More on Mindfulness: Why Do We Need It?

What is mindfulness? Why do we need it? And what does it have to do with therapy?

What is mindfulness? It is being present. Being here and now. Seeing what you see, hearing what you hear, touching what you touch, and being what you are.

A lack of presence seems to be a common theme which comes up again and again in my practice as well as the rest of my life. In their own different ways, reflecting their lives, problems and ways of being, people complain that their hearts are never in what they are doing, that they can’t concentrate, that they can’t really communicate with anyone else because they are thinking about themselves all the time, that they can’t free themselves from endlessly going over the same things all the time, be it a trauma, or thoughts about themselves and how inadequate they are. They have lost spontaneity and joy. The thoughts, once they start, follow their own tracks, round and round, and there seems to be no way to get off the ride.

People usually experience the gap between themselves, the one describing the problem, and the ‘negative’ thoughts themselves, which seem to have a life of their own.

At this point, cognitive behavioural therapists might say that it would be fruitful to examine the thoughts and ask if they are really true or really doing us any favours, or if they are based on some unhelpful and/or out of date input from ourselves or others in the past.

As I understand it therapists using the technique of mindfulness might see this way of opening up a space between person and thoughts as a chance to experience peace, not to be caught up in negative and unhelpful thoughts.

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Buddhists might say that we suffer because we get caught up and identified with our thoughts.

I don’t mean to suggest that all thoughts are negative in some way and the answer is to stop thinking! Nor do I mean to suggest that all problems are caused by thoughts alone. I do think that there is usually an extra level to any problem which is caused by our own thinking about it, and about ourselves, and also that very often people’s being ‘stuck in their heads’ interferes with their direct experience.

I believe that it is only in our own, individual, direct experience of every aspect of ourselves — physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually — and our direct experience of the world that we can find a way of being which feels real to us, that we can accept.

Being here and now, being who and how we are and accepting that, in all the changing painful mess of life, seems like a pretty good working goal of therapy to me!

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