“Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness.” – Goethe
In last week’s post, “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Five,” we learned about the meaning and benefits of embracing acceptance. We often fight back against aspects of reality that we decide are painful or unwanted in some way. When we do this, we create a great deal of unnecessary suffering along the way.
Kicking and screaming about “the way it is” isn’t going to change it one bit. It is only once we step back from the situation, look at it with our eyes wide open, do we then have the power to do something about it. When we deny reality by fighting against it or closing our eyes to it, it doesn’t disappear. The paradox is that it takes genuine acceptance (not necessarily approval) of reality for real changes to occur.
When you choose to be mindful, you are allowing yourself not only to accept reality precisely as it is, but to embrace it. It can be difficult to make the choice to move toward discomfort and embrace pain. The secret is that sitting with discomfort often results in it lifting much sooner and more easily than fighting against it. Recognize that force is met with resistance. When you allow your heart and mind to open the gates of perception to all aspects of the present moment, that which is painful begins to lift and that which is blurry begins to sharpen. Reality is much less confusing and frightening when you can actually see it for what it truly is.
This notion of seeing things for what they truly are will be explored in greater depth during week six of your personal journey with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). At this point in your experience with MBSR, you have made the choice to engage in a regular mindfulness practice that involves developing greater awareness of times when you enter into automatic pilot, dealing with common obstacles to mindfulness, becoming more mindful in movement, staying present, and embracing acceptance.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself for your dedication to your journey with MBSR. If it has been difficult to maintain a regular practice, thank yourself for whatever progress you have made. Taking a few slow steps in the right direction is better than remaining stagnant. Mindfulness isn’t something that “happens” to you… it involves renewing your dedication to engaging with the present moment with openness, curiosity, and acceptance each day. With practice, this attitude of mindfulness will begin to become part of who you are.
MBSR Week Six: Realizing that Thoughts Aren’t Facts
If you’re like most people, you tend to accept a great deal of the thoughts that enter your mind as being “true” without really examining them in much detail. It is generally easier to question thoughts that are more removed from you personally or are more analytical in nature. For example, if you begin thinking about a project for work or school, it is quite likely that you are questioning and playing around with many of the thoughts that enter your mind. Just because you “have” a thought, that doesn’t mean that you will automatically assume that it’s true.
On the other hand, it is more likely that when thoughts enter your mind of a more personal nature (e.g., “What a jerk” or “I’m terrible at this”), you give them much more power than they deserve. During week six of MBSR, you will begin to develop awareness of the concept that simply because you think something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
This might sound obvious when stated this way, but I would be willing to bet that when it comes down to it, you find yourself automatically believing many thoughts that enter your mind without really examining what evidence you have for and against them. Everyone does this… the trick is to apply mindful awareness to this automatic knee-jerk response that we all have and begin to respond differently.
MBSR Week Six: Practices
This week, begin to question the automatic thoughts that pop into your conscious awareness. Simply start noticing them as they occur. When you become more aware of your thoughts as they enter your mind, you will begin to realize that those thoughts don’t have any inherent magical power or great significance to them until you give it to them. You are the thinker of your thoughts. You create them in your mind and you can observe them with mindful awareness. When you observe your thoughts, you begin to notice that you are not fused to your thoughts.
- Take the basic mindfulness practices from the past five weeks that you particularly enjoyed and practice some combination of these (guided sitting meditation, mindfulness in motion, or body scan meditation) for 45 minutes each day. You can split the time into two or three segments, or engage in one 45 minute mindfulness practice.
- Practice the “3 Minute Breathing Space” exercise three times each day. Use this mindfulness exercise during additional times during the day when particularly troubling thoughts arise for you. Rather than become fused to those thoughts, observe them with mindful awareness and allow them to pass during this breathing meditation.
- If at all possible, set aside one entire day this week for silent mindfulness meditation. This involves an entire day of “non-doing.” Allow yourself to notice urges to act upon your thoughts and feelings and to simply let them pass, rather than take action. You may be surprised how much you learn about yourself and your urges to “do” when you dedicate an entire day to simply “be.”
Continue to record your thoughts and emotions in your MBSR journal as you continue along your journey. Is it easier for you to engage in these mindfulness exercises at this point? What benefits or changes have you noticed in yourself and in the way that others respond to you?
Dedicate your attitude this week to becoming aware of your thoughts in an entirely new way. It might feel foreign at first to begin to “notice” thoughts… this is natural. Once you begin to become a more mindful observer of your thoughts, you will loosen the shackles that have bound you to unquestioning servitude to them. Thoughts are only your master if you bow down to them. Notice them for what they are – words and images. Accept the ones that are valid upon mindful inspection and dismiss those with no true validity. Revel in the freedom that comes along with this new attitude.
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Next week, I will explore the practices involved with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: Week Seven – “Taking Care of Yourself.”
This article is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or MBSR as developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This article is intended to introduce you to the basic concepts of MBSR that you can practice in your daily life. If you are interested in exploring MBSR in greater depth, you can explore an online course or a directory of MBSR classes worldwide.
Alidina, S. (2011). Mindfulness for dummies. West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Featured image: stream of consciousness by Chicago Art Department / CC BY 2.0