Thursday, November 4, 2010

Self-Compassion 3: Mindfulness as a Basic Skill

Mindfulness skills are essential for the practice of self-compassion, so it’s important that we spend some time thinking about what mindfulness is and is not.

A helpful definition is from Jeff Brantley at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine:
"Mindfulness is non-judgmental and open-hearted (friendly and inviting of whatever arises in awareness). It is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us." (Source)
The point here is not that it is never appropriate to draw conclusions, make moral judgments, or take a stand for what you believe is right. Rather, it is the realization that judgments are really shortcuts for a process of thought and interpretation.

Unless we can become conscious of that process, we cannot slow it down and look for errors along the way. And we will miss out on the freedom to deal kindly with ourselves, our circumstances, and others. But this kindness CAN arise out of our mindful awareness.

Throughout this workbook, we’ll be returning to this different way of seeing, a way outside of our usually judgmental approach to life. The following chart offers some the possibilities.

Can you recognize ways and times when you are relating to your life with mindfulness?

In what ways might mindfulness be especially important during stress and conflict?

Four Skills

A basic mindfulness practice for conflict and difficult circumstances can be developed by practicing four skills, which can be remembered using the word ROLL.

R: Recognize the overwhelming emotion or thought.
Paying attention gives us freedom to understand what has happened. Often, this is an emotion (e.g., SADNESS), mental activity (e.g., FANTASY), or recurrent thought (e.g., I AM WORTHLESS).
O: Open up to the experience.
Understanding empowers change, while denying, ignoring, or otherwise resisting the reality of your experience makes transformation that much harder.
L: Look Deeply.
Investigate it, be curious. What is it like? Especially -
• Body Sensations: How does it feel in the body? Is it pleasant? Unpleasant? Does it change?
• Emotional Experiences: What emotions are present?
• Attention & Thought: Where do my thoughts tend to go to? What beliefs or stories do I tell myself?
• Action Urges: Is there an urge to act or cling? What do I want to do?
L: Let Go.
Most of the time we are unaware of how strongly we attach to our bodies, thoughts and feelings. We build up very strong self-pictures and then get carried away with the force of them. But once you are able to be mindful of these things, you see just how temporary all of this really is. When you watch your experience change, you can realize that “This is just a passing process that comes and goes, not who I am.” Instead of, “I am an angry person,” you may think, “This is what anger feels like.” You'll find a lot of relief just in loosening your grip.

As you develop your mindfulness, you’ll notice that sometimes one skill is more useful to you than others. Sometimes you need all four, sometimes only one or two. The key is to practice.

If it's useful, you can use this chart to help you become mindful of what you actually experience during stress and conflict. To practice, just call to mind a simple experience - pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

Remember, only use the skill that is helpful to you; you won't necessarily use all four or use them in any certain order.