Mindfulness is not only a type of practice associated with silent meditation in a quiet room. It is much more than that—it is an embodied experience which we live every day, breathing in and breathing out.
While in the therapy room, we as therapists try to cultivate a mindful attitude during the whole day with our clients. Careful listening to the clients’ stories requires focus and attention, fostering a non-judgmental attitude, hence we are constantly invited to a state of being which could be characterized as mindfulness. One must be very attentive and aware in the present moment in order to truly understand the other person. This is of crucial importance in psychotherapy. Being mindful as a therapist, I must listen with my head and my heart at the same time, using all my personal capacities. It is not only the intellectual understanding of the client’s words, but it is also much more than that; it is feeling the other person’s feelings as well, walking the path with him or her together.
Mindfulness in psychotherapy is a shared endeavor between the client and the therapist. It might be imagined as two awarenesses in interaction, an expanding space which is constantly opening up, space where two persons can share their thoughts and emotions. That state of presence has a great healing potential for the client because it provides a distance from the mental problems which were bothering them for many years. Seeing your personal problems from that point of clarity makes them smaller and easier to handle, but it also gives you a perspective from which you can reach deeper insights about your personality.
In fact, mindfulness is a default mode in psychotherapy. The psychotherapist must be attentive to your life story all the time during the session. Mindfulness as a state of active, open attention on the present, or paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally, is what therapy is all about. But what makes this process quite special is that we are talking about a shared field of awareness between the therapist and the client, when two human beings meet and interact with each other. This is the space where true transformation can happen, and it does happen, so both participants in the therapy process are transformed after that.
Hence, mindfulness has a great healing potential not only as a solitary practice, but it is also when we are mindful together that it is very powerful as well. In the same sense, we can cultivate mindfulness during the day, when we are alone or with others, looking at this as an exercise and developing a new attitude to life simultaneously. This can be achieved in many ways:
- Gently focus your attention on everyday tasks, which might seem boring and mundane, enjoy every movement that you do, as much as you can, observing your inner space at the same time. Doing the dishes has a completely different quality when it is done mindfully.
- Cultivating mindfulness in relationships. While talking to someone, part of your attention should be inside yourself. What are the thoughts and emotions that arise in this conversation with this specific person? Am I angry? Sad? Do I feel resentment? Or am I just simply bored?
- Focus on your body and breath. Where are my hands and feet right now? Are my shoulders up and under tension? Are my muscles contracted? Do I feel tension somewhere in my body? Relax and release the tension if you can.
- While walking, try to be present, putting one foot in front of the other, observing your thoughts and gently letting them go. Maybe you can hear the birds chirping? Or you work in a busy area, and you are constantly overwhelmed with the traffic noise? It doesn’t matter. That is all part of your lived experience in the present moment. While walking, try just to walk, notice what is happening around you and nothing else.
- At work, if you are doing a boring task, you can try to look at this from a different perspective—as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Just focus on your breath again, your body and your inner space (thoughts and emotions). You can see and hear the mental chatter more clearly now, so try to let it go and be present.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool to overcome stress and anxiety. However, it should not be used as a justification for poor working conditions or social injustice. We are all responsible to take care of ourselves, to reduce psychological distress and suffering. If, for example, interpersonal relationships at work are not good or if there is no understanding for your mental health problems by your employer, mindfulness can help for sure; however, it doesn’t mean that these social issues should not be properly addressed by the management.