Practical Mindfulness: Tending the Mind to Mend the Mood

I'm sitting crossed legged on my bed, staring at the TV. A woman, with too much lipstick and
penciled-in eyebrows squeaks about THE greatest buy shoppers could ever hope for. I am watching
The Shopping Channel. God help me.

I notice a familiar heaviness and exhaustion I can't shake. What I fear and respect most is
showing it's edges: Depression.

I have learned, though, I don't have to spiral into darkness. If I gently invite these demons
in for tea, the power they threaten to hold over me dissolves. I have learned this through the
art of mindfulness.

At its' most basic, mindfulness is:

  • observing what is happening in the present
  • purposeful, ‘unconditional friendliness' and awareness towards the inner goings-on
    and subtle shifts of mind, emotions and body
  • most helpful when microscopic changes from ‘normal' mood into depression
    begin.
  • learned
  • best practiced daily, even when things are going well
  • a tool which increases clarity and compassion in which well-being unfolds

Often associated with ‘Vipassana' meditation, a tradition dating back 2500 years, this
awareness technique is easily practiced without any Buddhist trappings.

“Mindfulness,” explains Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive
Therapy “is based on the meditative view that change and health come through acceptance of
whatever is happening, no matter how undesirable. Acceptance does not mean resignation, but
coming to terms and learning to work with the situation.”

I shuffle towards the kitchen. Self-reproach, for reasons unknown, begins to surface. My
thoughts slow, become menacing. I am wary but watchful.

Dirty plates piled high. Coffee stains, bits of spinach shellac the tiles. A relentless
‘I'm so stupid - I'm such a loser - I'm so stupid - I'm such a loser -' the familiar loop
of potentially crippling remarks.

I inhale; focus on my breath, witness, without judgment, the mean-spirited feelings within.
Not easy. People, in general, find it difficult to be self-loving. A massive understatement when
fighting depression.

Still, I try to do what I've been taught; see thoughts and emotions as they are: simply
thoughts and feelings. Not facts about who I am or what I'm worth.

I slowly inhale, again. Simply thoughts and feelings passing through me. Not the Truth. Not
me.

I can make them real by believing the story they tell me or wrestling them into momentary
submission. Either way I loose my center and become vulnerable to a full depressive episode.

By fostering a child-like curiosity and ‘witness' perspective, I start to see a way out.
I gain objectivity over the thoughts and feelings allowing for healthier choices and positive
self-talk.

Mindfulness creates a precious split second between feelings and reactions. In this flash of
time new responses can occur.

This awareness technique is not a substitute for medication and cognitive therapy. It is
however, one of my most potent ‘power tools' to maintain recovery and prevent relapse.

Studies cite MBCT “substantially reduce(s) the risk of relapse in those who had three or
more previous episodes of depression (from 66% to 37%)”. Teasdale, Segal, Williams
(2000).

Practical mindfulness, at its' best, without judgment and full of loving-kindness, teaches me
to hold all my aspects. Those I hate. And those I love. To welcome the masterful beauty and warts
we all have, and we all try to hide.

When I refuse to be kind to myself, demand I whip myself into perfection, this too I can
watch. Perhaps with less warmth, but still I can watch, and slowly, just as dark turns to dawn,
the light creeps in, despite myself.

References:

Chodron, P. (1997). When things fall apart. Boston: Shambhala Publications,
Inc.

Chodron, P. (2002). The places that scare you. Boston: Shambhala
Publications, Inc.

Segal J., Teasdale J., & Williams M., (2001). Mindfulness-based cognitive
therapy for depression
. Guilford Press

Williams M. (2002). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy and the prevention of
relapse in depression
. [on-line].

Available:
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk