Mindfulness as a Pathway to Knowledge and Wisdom

Athletic Woman Hiking a Windy TrailWhen Eve was tempted to eat the apple, way back in the Garden of Eden, she chose between two forbidden trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. She chose knowledge over life, and set human beings to a shortened life of suffering and an endless source of evolving knowledge.

Mindfulness practice serves as a key to open the door to self-knowledge. In mindfulness we know things as they are by learning from observation, especially of ourselves. In his beautiful poem, “Two Kinds of Intelligence,” Sufi poet Rumi writes about two kinds of knowing: the knowledge of acquiring outside facts and the the knowledge hidden within us. The practice of mindfulness connects us with our inner wisdom; we learn to observe the thought patterns and manifestation of emotions in the body. Mindfulness opens the door to a wealth of knowledge and understanding of our motivations, behavior, actions, relationships, and the way we hold our well-being.

There are five elements in mindfulness practice that enable us to access our inner wisdom:

  1. Pausing: Taking a moment from the constant activity and rush of daily life. The pause is not just a physical stop, but also a halting of the ongoing activity of the mind. Even when we sit to rest, our mind is busy creating stories, remembering, and ruminating. The pause invites disengagement from these incessant activities.
  2. Bringing awareness in: As we pause, we bring our awareness to the body, to the breath, to sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Being aware means noticing the inner activity without getting caught up by feeding, believing, or entertaining it.
  3. Connecting with the breath: Even when we pause physically, there is always the subtle movement of the belly and chest rising as we breathe in and falling as we breathe out. When we bring awareness to the breath, we connect with the vitality of our being. The breath is a sign of life. We start our independent journey in this world as we emerge from our mother’s womb and take the first breath, and we separate from this world when we breathe our last breath. The breath connects us to a higher level of being: to our spirituality, to our soul. (In English, respiration comes from the Latin word for spirit. In Hebrew, neshima means breath, neshama means soul.)
  4. Being in the present moment: Bringing awareness to the breath helps us to be present, as we can only connect with the breath we take now. We can live fully only the life we live now.
  5. Adopting a nonjudgmental approach and applying compassion: The way we observe ourselves is a key to self-knowledge. Being aware of the constant activity of the mind, facing the content of our thoughts, and connecting to the scope of our emotions can trigger judgmental thoughts. The only way to acquire wisdom from what we notice is to let go of judgments and develop compassion to our human nature.

It is obvious how the mindfulness approach, and self-observation based on these elements, can be useful in the therapeutic process. The knowledge that comes with acknowledging patterns of thoughts, noticing familiar paths that lead to depression, anxiety, or anger, and recognizing reactivity enables the observer to make a choice. It is not always a straight path to change, though. One can see repeated patterns, and yet fall into them again and again. Emotions can present themselves, and yet persist to stay. Sometimes awareness can simply loosen the grip of emotions and thoughts, and be only the beginning of a long journey towards release and healing.

When Eve chose to eat from the tree of knowledge, she knew she would pay the price for her choice. She was expelled from the Garden of Eden. However, she tasted choice, and her eyes opened to see that she was naked. Only with open eyes could she, and all of us coming along through painful birth, come to see what we really need. Self knowledge can be painful. We are expelled from delusion and beliefs about who we are; we learn to meet ourselves as we are; we see flaws and traits that are not the ones we are proud of—but we also begin to connect with our inner wisdom. Change may be gradual and slow, but the sense of control that springs from accumulated knowledge enables the beginning of rehabilitation and growth.

© Copyright 2010 by Yael Schweitzer, LCSW, BC-DMT, therapist in Portland, Oregon. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • A.dudley

    March 16th, 2010 at 12:55 AM

    I have followed what you have described here-the ‘pause’. It is definitely something that each one of us needs to do and is a good way to reflect on things and aspect about our own selves that we pay no attention to, due to us being so involved in our daily lives. This kind of reflection every now and then will definitely boost us and keep us healthy in a holistic manner.

  • mary

    March 16th, 2010 at 4:53 AM

    know yourself, and know yourself well- that will lead you to good decison making.

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