The Usefulness of Mindfulness in Therapy
According to psychotherapist Mark Epstein (1995), Buddhist psychology offers a practical method that provides more than the “relative relief” of psychotherapy; it helps to free us from constant craving, a false sense of self, and from the endless desire to be other than where we are at any given moment. It also offers an effective cognitive technique for the development of self- awareness (Kutz et al., 1985) and provides insight into the nature of the self.
Mindfulness is helpful for therapy as it helps individuals to open to the intensity of emotions we are afraid to feel. It provides a protective distancing that enables us to create and maintain an observing ego through which we can confront emotions that were previously avoided because they were unpleasant or overwhelming. Once these emotions are permitted to surface, they are made conscious and their subversive power begins to lessen.
The practice of mindfulness enhances perception, allowing us to become intimately acquainted with our mental habits and distortions. It helps us to perceive the distinction between a thought and its related emotion.
Mindfulness practice also leads to greater conceptual and intuitive flexibility. We broaden our perspective as our cognitions become more plastic and as we begin to forge connections between previously unrelated psychic material. We also become more emotionally receptive; feelings of inner trust and serenity begin to grow, leading to a defenselessness that allows a range of emotion to emerge. Many report a feeling of centeredness, which enables them to experience their emotions without reacting or running away.
) Marian Smith 2005
Advantages of Combining Mindfulness Meditation with Therapy
A central advantage to combining mindfulness meditation in therapy is that it intensifies the therapeutic process. It allows clients to continue observing and reflecting on their process on a daily basis outside sessions, at no cost. In addition to increasing the frequency of introspection, meditation also improves the quality of the therapeutic process by providing an additional means to work with one’s challenges. Over time, the client may become aware of repetitive themes, which may benefit from mindful co-investigation.
Most importantly, mindfulness practice empowers clients, grounds them in their daily lives, and enhances their quality of life (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). The practice encourages clients to be gentle and compassionate with themselves in their process and leads them to feel more connected to themselves, to others and to life itself.
B) Marian Smith 2005
Mindfulness, Therapy and Re-Connection
At Mindful Living, we offer both Mindfulness-based courses to address stress, pain and depression, and psychotherapy (counselling) to help people suffering from a wide variety of problems in living.
Meditation and psychotherapy share the common function of helping individuals move from a state in which they often feel isolated, fragmented and alone toward a sense of wholeness and connection. Both paths involve a re-connecting or re-membering of aspects of experience from which one has become estranged.
By the time people enter into therapy, they have more than likely exhausted all other avenues of release from their particular suffering: friends, mentors, various methods of avoidance such as over-eating, drugs and/or alcohol, overworking, and so on, have failed to bring freedom. Clients often use metaphors of being trapped, pinned or in prison to articulate their feelings of frustration and separateness. Sharon Salzberg (1995) writes, bWhen we experience mental or physical pain, we often feel a sense of isolation, a disconnection from humanity and life.
No one likes pain. And in fearing it, we may split off unwanted aspects of ourselves until we come to feel that we are living only a partial or inauthentic life. Life then becomes life-less, without meaning.
It is in the context of relationship that healing, or whole-ing, occurs. Through entering into a trusting therapeutic relationship we begin to allow the previously banished aspects of self to return. As psychiatrist, R.D. Laing wrote regarding the primacy of the therapeutic relationship, “true psychotherapy must be an obstinate attempt of two people to recover the wholeness of being human through the relationship between them” (1967).
Mindfulness or Vipassana meditation can greatly facilitate the therapeutic process in at least three ways.
First, the process of just sitting, and being with, what is happening in our minds and bodies, without trying to change it, provides a safe container in which we can simply experience, tolerate and thereby integrate the orphaned aspects of consciousness.
Second, as the meditative process is one in which we simply observe the passing thoughts, feelings and body sensations, we come to learn first hand that everything that arises– “the good” and “the bad,” “the right” and “the wrong” passes away. Hence, we come to believe less in our troubling thoughts and ruminations, thereby rendering them less “sticky.” We watch them come and go, like clouds passing through the open sky. The reified, scary feelings we locked in the closet like so many monsters, reveal themselves to be little more than mere shadows playing with light.
Finally, as one cannot be two places at the same time, to dwell in the present moment, just as it is, means we cannot simultaneously be flailing desperately in a vortex of ruminations that fuel destructive mind states such as greed, anger, anxiety and depression.
Meditation takes us beyond the discursive, logical, ratio-nal mind, the mind that divides, and categorizes aspects of experience that are, in fact, interdependent and inseparable. Salzberg writes, “Transformation comes from looking deeply within, to a state that exists before fear and isolation arise, the state in which we are inviolably whole just as we are.”
Whether it be through therapy, meditation or both, when we open repeatedly, continuously, to the truth of our lives to our actual experience, as it is, with nothing added when we stop pretending things are other than they really are, we begin to overcome the mistaken belief that we are separate from life, and we begin to see what philosopher Alan Watts meant when he said we are not separate from Nature, we are Nature. That is, we do not come into the world like foreigners, we come out of it. The Earth peoples, like an apple tree apples.
In reclaiming our lives and opening our hearts to what is, we overcome the illusion of separateness, of not being part a whole. The consequent sense of love and connection overcomes all of the states that accompany [the] fundamental error separateness fear, alienation, loneliness, and despair of all of the feelings of fragmentation. In place of these, the genuine realization of connectedness brings unification, confidence and safety (Salzberg, 1995).