Mindfulness is a “practice of focusing the mind in the present moment, on purpose, and in a nonjudgemental way.” (A definition taken from Jon Kabat Zinn). Another way to put it is to say mindfulness is becoming aware, paying attention to what is happening right here and now without judging your experience. But how do we remove judgement from our experience? This was the hardest concept for me to truly learn and understand when I first learned about mindfulness back in 2004. What I now understand is that with everything we see, hear and experience, we have an opinion about; an interpretation we make to understand it from our own frame of reference. A nonjudgemental way, therefore, means becoming more clear about what is our own opinion, interpretation and understanding of the facts vs. what the objective facts are that might be seen, interpreted and experienced differently based on the eye of the beholder. The more one can become clear about what their subjective experience is of the present moment, the more they can become clear about how to detach their own interpretation of the moment and acknowledge the present, in a nonjudgemental way.
There are three essential concepts I have learned, from my training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, along the way that have helped me to deepen and improve my practice. The first is that we can be in one of three states of mind at any one point in time. The more we are aware of which state of mind we are in, the more aware we are of what is happening in the present. These three states of mind include: an emotional state of mind, a reasonable state of mind and a wise mind. An emotional state of mind is where we are experiencing an emotion intensely enough that it is driving all of our perceptions, interpretations and behavior. A reasonable state of mind is where we are limited to any access of our emotions, emotional needs or the emotions and emotional needs of others and that we are focused in on thinking in some way: analyzing, planning, learning, problem solving, teaching, following instructions etc… Wise mind is a centered state of mind where we have access to both our ability to reason and problem solve and we have access to our emotions, emotional needs, and those of others. This is the state of mind we would all strive to be in at all times if we could. The way to get to wise mind when we are in the other two states is by using the “What” skills and the “How” skills. The “what” skills include: observing, describing and participating. The How skills include: having a nonjudgmental stance, doing things “one-mindfully” and “effectively.” Observing is the skill of noticing what is happening in the moment through any and all your senses: sights, sounds, touch, taste, smell, and your mind’s eye. Describing is putting words to what you are observing and participating is the practice of letting go and jumping into the moment, doing just what is needed, as best as you can. Nonjudgmental stance is separating out the facts from your opinion of the facts. “One mindfully,” is focusing on one thing in the moment, letting go of distractions. And “Effectively” is focusing on what works and doing just what the situation calls for, not what you wish or think the situation should be. As we live life, and make mistakes, we learn what is/was effective in once situation vs. another. This information continually informs our wise mind about how to be more effective in the moment in any given situation. All these skills practiced separately and together make up the practice of mindfulness.
What’s the benefit? Well, the more you have awareness of what is happening in the moment, within you and within others/your surrounding, the more effectively you can respond to the moment and to what the situation calls for. We are all emotional beings interacting with the environment and people around us. Increasing our awareness of our needs and the needs of the situation, moment to moment, enhances our ability to become more effective, responding to the needs of the situation, and subsequently the more at peace and more helpful we become. We all want to do better, be more helpful and effective with everything we invest our time and energy into. This is the goal. The practice of mindfulness can help us get there.
-by Tammy Berman, LMHC