion and is a soft and gentle responsive action , like holding a new born baby or an injured animal.
Core or Center– This is an internal state of inner presence that you think, feel, and respond from. Some people refer to it as “my heart” or” my soul”. It is the place inside where our inner truth or inner knowing flows from.
If you are ready to face your past and have the life you deserve then take action by contacting a qualified and trusted counselor, therapist, or other helping professional. If you want to learn more about healing from childhood dysfunction you can contact Joy at (503) 309-1163 or at . FREE 30 minute consultation.
Resources: Mindfulness and Psychotherapy – Tara Brach Ph.D. The complete psychotherapy adult treatment planner – Jongsma, Peterson. Mindfulness and Acceptance workbook For Anxiety – Forsyth and Eifert.