Mindfulness in Everyday Life



“If you let cloudy water settle, it will become clear. If you let your upset mind settle, your course will also become clear.” 

[From Buddha’s Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield (Bantum Books, 1994)]


Mindfulness is a form of self-awareness training adapted from Buddhist mindfulness meditation. It has been adapted for use in treatment of depression, especially preventing relapse, and for assisting with mood regulation. It has also been found to have considerable health benefits.  


Mindfulness is about being aware of what is happening in the present, on a moment by moment basis, while not making judgments about whether we like or don’t like what we find.  


We all have the capacity to be mindful. It simply involves cultivating our ability to pay attention in the present moment, and allows us to disengage from mental “clutter” and to have a clearer mind. It makes it possible for us to respond rather than to react to situations, thus improving our decision-making and potential for physical and mental relaxation.  


It is not simply a relaxation technique, or “power of positive thinking”. The technique is based on Buddhist meditation principles. It was described by Teasdale and Beck for use in treatment of depression, and then used by Linehan as a core skill in her cognitive behavioural therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder.  


Linehan (1993) describes three “what” skills:  

·    Observing (simply attending to events and emotions)  

·    Describing (applying labels to behaviours, emotions and situations)  

·        Participating (entering into current activities)  


Linehan also describes three “how” skills

·    Taking a non-judgmental stance  

·    Focusing on one thing in the moment   

·    Being effective (doing what is needed, rather than worrying about what is right or second guessing the situation)  


De-Stressing Exercise 


1.  Bring yourself into the present by deliberately adopting an erect and dignified posture. Ask yourself: "What is going on with me at the moment?" Pay attention to each breath in and out as they follow rhythmically one after the other – this will ground you in the present, and help you to move into a state of awareness and stillness. 


2.  Simply allow yourself to observe whatever happens. Label any thoughts that you have and then leave them alone – just be prepared to let them float away. Keep attending to your breathing, or simply take in your surroundings instead. If you find yourself constantly elaborating on thoughts, rather than labeling them and returning to the neutral, remember to observe your breathing. (Besides thoughts, there may be sounds you hear, bodily sensations that you are aware of.)  


3.  When emotions or memories of painful events occur, don’t allow yourself to become caught up by them. Give them short labels such as “that’s a sad feeling”, “that’s an angry feeling”, and then just allow them to drift or float away. These memories and feelings will gradually decrease in intensity and frequency. 


4.  More importantly, you will begin to identify yourself as an objective observer or witness rather than a person who is disturbed by these thoughts and feelings. This requires practice but can then be used whenever you are stressed. 


Source: Adapted from “Mindfulness in Everyday Life” from the Black Dog Institute. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/10.MindfulnessinEverydayLife.pdf  


Photo credit: Intellimon Ltd.



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