Most of us are rarely where we are. Yes, you read that correctly. We are wherever our mind wants us to be: at the office, at the supermarket a few hours from now, or at some wonderful event in an imagined future, but not behind the wheel when we are driving. You know this is true when you get to a destination and have very little memory of the drive. You were on autopilot, and your mind went elsewhere. If we are doing well emotionally, we may call this daydreaming. If we are not, we may call it “ruminating”, which becomes deeply problematic in the case of severe anxiety, depression or anger. Whatever we call it, we are rarely focused on the present moment. The practice of learning to gain voluntary control over where our mind focuses its attention is commonly referred to as “mindfulness training”, and I have been seeing the term everywhere lately.
I have been interested in this particular area of Cognitive Psychology for some time, but noticed several articles pop up on the websites of CNN and the Chicago Tribune in the past few weeks. The most recent was from the Tribune on December 28th and was titled “Do You Mind?” I also randomly received a current copy of The Journal of the American Medical Association from my dad in the mail (he’s a family doctor in Texas). On the front was a post-it note pointing me to an article about the role of Mindfulness Training in reducing diagnostic errors made by physicians. We hadn’t talked about the topic, leading me to believe he is either psychic, or is monitoring my news reading habits. I have been having this conversation with a lot of people lately, which is increasingly making me…well, mindful of mindfulness.
Mindfulness training is one of those skill sets that you can do a little of or a lifetime of. Much of what is known about the topic originates in Buddhist tradition, but has been westernized and integrated into psychological practices more and more over the last couple of decades. In more recent years, it has gained widespread popularity, and is no longer seen as “hippie-esque” by mainstream culture. Meditation and Mindfulness Training are being used more and more in western medicine, even by the physicians and therapists themselves (present company included). On the lighter end of practice, one can learn to be more present and participatory in the most meaningful parts of one’s life. On the more involved end, we can plunge deep into meditation practice and adopt a more fulfilling and rewarding relationship with our own emotional experience of the world. This practice can even be applied to the patterns of thought that contribute greatly to chronic anxiety, depression, anger and general unhappiness.
One very good self-help resource I have reviewing is by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and the very well-known Jon Kabat-Zin. Kabat-Zin is considered one of the pioneers in the area of mindfulness, and his books on the subject are always a safe purchase. The book I looked at is titled The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. It comes in paperback as well as an Audio CD version. Both come with a guided practice CD containing various meditation sessions. Though it is geared towards people with chronic depression, the book is a great place to learn the general concepts and methods of increasing mindful awareness (and a general sense of contentment). It’s a wonderful read for anyone looking to develop the skill, and is a great adjunctive program to people involved in psychotherapy, or preparing to start psychotherapy.
For you therapists out there looking to dive into the topic a bit more, I highly recommend The Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness. This book is much more academic in nature, but gives a very comprehensive overview of the current state of Mindfulness Training in clinical practice (as of 2008) and has chapters covering the application of the training to a wide array of psychological disorders such as Depression, Anxiety, Eating Disorders, ADHD, Addiction and many others.
If you have experienced symptoms of anxiety, depression, chronic anger or simply feel that you are constantly distracted by work related stress during your time off, we encourage you to stop by and talk with one of our therapists about some ways to develop this very useful mental skill set. As the expression “stop and smell the roses” suggests, pull more enjoyment and happiness into your life by learning to be exactly where you are at any given moment!
Jeremy Bidwell, Ph.D.,
MS Clinical Psychopharmacology
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Director, The LodeStone Center