In today’s spotlight I wish to discuss two kinds of mindfulness. Mindfulness is generally understood as meditation—meditation with the intent of relinquishing the capital I, the sense of self, and entering a state of oneness. One is therefore taught to let their thoughts go by and not follow them like some puppy on the sidewalk following every set of legs that passes by. Instead, the teaching emphasizes the need to let thought just go by and focus on your breathing.
Mindfulness to Reframe
There is another form of mindfulness meditation that is very useful, and one I often suggest to those interested in knowing themselves. This form of mindfulness is also meditation, and focusing on your breath is good place to begin. However, instead of ignoring your thoughts, you accept them in a nonjudgmental way. The thought comes in and you both acknowledge and note the sort of thought it is. Perhaps you wait for a moment to see what thought next comes and is therefore some how connected to the last thought. If it is a thought you would prefer to place in a different context, say a thought about something you hate, then take a moment to think of how you might reframe the thought. For example, if the thought is about some crazy driver who upset you on your way to work, just the reminder of this situation creates some emotional content, so you take a moment and imagine the driver was in a real hurry because she needed to get to the hospital.
Clearly, this reframing idea will not only remit your thoughts but ameliorate your emotions when placed in this context. It has the additional benefit of predisposing how you respond the next time something like this happens.
Mindfulness for Associations
Now there is another aspect to mindfulness that I like to encourage. This technique looks inward toward those secret unconscious associations and beliefs—many of which intrude and even govern our conscious activity. To illustrate this, please allow me to share some fiction from the HBO show, In Therapy.
The therapist in the show, one Dr. Paul Weston, experiences an erotic transference with a patient who is a medical doctor he has been treating for a year. Although it is difficult for him to admit, he has experienced a genuine countertransference. His patient, Lara, is a very attractive woman who is very outspoken, so without mincing words she makes it clear that she is in love with him and wants him sexually. He properly informs her that he is not an option, but his real feelings are not so easily extinguished.
Meantime his wife is having an affair. When she informs Paul of the affair, she explains that it is in part because he seems so removed and so indifferent to her. Paul fails to see that his obsession with Lara has dominated his thoughts for months. Like a dieter facing a tabooed confection, he as held it a few inches from his lips for a long time and can’t quite get his mind off of it. Lara is the confection in this analogy. As a result, Paul fails to see his complicity in his wife’s extramarital affair.
Looking Into the Subconscious
When we connect thoughts together, we often discover links that we consciously fail to observe. When Paul seeks his own therapy he slips in a conversation about sexuality and uses Lara’s name in place of his wife. What does this tell us?
Listening to our own thoughts in a nonjudgmental way, allowing them to flow and connect as they will, but remaining alert to the connections while questioning why they might connect can provide some genuinely helpful insights to our inner feelings and mental processes. It is for this reason that I believe this form of mindfulness can be so very helpful in sorting out the sources of unidentified anxieties, worries, fears, and the like.
My thoughts anyway, what are yours?