Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy in Santa Rosa
Mindfulness: Cultivating Non-Judgmental Awareness of Experience
Mindfulness has finally received a great deal of attention in the psychotherapy and self-help literature. Countless researchers, clinicians, and authors have written extensively on the power of mindful attention and its role in overcoming many human difficulties, including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, chronic pain, relationship problems, and much more. But what is mindfulness and how does it help alleviate suffering?
Mindfulness is a particular way of paying attention to our present experience: with openness and without judgment. It is the act of being with what is, regardless of how we feel or what we think about it. It is an attitude of curiosity we take toward our experience. Instead of criticizing or judging our experience as right or wrong, good or bad, in mindfulness, we simply stay with our experience, allowing our self to have it and not getting pulled away by our opinions about it.
There is an important distinction worth making here. This is the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable and sometimes out of our control—in life, there is no way to escape tragedy, loss, hurt, or disappointment. For most of the client with whom I work, pain takes the form of a symptom—relationship problems, depressed mood, obsessive thinking, addictive behavior, and so on. These experiences hurt and, understandably, we want to avoid them at all costs. Suffering occurs in how we react to our pain, when we are caught up in judging our pain or desperately trying to get out of it. Suffering is an additional layer that we add to our pain when we find it too difficult to simply be with the pain. Although we often have little control over our pain, we have much more influence over our suffering.
If I am having a bad day and feeling down or depressed, that is pain. If I judge myself for feeling depressed and tell myself I should feel differently, I have added suffering (i.e., judgment) to my pain (i.e., depression). This is double the trouble! What would it be like, though, if I were able to stay with feeling depressed? To observe it? To notice it with curiosity and take it, even for some brief moments, as an object of kind attention? How might that change my relationship to it? These are important questions we often explore in therapy. I have found that when clients take a mindful attitude towards their pain, it quite consistently helps them to become less identified and overwhelmed by it. As one client put it, “With mindfulness, I can be bigger than my pain. It’s not all of who I am when I am mindful.”
For simple instructions on the formal practice of mindfulness, click here.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, please feel free to contact me for an appointment. Sil Machado, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist who offers psychotherapy, counseling, and neurofeedback in Santa Rosa, CA. He works extensively with individuals struggling with mood- and anxiety-related issues. Dr. Machado takes an integrative approach in which he blends depth and experiential psychotherapies with evidece-based practices, like mindfulness, in a manner suited to the unique needs of each client.