'Let us not be afraid of decreasing. It is like the moon; we see the moon increasing and decreasing, but it is always the moon.'
- Thich Nhat Hanh
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness arises from purposefully paying attention to the present moment and bringing certain qualities to that awareness, such as kindness and non-judgmentalism. This means cultivating acceptance of things as they are in the here and now. Through mindful awareness, release can be found from the unhelpful dwelling on past events that cannot be changed, or paralysing thoughts about a future which cannot be known.
How does mindfulness help with challenging thoughts and feelings?
Mindfulness encourages awareness of difficult thoughts and feelings and leads us to recognise these as an ongoing stream of mental events, rather than facts. It teaches us strategies such as attaching labels to thoughts as they arise, perhaps as 'remembering,' 'planning,' 'worrying,' and so on. It also draws us away from judging events as good or bad, or as something that we like or dislike. In this way critical thoughts can be acknowledged and dissolved in awareness so that they can be viewed instead from a very different place. This frees us up to choose how we respond to our thoughts, that is, wisely and purposefully, rather than reacting automatically from conditioned experiences of the past. In this way, recognising habitual patterns of thinking and understanding the impact of our thoughts on our emotions and consequently, the decisions we take. By changing unhelpful patterns of thoughts, we can make better decisions for the future.
What are some of the benefits of mindfulness?
Amongst the benefits of mindful living is the potential for increased happiness, alleviation of the harmful effects of anxiety and depression, improved memory, concentration and quality of sleep, the damaging consequences of stress, as well as breaking the persistent patterns of negative thoughts.
How can mindfulness help in counselling?
Do you often find yourself beginning one task and then find that somehow, you are doing something else entirely? I am able to incorporate mindfulness into your sessions to help with racing thoughts and feelings of mounting anxiety and stress which take you away from the task in hand. Through this you may find yourself able to train your attention to appreciate the present moment, without judgement,and in this way let go of struggling with preoccupations and endless to-do lists. It can help put you back in touch with your natural ability to engage with the present moment and to notice unhelpful patterns of experience, allowing you to choose how you respond to the inevitable challenges life throws your way.
Mindfulness and Neuroscience
Scientific advances have shown that mindful meditation changes the structure and activity of the brain. Through brain imaging it has been shown that meditation increased those networks in the brain associated with positive feelings such as happiness and empathy and that those critical networks become stronger still through regular meditation.
Mindfulness and Automatic Pilot
Automatic pilot helps us perform routine tasks such as driving the car or tying a shoelace without even thinking about them; it allows us to carry out the task in hand without consciously having to learn how to do it all over again. However, when we are swamped with daily demands we may hand conscious control of our lives to our automatic pilot, so that we are not truly concentrating on anything at all. So whilst we may hope that multi-tasking will take us through everything on our never ending lists in the time available, we may eventually become exhausted, overloaded and forgetful so that we might end up losing more time in over-correcting and over-thinking. A deliberate change to daily routine and habits can transform this mindlessness into waking up to new possibilities and new experiences. This may not reduce the demands on our time but mindful awareness can help us choose how we respond to challenges without catapulting ourselves into the ever decreasing circles of automatic response.
Popular misconceptions about meditation
People meditate for the purpose of relaxation
Making a conscious effort to relax is likely to produce more tension; but mindfulness brings awareness of that tension without reacting to it by trying to force it away, but instead noticing that tension and accepting it without trying to change it in any way. From this, relaxation may come, although it is not the purpose of the meditation.
The aim of mediation is making the mind go blank
We may not be able to still our thoughts, but meditation makes it possible to notice the destructive spiral of negative thought patterns and stop them in their tracks.
Meditation forms part of a religious practice, involving sitting cross-legged, chanting, burning incense and ringing bells
Meditators do not necessarily have any religious beliefs at all; formal meditation may be carried out simply by sitting or lying down.