What is Mindfulness?
-Don Sheeley, MD, SMART Recovery Facilitator
I use the term “Mindfulness” to mean Active Self-Awareness.
We can be aware of our internal thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, and we can be aware of the interaction of ourselves with the external world (sight, sound, touch, taste, feel). We can be aware that we take in sights and sounds, etc. from the external world and process them and apply our internal thoughts and beliefs to them. Then we can become aware that there is someone who is aware of all that, and that guy is Me, the same me who was 12 years old, then 29, and now 62. (Yikes!) That’s it.
So we’re not really “aware of others.” We are aware that we hear what another says and then we are aware of what we think about that and how we feel about that, and maybe we are aware of how we process that.
Similarly, mindfulness is not necessarily placid, comfortable, or relaxed.
If we are willing to accept our internal and external inputs and how we interpret all those, as they are, without blocking them or demanding that they not exist, etc. and if we then create a distance between our Observing Self and all that “stuff” of thoughts and feelings, then we might sometimes relax and become more comfortable — but it’s certainly not guaranteed. We can become the Sky and not the Clouds of thoughts and feelings, which come and go. Mindfulness in and of itself is the action of Active Self Awareness, and it can often be awareness of discomfort, tension, anxiety, fear, etc. So no, it is not intrinsically comfortable.
Active Self-Awareness mindfulness is an extraordinarily powerful place to operate one’s life from. If I know I am the sky, and my thoughts and feelings are the clouds, I don’t have to be struggling with every cloud that comes along, taking up my whole day, because a lot of them will go away by themselves, and others I can deal with. I can pick and choose which ones to deal with rather than forcing myself to deal with each and every one.
So if I operate from a place of Active Self-Awareness, I can sit back on a cloudy day and look over to my right and see my Values and Goals List, and move in that direction even on a cloudy day. Of course, being human, I will sneakily be attacked by my fears, anxieties, and irrational beliefs which will block me sometimes. That’s where REBT, behavioral modifications, and willing acceptance of my thoughts and feelings, all with patience and perseverance, come in. We use those Tools to break down the things that block our movement toward our Values.
And meanwhile I am mindfully in charge.
Mindfulness as Active Self-Awareness and living in the place of the Observing Self as much as possible also helps with boundaries. If it is clear to me that my only awareness of others, is that I hear and see him/her, then when another person says, for example “You … [whatever] ” it is immediately clear to me that that is his/her opinion, his/her speech, and actually has nothing to do with “Me.” I can choose to consider his/her words, and make any changes to myself if I wish to do so, but the boundary is clear.
Don Sheeley is an Emergency Physician. He has enjoyed learning REBT, loves facilitating the local SMART meeting in Saratoga Springs, NY, and he is currently studying to become a therapist in Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT).