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 that we live every day, breathing in and breathing out.
As therapists, we strive to build a mindful mindset with our patients throughout the whole day. We are continually encouraged to be in a state of being that could be classified as mindfulness because attentive listening to the client’s story necessitates focus and attention, which fosters a nonjudgmental attitude. To genuinely understand the other person, one must be very alert and aware in the moment. This is really important in psychotherapy. I must utilize all of my personal resources while being mindful as a therapist, listening with both my head and my heart at the same time. It involves far more than just intellectual comprehension of the client’s words; it involves 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 that is constantly opening up, a space where two persons can share their thoughts and emotions. That state of presence has 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 to the present, or paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally, 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, and 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 do you work in a busy area, and you are constantly overwhelmed with traffic noise? It doesn’t matter. That is all part of your lived experience in the present moment. While walking, try just to walk, and 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 shouldn’t be used as an excuse for unfair social or working conditions. It is each of our responsibilities to look after ourselves in order to lessen psychological suffering and sorrow. However, this does not mean that management should not adequately handle these social difficulties if, for instance, there are poor interpersonal interactions at work or if your employer does not understand your mental health challenges.