So you have been reading blogs about therapy, or you have a new book on relationships or PTSD or family of origin concerns, and you are enjoying it for the most part. Then somewhere in the book or blog you get introduced to mindfulness.
The philosophy, the mediation, the mental exercises, the DVD and the t-shirt.
That makes you stop for a moment to think about where else you have heard about this thing mindfulness. In essence, you practice mindfulness itself to pause and recall that nearly every blog or book or manifesto regarding psychology that you have read suggests mindfulness activities, exercises or mediation.
Then you think about the last therapy session you had. Even if it was five years ago. Your mind plays the event back to you in slow motion and sure enough there it is: your well-meaning therapist gesticulating in the air vaguely and mouthing the words: L-E-T-S–P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E–S-O-M-E–M-I-N-D-F-U-L-N-E-S-S.
Am I right or am I right?
So what the hell gives about mindfulness?
And why is it that nearly every single book on therapy has an obligatory–and often awkwardly edited-in–chapter on this subject?
The skinny on mindfulness is that it works. Across all theoretical orientations, everyone is getting on board: the Adlerians, the psychodynamic people, the Rogerians, the CBT folks, and everyone else at the party is integrating mindfulness and their particular therapeutic viewpoint.
And unlike other interventions, technology has advanced enough so that we can see the structural changes to the brain when mindfulness is practiced. For a science that gets called out so often for being “soft” the newest brain imaging scans are now able to show what effect positive behavior (mindfulness) can do to the brain, as well as what bad behavior (smoking meth) does.
Good times. But that’s not all.
Mindfulness increases our self-awareness and it makes us more adaptable to stress by getting in the way of our natural fight or flight response. When we incorporate it into our lives, mindfulness gives us better options in dealing with stress, trauma and acute emotional experiences. But only if you are adept at practicing mindfulness before the aforementioned stress, trauma and acute emotional experiences.
The truth about mindfulness is that it can make you stronger. And the bottom line about therapy is becoming fucking stronger. I don’t mean the fake, deny your emotions, American-esque action movie strong. I mean being aware of your own personal and emotional blind spots, appreciating your own personality and quirks, and being able to adapt and embrace change whenever it comes your way strong. It’s not stoic, constipated John Wayne, but nimble and flexible Bruce Lee.
Bruce Lee had an oft-repeated phrase that was at the root of his own personal philosophy: be like water. It is, at its heart, a poetic expression of mindfulness.