Mindfulness and the Pursuit of Presence

Man Watching Sunset over LakeThough it’s one of the buzzwords of the 21st century, mindfulness has been around for centuries. It appears in the words of the Buddha for starters and in philosophies culturally ranging far and wide. There are books about mindfulness by itself, as well as erudite distinctions such as mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness for very specific issues, like stress reduction, relapse prevention, depression, anxiety, eating and food issues, personality disorder diagnoses, and so on. I was overwhelmed when I went online to see what was available.

Mindfulness is essentially self-awareness. Therapists can help clients use that self-awareness to monitor and modulate affect (or emotions). Especially those that are out of control and may lead to self-harming behavior.

This is great. Research shows it works. As primarily a psychodynamic psychotherapist, I have always incorporated mindfulness into my work as I have always incorporated cognitive behavioral therapy techniques as well.

So what does this have to do with spirituality, you ask? A lot.

Originally the practice of mindfulness was a spiritual pursuit, equated with meditation. The goal of practicing meditation is to quiet the mind and rid it of unwelcome and intrusive thoughts so as to achieve inner peace. Mindfulness doesn’t focus on getting rid of those thoughts so much as observing them and, through focus on breathing, letting them diminish in power.

From a spiritual perspective, the quieting of the mind and the letting go of being controlled by ones thoughts is the way one opens up to messages from the universe (whether you call that God, higher power, spirit, or whatever you choose).

If someone is distracted, overwrought, anxious, feeling depressed, obsessive and so on, there is very little chance for that communication with the divine to take place. Someone may talk a lot to God (perhaps to ask for things or to complain) and God hears, but unfortunately the answers or information cannot be heard. This is usually due to too much internal noise. Add to that the external noise that most of us are exposed to on a regular basis, and you have major roadblocks.

Not many therapists who use mindfulness in their practice have as the goal to help people be open to spiritual messages. Not everyone who goes to therapy is interested in this, either. Usually, they want help with relief from suffering.

When the client is open to it, I put on my psychospiritual therapist hat and incorporate mindfulness as both a way to relieve suffering and a way to receive spiritual information. These two things are not mutually exclusive by any means—just a different focus.

As a result of doing both we are better able to live our lives in harmony with what God wants for us. This includes God not wanting us to suffer but rather for us to be healed.

However we choose to get to that place of inner calm, whether it be though meditation, quiet walks in nature, breathing work, yoga, and so on, it is really all a form of prayer.

We may not like the feelings we experience when we are mindful, feelings we have been working overtime to avoid, but we are authentic. It is in this state of authenticity that divine messages break through and we are on our way to healing, insight, and joy. We develop the courage to let go of the past after we have learned from it; we can stop obsessing about the future and we can be fully present with ourselves. We can be fully present with God. What more support could we possible need?

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kalila Borghini, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York

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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  • Chelsea

    Chelsea

    October 29th, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    Wouldn’t you essentially already need to be a spiritually minded person to have this work for you? If you aren’t already a believer then you might have a hard time buying into this thought process unless you are open to this kind of change. I am not saying that I am against it because believe me there are many times when I know that God is listening to me and answering my prayers, but I am open to that. Is everyone else?

  • Morgan

    Morgan

    October 30th, 2013 at 3:46 AM

    I happen to think that this is a very calming and comforting message.
    I can certainly see how this could turn some clients off but I think that those who are truly searching for some sort of inner peace this could offer them far more than what they may can find in this otherwise crazy world.
    It may be unconventional but apparently it works for you and it works for patients, so I say continue that work and help spread the peace and the message to those willing to accept it.

  • Brad

    Brad

    September 22nd, 2014 at 7:29 AM

    When mindfulness was suggested to me it was because I had some issues I was trying to deal with and because I had admitted I dd t have the answers to many things I was dealing with I was open to trying whatever was suggested to me. To me it is nothing to do with the word God, I am bit a Christian, and I do not like religion. It is about getting in touch with myself and my mind and finding happiness within myself after years of trying to find it from many many outside influences. Some may say I pray. But I see it as sorting through the questions and answers I have In my mind and taking time out from all the chaos that is the modern world I live in. Much of which I do not care for. Maybe that’s spiritual, maybe I’m just more suited to a simpler time or maybe it just makes sense as a human being to take some time for ourselves to recharge as make some sense of all we have been exposed to that day. It certainly isn’t anything to do with a bearded fictional character.

  • Amoy

    Amoy

    October 2nd, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    I am so glad I found this message. I am a firm believer in self healing, many are awakening to the idea that we are all we need to be whole, and I get that alignment with God, or Self brings joy and a life free of suffering. anxiety and negative emotions are created by the ego and separated thinking ( the belief that all that is exists outside of ourselves), so mindfulness would bring us back into ourselves by reuniting us with our complete perspective, which can only be experienced in the present moment. I do wonder though, what the specific definition of mindfulness is…

  • David

    David

    October 2nd, 2014 at 9:03 AM

    Mindfulness. What a concept. Reminds me of living in the moment. There have been many glaring challenges I had to face to maintain some balance in my life. Mindfulness is relatively new to me but it makes a lot of sense. It has inspired to me to research this concept further and see if it really is connected to a viable solution to the madness we face day to day.

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