Mindfulness & Compassion
Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word in the last decade. It’s likely you’ve read an article, heard a friend talking about it, or perhaps your GP has mentioned its benefits for mental health, but what is it and could it benefit you? Mindfulness is a Buddhist practice that allows you to bring a calm and meditative mind to your daily tasks and to the thoughts and emotions that accompany them. In recent years many non-Buddhists have discovered that mindfulness helps them cope better with the challenges of life through this focus on what they are doing rather than thinking.
Any task is an opportunity for mindfulness, whether you are washing the dishes, cleaning your teeth, taking a shower or simply walking down the street. Mindfulness is about moving from doing-mode to being-mode. Whenever we are rushing through our day ticking off our mental to-do list, or lying in bed at night worrying about our finances we are in doing mode and seemingly unable to turn it off. Unchecked this can become rumination, self-critical, repetitive, negative thinking.
Over time mindfulness like good therapy can reveal to us our patterns and ways of seeing the world, letting us see more clearly how we think, feel and behave. This can be tricky, as seeing ourselves clearly can be uncomfortable, even painful and we want to look away. This is where compassion comes in. Compassion is the sister practice to mindfulness and is the wish that all beings including ourselves should be free from suffering. When Buddhist ideas were becoming popular in the West something interesting was discovered: we’d somehow lost the habit of being gentle on ourselves. So compassion for many of us begins with learning to develop kind feelings towards ourselves: if we want to understand ourselves better we need to get better at being kind towards ourselves.
Many therapists now use mindfulness and compassion as part of their work. As a psychotherapist and counsellor, mindfulness and compassion allow me to be with my clients’ material in a kind and non-judgmental way without rushing in too soon to offer solutions or seeing things too much from my perspective. Teaching clients the concepts of mindfulness and compassion helps them to notice their thoughts, feelings and behaviour without judging. Only in seeing ourselves making the same mistakes we’ve always made with understanding and compassion can we begin to change.