Copyright © 2014 Dr Alex Fowke. All Rights Reserved.
We spend much of our time caught up mindlessly in thoughts about the past (which can lead to chronic sadness) or
the future (which can lead to high levels of fear), rather than the present moment. Mindfulness is not about
stopping your mind from wandering, nor is it means of avoidance, distraction, nor a form of 'switching off'.
Instead, through Mindfulness we become a 'watchful observer of the mind', regardless of what is happening.
Whereas traditional CBT approaches aim to change unhelpful thought patterns and dysfunctional
behaviours in order to reduce excessively painful emotions, more contemporary CBT approaches
incorporate Mindfulness to help clients change the relationship they have with their thoughts,
rather than the content, and understand patterns and familiar life-traps.
Mindfulness is derived from traditional concepts found in early Buddhist scripture and
philosophical text. These ideas teach awareness of one's inner and outer worlds, including our
thoughts, sensations, emotions, actions and surroundings as they exist at any given moment. Although
Mindfulness-based psychological interventions have a common background in these spiritual philosophies,
they are non-religious and do not require a specific spiritual orientation.
“Few of us ever live in the present. We are forever anticipating what is to come or remembering what has gone."
Through the practice of Mindfulness, I can teach you how to become more aware of your thoughts and recognise the 'stories' that your mind tells you. It's unrealistic to expect that your mind will remain focussed on the present moment at all times, and Mindfulness would not presume this to be the case. Instead, I will teach you how Mindfulness encourages you to notice when your mind has wandered or caught up in its own 'chatter'. That point of awareness is Mindfulness; the effective thing to do next would be to bring your attention back to the present moment, even if the present moment is uncomfortable or challenging. Rather than attempting to change the present moment, the skill of Mindfulness is to notice what is happening in your mind, without getting 'caught up' in the content.
I can teach you to use Mindfulness to learn to accept yourself, your history and your current situation exactly as it is, rather than how you would prefer them to be. Mindfulness is a key principle of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), which has a large influences over my CBT practice, and in this context it can be helpful by teaching you to recognise that 'observing self' part of your mind which is capable of watching its own sensations, thoughts and emotions to gain an objective distance from your experience; therefore, rather than thinking "I'm a bad person", you can learn to notice "I'm having the thought that I'm a bad person".
This distance allows us to become less fused with its content, which in turn can reduce the distress that is associated with the thought's content.
Louis L'Amour, American writer
As humans we are often not present in our own minds, often acting on 'autopilot', losing awareness of our present moment as our minds get caught up or distracted by our attempts to juggle the different demands in life.
Mindfulness is a meditation practice that helps us to remain present in our current experience with openness, curiosity and flexibility; Jon Kabat-Zinn (an eminent Mindfulness teacher), describes Mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, & non-judgmentally" (from Mindfulness meditation for everyday life ).
Mindfulness is the repetitive act of directing our attention to only one thing in this moment. Through Mindfulness we can train our minds to pay attention to what we choose to pay attention to, rather than letting our mind take over.
Although it may be assumed that Mindfulness helps you to create a sense of peace or clear your mind, the primary aim of Mindfulness isn't to achieve a feeling of relaxation. That isn't to say that you mightn't notice feeling more calm as a consequence, but it oughtn't be expected. Indeed, rather than a peaceful mind, you may notice that your mind is actually quite busy and rather 'noisy' with lots of powerful or distracting 'chatter'. Similarly, you might notice that the present moment is painful or uncomfortable. Mindfulness encourages you to stay with these experiences despite any discomfort, rather than avoiding them or distracting from them, because a Mindful awareness of these more difficult times can lead you to the point of acceptance of the pain, reducing suffering.
There is extensive research evidence showing how Mindfulness can effectively reduce symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, and improve self-esteem, problem-solving abilities, concentration, relationship satisfaction and general well-being. Through Mindfulness, we can become more productive and effective and improve performance across all areas of life.