In part 1 of this post, I introduced you to the two modes of mind, doing and being. We also looked at an example of how we can get stuck in unhelpful patterns of thinking, revisiting an experience we have had, and allowing this to dominate our thinking, and how this can affect our mood and our lives. When we get stuck like this, we are in the doing mode of mind, dominated by judging, analysing, etc. and this usually very helpful mode of mind has, instead, turned an unpleasant situation into something that is causing us stress, anxiety, irritability, etc. long after the event has passed.
Act II- The Community Series – How are you?
Having a mindfulness practice can be beneficial to us in situations like this for a number of reasons. Firstly, as we practice mindfulness and become more aware of how we have been conditioned over time to react in certain ways to certain types of situations, we can notice when our minds enter these unhelpful thought patterns. Secondly, mindfulness provides us with the approaches that can help us to let go of these thought patterns.
Well, if we return to our situation above, we can see we are stuck in the past, ruminating over an event that occurred hours or days earlier. When we approach this experience mindfully, we bring a warm, open, curious, awareness to our present moment experience, which includes these thought patterns. We experience them in the wider context of what is going on for us right now.
Bringing an awareness imbued with these qualities to our present moment experience helps in the following ways: First, cultivating the qualities of warmth, openness, and curiosity helps us to move towards our present moment experience in its entirety, into being with it. Secondly, our experience cannot be dominated by thinking about the past at the same time as we are paying attention to what is going on in the present moment. We stop ‘feeding’ the thinking process and our minds begin to settle down.
If anyone has ever played ‘SwingBall’ on your own, it’s a little bit like that. When we are stuck in a particular pattern of thinking, returning to the same event over and over, it is like hitting the ball each time it comes back around to us. We are giving the ball (our thinking) energy to carry on. When we turn to the present moment we are, by default, letting go of the thoughts and so we are no longer maintaining them and, like the ‘SwingBall’, they begin to lose momentum and eventually don’t bother us. It is important to note, though, that mindfulness is not a ‘distraction’ technique. When we enter the being mode of mind we are not pushing out the thoughts and replacing them with sensory experience. We are just acknowledging their presence in the wider context of all that is going on for us in the present moment so that they do not dominate our attention and our energy.
So, to the chorus of our song. The first line is
May your mind set you free (be opened by the wonderful).
This line from the chorus reminds us that just as our minds can get us into trouble, they can also get us out of this trouble. As our brains learn this process of acknowledging the presence of these unhelpful thought patterns and then letting them go, this becomes a learned behaviour, and it becomes something we are able to do more easily over time. We are learning to move from doing mode to being mode and learning to appreciate the wonder that can be found in the present moment. Now, this is something that people can have a hard time understanding, the wonderful experience that being in the present moment can bring. The only way to experience it is to try it for yourselves. As you practice being in the present moment, really noticing the detail of what is going on moment to moment, we find a richness that we overlook and ignore most of the time, and this can bring a sense of vitality to our lives that is difficult to articulate in words alone. And so to our final line which is also from the chorus of the song
May your mind let you be through all disasters
We have taken a look at a particular scenario above, but our lives are full of challenges and difficulties. The key message here is that trying to avoid these difficulties and challenges is what leads to many of our problems in the first place. We are trying to think our way out of something that cannot be resolved; the unpleasant feelings we experience in our lives. They are as much a part of our lives as the pleasant experiences. Living more mindfully can help us learn how to be more comfortable with the uncomfortable, learn how to ‘be’ (in the sense of entering the being mode of mind) through all the disasters of life. In this mode of mind, we find that the unpleasant experiences and the associated feelings and emotions will pass if we don’t maintain them by getting stuck in trying to think our way through them. Thinking has its place, and reflecting on our experience is a great way to learn, but when that thinking becomes something that is not helpful, that is maintaining the difficult emotions and feelings well beyond the initiating event, then it is time to take a different type of action.
So, to recap, living more mindfully can help us to become better at self-monitoring and self-regulating our psychological processes (it brings far more than this to the lives of those that practice it, in my experience, but I wanted to focus on one area for the sake of simplicity). Just as we may learn how to best maintain our physical health by monitoring and regulating what we eat and how we exercise, then why shouldn’t we learn how to do the same for our psychological health? However, I think it is important for me to make it clear that practicing mindfulness does not stop you from experiencing difficult and unpleasant feelings. We are learning how to minimise the effect they have on us, to recover from their impact more quickly.
Well, that’s me done. If you have made it this far without falling asleep then I have either done a half-decent job or you are still waiting for the interesting bit! If it is the latter, then I am sorry to disappoint you. However, there is some really interesting content to be found if you follow the links that I have placed below, where you will be able to find out more about mindfulness and the role it can play in your own life, in the organisation in which you work, and in the community in which you live. I will also leave my contact details if you wish to contact me to discuss anything in this blog, or about mindfulness training in general.
Take care and best wishes
Editor’s Note: This article was authored by Richard Harper of Mindful Horizons.
- Waltzing Along – The full lyrics from the song used in this post. James has produced some truly wonderful songs, but this is my favourite; go have a listen and decide for yourself.
- The Mindful Nation Report – Published on behalf of the UK Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group in October 2015, the Mindful Nation UK report was the first policy document of its kind, seeking to address mental and physical health concerns in the areas of education, health, the workplace, and the criminal justice system through the application of mindfulness-based interventions. The website also contains other useful information about the Mindfulness Initiative and their work.
- Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) – A project whose aim is to introduce training in mindfulness to young people in our schools to help them to develop the skills to navigate through the difficulties in life and flourish.
- Mindful.org – As the name suggests, a website that contains information about all things mindfulness, including practical tips on how to practice mindfulness and information about the latest research.
- Centre for Healthy Minds – If you are interested in neuroscience, this site provides lots of interesting research and information. It illustrates how a better understanding of how the brain works is informing our approaches to improving our health and wellbeing through practices such as mindfulness.