25: Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the perfect complement to detachment. It allows us to use the calm, thoughtful state of mind created by detachment for repair and healing. By stepping back from our usual level of involvement in our mundane experiences, we gain access to our best qualities and understanding. From there we can make many healing adjustments to our habits, beliefs, our motives, and self-definition.

As we fully realize our inner nature is designed to be the observer and director of our thoughts and feelings, we can stop being so continually immersed in our experiences. This shift allows us to review what is happening to us and within us from a better perspective. Once we move away from our mundane and sometimes disturbing emotions and beliefs, we can:

  1. Understand our experiences and memories more objectively and accurately.
  2. Notice where we habitually overreact and repeatedly project our usual recitation of excuses and criticism instead of more mature responses.
  1. Align ourself to our principles, ethics, and higher purposes as we contemplate how we respond to our circumstances.
  2. Plan better choices of interpretation and behavior.
  3. Reverse the habits of self-destruction and repair the damage.

Being able to view our current and recent experiences in a new and healthier way is essential for people who identify too closely with their problems, failures, and illnesses. As people become fully immersed in the losses and disappointments of their life, they see themselves as victims, trapped forever in illness and frustration. Their mood and beliefs gradually corrupt their sense of identity to confine them in permanent disappointment and defeat.

Once our confidence and self-image are damaged, we keep reproducing the pessimism and apathy that sustains our sense of hardship and limitation. In this way, we sabotage our well-being and prevent healing and growth. By being detached and mindful of our innate brilliance, courage, and hope, we find within ourselves the resources and energy to heal our problems.

Mindfulness embraces many possibilities. We can use it for emergency first aid—when our fears and disappointments well up unexpectedly—as well as in the long-range healing of memories or destructive beliefs.

The most basic use of mindfulness is thought-stopping. Many of us indulge in an obsessive train of thought about our mistakes, failures, and wounds. It is very easy to spin our misery magnets until we become overwhelmed with a sense of defeat, helplessness, irritation, or guilt. When this occurs, the intensity of our frustration can quickly saturate all of our thinking. We may continue to function in our daily activities, but we will be operating at a low level of efficiency where we risk exacerbating our problems.

When strong, negative moods hijack the general tone of our thinking and behavior, we suffer a psycho-logical emergency. This crisis may not seem apparent at first, gaining momentum slowly over several days. It is also possible that we will not notice this emergency—until it’s too late—because our bodyguards of anger, discouragement, and fear placate us with their usual excuses and justifications. By the time this negativity congeals into deep despair or anger, we will need others to help us recover.

If we are alert to our healing possibilities, we can reverse these destructive trends quickly, by skillfully confronting the reality of our anxiety, sadness, guilt, or anger. The first step is to admit we have problems but they need not disable us. In spite of these difficulties, we can master our moods and reactions.

More specifically, when we are deeply discouraged, we can practice detachment and then be mindful of the fact that, although we are feeling depressed about many things, we can still be productive. If we feel anxious and insecure, we can be mindful that, even though we are afraid and uncertain, we can still work effectively on important projects. If we have become very angry, we can be mindful of the fact that, although we are irritated about current circumstances, we can still gather what self-control and cheerfulness we have to be useful and productive.

We reinforce our use of mindfulness as we dwell on the conviction that something powerful and wise deep within us supports these changes. We have been designed and equipped to be successful and fulfilled. Therefore, from now on we will expect to function in this frame of mind and positive expectation. We also can be mindful that we are already fully acquainted with despair, apathy, defeat, anger, and guilt, and do not want to dwell in these moods anymore. From now on, we intend to make maximum use of our strengths, hope, and opportunities—in spite of ongoing difficulties.

Mindfulness has many more practical applications beyond its use for stopping the downward spiral of thought during emotional emergencies. It is the perfect tool to use in examining dysfunctional patterns of reaction that keep reproducing irritation and disappointment. When these reactions continue and increase over many years, they generate large amounts of psychic self-destruction. Because these habits are automatic, they often occur before we even are conscious of them. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to monitor immature reactions that dishonor our dignity and diminish our well-being and vitality.

For example, we may recognize that we have been unfair in thinking about disturbing events. Perhaps we have reacted by launching streams of self-criticism and gloom that demean our self-esteem. Or we project hostility toward those who annoy us with accusations and demands. If we practice mindfulness, we can step back and figuratively watch ourself go through the paces of these shallow defenses and neurotic reactions, thus providing the opportunity to recognize better choices for our response. This is a major way that we practice mindfulness to stop psychic self-destruction and switch to healing.

If we tend to be a perfectionist who demands a flawless performance, we will find much to criticize about ourself. But if we practice mindfulness, we can observe our habitual tendency to have unrealistic expectations and strong intolerance of even small mistakes. By observing this neurotic reaction, we can halt it before it is launched and substitute a more appropriate response that supports our well-being instead of damaging us.

Mindfulness also helps us deal with the impact of others on our well-being. As we process unfair criticism, for instance, our reaction might be one of auto- matic discouragement or guilt—as if the criticism is a valid analysis and judgment of who we are and what we have done. If we allow this to continue, we add to our sense of defeat and hopelessness—unless we recognize this destructive reaction as it starts. By being mindful of better choices of interpretation and response as we hear criticism, we can act with patience and understanding. In this way, we can sort out and reject unfair criticism while accepting the facts of legitimate criticism as useful feedback instead of an insult.

When we are struggling with a chronic illness or other ongoing distress, it is common to be frustrated and disappointed. Every little setback or disturbance unleashes a barrage of pessimism and irritation. Mindfulness can be used to remember that we can- not afford the “luxury” of self-pity and the stress it causes. Instead, we must halt this train of thought and replace it with a more mature quality. We can shift to being mindful of our role to heal and the resources that are still healthy and productive.

Mindfulness is also an indispensable tool for working for more long-term results. As we contemplate wounded memories, mindfulness can help change limiting beliefs that keep recreating misery and direct new life into our subconscious storehouse of negativity. It likewise helps us obtain a more enlightened perspective so we can correct and heal our destructive assumptions, negative beliefs, and irrational expectations. For instance, the tendency to believe we are hopelessly inadequate and doomed is a common limiting belief that powerfully sabotages our ability to apply our strengths and invest in our good opportunities. With mindfulness, we are able to recognize the foolishness of these beliefs so we can impose more healthy and constructive attitudes. We can also work on correcting a sense of outrage at perceived injustice and brooding resentment. Mindfulness helps us mobilize our understanding of better ways to view old events, digest their message, and move on with the rest of our life without the baggage of deep resentments and the desire for vengeance. The object is to heal our wounds and drop the burden of chronic hostility or depression. This is an essential step in liberating our inner life and all of its potential for joy, creativity, and wisdom.

Mindfulness opens a door to experiencing our best self and what lies behind it. By working from a higher state of consciousness, we can use our creative powers to redirect new understanding into irrational beliefs and new courage and confidence into our sense of helplessness. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for making essential repairs by moving to a higher level of understanding where we can pursue our noble goals and achievements. This is the ultimate healing use of the practice of mindfulness.

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