Mindfulness is the art of being fully present for life with attention and without judgment. While it is not a cure-all, practicing mindfulness can definitely help with managing stress and worry. Practicing mindfulness provides a means to be open to whatever it is your body is feeling and your mind is thinking by noticing and detaching without need to label or give any particular meaning to thoughts or sensations.
I became exposed to the concept of mindfulness through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), which assists with finding balance in opposing forces (a dialectic). DBT is a therapeutic modality that came about in the 1990's through the work of Dr. Marsha Linehan who developed and used it as an alternative therapy in treating her patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
DBT is based what is known as core mindfulness or Wise Mind. Mindfulness comes from both Western and especially Eastern (Zen) meditation and spiritual practices. That place of Wise Mind seems to come more naturally for some. I am not one of those people; however, with patience and practice I was able to better understand mindfulness and incorporate it in my everyday life. What I was able to learn from DBT and mindfulness has helped me to regulate my emotions, increase my tolerance for distress and acquire skills for improved relationships.
My experience with DBT has been extremely positive. I find DBT to be accepting, validating, and encouraging. DBT applies useful principles and successful strategies to help create a life worth living. This is big and something I want to emphasize, a life worth living can indeed be created.
My history before DBT pointed to either living in and regretting the past or planning for, anticipating, and worrying about the future. I had great difficulty being present in the moment with any amount of ease; in fact, I operated mostly from an ongoing state of panic and fear. Being present used to mean unmanageable overwhelm and severe anxiety.
DBT uses the concept of three different mind states: reasonable mind, emotional mind, and wise mind to describe a person's thoughts and behaviors. Reasonable Mind is rational and logical. Rational Mind is a problem solving and planning state which also seeks rules and absolute truths. The energy of Reasonable Mind is "cool". Emotional Mind is when a person's thinking and behavior is controlled by their emotions. In this state of mind planning and logical thinking are difficult, the energy is "hot" and behavior can be impulsive, matching the intensity of the feelings. Emotional Mind can fuel our passions and without emotional mind life would feel flat.
Both Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind are important for our psychological wellbeing. The "dialectic" is the synthesis of the fundamental opposition that exists between these two states of mind. If a balance can be found between the differences of these sates, the whole picture and "higher truth" of Wise Mind can be accessed and incorporated.
Wise Mind is where Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind overlap. Wise Mind recognizes that there is more than one way to look at things. Wise Mind incorporates intuition. Wise Mind is calm and almost always quiet. For me, when I am coming from Wise Mind I have a sense of being centered, with a knowing that something is sound and accurate.
One of my biggest challenges was learning how to regulate my emotions. I used to think emotions were always accurate,; therefore, something that I had to embody and act on. If I felt it, it must be true. It was a constant battle for me to not become my emotions because I am a person who feels very intensely.
Another dialectic that DBT can help address is that of acceptance and change. While I am able to accept myself as I am, I am also able to recognize when I need to make changes.
The mindfulness of Wise Mind develops over time and DBT skills are learned. By being open to learning a different way of living, through patience - a lot of patience, and by consistent practice of what is being learned, great strides can be made with regard to improved overall wellbeing.
Mindfulness practice allows me tap into my inner wisdom. I am able to be in the present, aware of what is happening and what I am doing. I am able to observe what is going on around me and participate fully in a way that is most effective and skillful. Being mindful, I am able to be more open to receive all that life has to offer which is important as a life worth living includes a range of emotions and events; happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, gain and loss, activity and rest.
Creative projects and art activities are my favorite ways to cultivate mindfulness. How I approach the creative process mirrors the way I approach life in general. By approaching art making in a way that keeps me open to what is revealed, instead of me dictating its terms, I am better able to appreciate what comes forth. I experience a sense of wonder as well as contentment in having embraced the unknown and creating something from nothing, I am able to see beauty in unexpected places and I am often met with surprising discoveries that enrich my life.
Please see these resources on DBT and Mindfulness for additional information:
"Everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality."
Robin S. Sharma, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
Romans 12:2 (NASB)