Mindfulness for Therapists, for Counsellors and for Practitioners by Collette Barnard
Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment, and to life. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. (The Community of Interbeing)
Mindfulness is not a belief, an ideology or a philosophy; it is a description of mind, emotion and suffering. It is an idea that develops over time and is greatly enhanced through regular disciplined practice, both formally and informally, on a daily basis. Mindfulness helps to disengage individuals from automatic thoughts, habits and unhealthy behaviour. (Perls).
Mindfulness is attention to and awareness of the present reality, and when we are aware in this way we are able to observe both our inner, and our outer, environment. Mindfulness practice helps us to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, and allows us to stay more fully in the present moment. Living in the here and the now, rather than spending our time reliving the past or pre-living the future. First of all we learn just to be conscious and accept whatever is arising within us. Acceptance means seeing things as they actually are in this moment. We cultivate acceptance by taking each moment as it comes and being with it fully, as it is! And by this very acceptance we will experience that change happens within this space.
Mindfulness requires a complete emotional experience of this present moment without the influence of our typical escape or all our creative avoidance patterns. It allows us to perceive things deeply, and with clarity, but it cannot exclude us from the natural difficulties and pains of life.
There is a story in Zen circles about a man on a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “where are you going?” and the man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”
This is also our story. We are the ones riding this horse, and as we don’t know where we are going, we are unable to stop. This horse is our history, our internal stories, our habit patterns, and without mindfulness we are powerless to these inner scripts. So we need then to learn the art of stopping or becoming still,and internally silent. To still our thinking, our habits and the strong emotions reactions that can take over. If we can allow a space, a pause, in our internal thought habits, we then create a choice, a choice to react or to respond, and with this choice we have created a freedom for our self.
Stilling allows our body to be relaxed, our breathe calm and then our mind becomes a kind observer. All spiritual traditions throughout this beautiful planet of ours require the skill of being able to be still. This does not mean that our body has to be completely still. Stillness is an attitude of mind, of feeling and of body. Classically becoming still is done whilst sitting or lying, but we can practice mindfulness while walking, dancing or any other activity.
As mindfulness calms the body, the emotions, and the mind, it is beneficial for a healthy body, for mental health and it is a great stress control. It allows a deepening of connection to our self and to our spiritual self, so it matures and develops our consciousness, encouraging self-reflection and it creates a healthy space to manage emotions.
In order to deepen our awareness and explore any experience or relationship, including a therapeutic experience and relationship, we must be able to work with our emotions and feelings. Emotions and feelings are experienced in the body as physical sensations. Kinaesthetic awareness is the ability to notice sensations in our own body. The main skill in emotional intelligence is precisely the ability to notice these sensations and then manage them appropriately.
In eastern, shamanic and some mystical traditions such as Kabbalah, to be grounded is the foundation of good practice. In our western society we are often unfamiliar with the importance of being grounded, connected and embodied. However in all therapies there is an understanding that traumatic and distressful past events, physical, emotional or mental, create tissue tension. If we are to work successfully with our clients traumas being mindful of our own emotional and physical state is somewhat crucial. Without being embodied or grounded, we have no foundation to stabilise, hold and integrate the psychological change. So we do need to be fully connected with, and grounded in,our body, to truely hold our clients in their trauma, and also when we are embodied and fully present in this moment we feel great. This state is being in our ‘Hara’.
Someone with ‘Hara’ has clear boundaries. If we are to work as therapists, as counsellors, or as practitioners, it is crucial to have clear boundaries. It is important so we can be a stable and present holding energy, it helps us stay congruent, and this then allows the space for the client to work with whatever is arising for them. Clear boundaries helps create clarity about ‘what is ours and what belongs to another’, and with this we can demonstrate Unconditional Positive Regard, we can have a generous, beneficent attitude and still say ‘No!’.
As therapists and practitioners, if we maintain a Mindfulness state within ourselves, we can be totally present to what is arising both in the client and within ourselves; knowing that all is exactly as it is at this moment, and all we need to do is be a compassionate observer.