"We carry inside us the wonders we seek outside us." - Rumi
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of being that allows for a deeper understanding of our suffering. It doesn’t stop us from experiencing the pains of human existence. It is a shift in perception that provides us with the knowledge of how to help ourselves in each moment. Ultimately, it is our awareness that heals us through this shift.
With mindful awareness work, we come off of auto-pilot and into a state of presence. We learn to observe our thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviours from an objective vantage point. This creates space between the content of our consciousness (i.e. what we are experiencing) and our actual awareness (i.e. who is experiencing). In that space, we find a steady, wise, resilient part of us that is ever-present. With practice, we learn how to come back to that part over and over when we need it. It allows us to remain steady in the midst of chaos, so even if our lives don’t change dramatically, our way of coping with life improves.
What does Mindfulness Have to do with Mental Health?
There are many different theories about why someone struggles with their mental health. These models focus on external factors, internal factors, or both. Mindfulness doesn’t create a new theory about why suffering started in the first place, but instead focuses on how we can release ourselves from our suffering. It involves getting curious about what is keeping us stuck. It can be a thought pattern (e.g. someone with depression who is caught in hopeless thoughts), an emotional state (e.g. someone with anxiety who is overwhelmed by fear), or a behaviour (e.g. someone with binge eating disorder who is trapped in food habits). While the symptoms are different, the inner work is similar: opening our awareness so that we can see the deeper dynamics contributing to our problems and make decisions about it from a place of wisdom.
7 Ways Mindfulness Therapy Benefits Mental Health
1. Slower Thoughts – by learning to quiet the mind, our thoughts become slower, less intrusive, and less obsessive. We begin to experience space between our thoughts, which stops reactivity and allows us to make conscious choices. Some unhealthy thoughts will disappear completely. Others persist, but we become detached from them. This means that we can experience a thought, let it go, and move on with our life. They no longer have control over our feelings or behaviours.
2. Emotional Processing – we learn to stay with our emotions rather than repressing them (being distracted) or indulging in them (being flooded). We can allow an emotion to come up, experience it, and then let it pass when it is ready. We aren’t really doing anything with the feelings. We realize that they are a part of the normal human experience, and we allow them to ebb and flow as they are meant to.
3. Acceptance – we become capable of accepting the things we cannot change (one aspect of the Serenity Prayer). Rather than battling life in our minds, we can come back to our steady centre of being and surrender to the present moment. We give up the illusion of control and work with what we are given, knowing that sometimes things cannot be different than they are.
4. Letting Go – without awareness, we unknowingly hold onto patterns that are not serving us. Often driven by fear, this can lead to self-abandonment and self-sabotage. Inner silence and an open awareness allow us to trust in ourselves and in something greater than ourselves. At that point, letting go becomes not only possible, but truly desired.
5. Gratitude and Joy – while we do not seek happiness through mindfulness (because this can be a trap), we begin to spontaneously experience a sense of gratitude and joy when we become present and still inside. We come to appreciate the simple things in life and find meaning in the challenges. When we stop repressing negative emotion, our positive emotions also begin to emerge again.
6. New Options – we learn that our thoughts are a distraction from our life vision. We see how the complaining, blaming, anger, self-pity, reactivity, rationalizing, self-doubt, and so on is blocking us from helping ourselves. When we step out of this mental activity, we begin to see options that we couldn’t see before. Creativity, inspiration, and resilience are all born from inner silence.
7. Connection to Self – people who struggle with mental health often feel disconnected and unsure of who they are. We connect with our essence through inner silence. We let go of thoughts of who we think we are or think we should be. We sift through all of our conditioning and become aware of our true values. We start to live life in a way that feels authentic and natural. We do not have to create our sense of self, we just have to free it.
Mindfulness therapy supports healing from mental health by building up our inner resources rather than battling our symptoms. The way that we relate to ourselves, to others, and to life is totally transformed. It is an approach that teaches us how to truly care for our mind, our body, and our spirit.
Mindful Awareness Practice:
Take some time to reflect on what good mental health means to you. If you were in a state of wellness (i.e. good mental health), how would you know? What would your life be like? Who would you be? What would be different about your thoughts and emotions?
If you'd like to learn more about how mindfulness therapy, transpersonal therapy, or humanistic therapy can benefit your mental health, please contact me for a free phone consult. I work with people who experience a wide range of mental health symptoms, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, substance use, anger, and stress.