Mindfulness Therapy is, in some ways, like a cat-and-mouse game in which you develop the finely tuned attention of a cat, forever watchful and patient, as it sits in front of a mouse hole, waiting for its prey to emerge. In our case the prey are not mice, but the countless negative thoughts and emotional reactions that emerge from the shadows of our conditioned mind. In Mindfulness Therapy and Mindfulness Meditation, we train our senses, continually refining them so that we become expert hunters, able to see the impulse to react before it takes hold. This is much better than staying stuck as the victim, which of course is one of the major contributing factors in depression. Rather than feeling helpless and waiting for suffering to grab us by the throat, we choose to face it by teaching ourselves how to become an expert hunter, and this means learning to become experts at recognizing the impulse to react before it is converted into unskillful action. In mindfulness psychology, we call this cultivating “mindfulness of the arising of mental phenomena.”
Depressed people often feel unable to cope with their emotional reactions to life events and tend to feel continually overwhelmed by them. Feeling overwhelmed leads to inertia and fatigue, which makes us less able to cope. Depression is a response in which the mind literally closes down and contracts, and withdraws from the world. But it is important to realize that this is not immutable, not truth, but simply the result of some pretty powerful conditioning that has caused us to become enslaved by our emotional reactions, negative thinking and beliefs. Beliefs, thoughts and emotional reactions can all be changed, but first we must learn to become a hunter and take the initiative to train ourselves to catch our negative thoughts “in the act.”
What next, after we have caught our reactions?
This is the crux of the matter. Developing the art of mindfulness of the arising of reactions is immensely important, but what you do next will define whether the reactivity will be able to change, transform and resolve itself, and whether you will be able to break free of its grip.
For those who follow the path of mindfulness, we choose to actively greet the reaction, the impulse that is stirring, the emotion or thought that is trying to take control. We literally greet it with, “Welcome. I acknowledge you. You are most welcome here, please take a seat.” We learn not to run away from the impulse, and not to react to it with aversion to the emotions stirring inside. We watch very carefully for the secondary impulses to become involved in the reaction or emotion, to become caught up in the story and identified with the contents of thinking. Mindfulness is not thinking about things; it is the direct awareness of things as they are, without an observer, without an ego evaluating, judging and commenting. This is what we call the Response of Mindfulness, the choice to be fully present and aware without becoming reactive. Reactivity is enslavement and leads to more of the same; it inhibits change. Responsiveness is freedom from thoughts and emotions and this promotes change, transformation and healing. Reactivity closes the mind; mindfulness opens both the mind and the heart, and it is in this therapeutic space that real change can take place. the fear of change