Though 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
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