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Dr Sophie's Blog
Dr Sophie Henshaw is a work stress strategist, author and doctor of psychology with a particular interest in dysfunctional workplace relationships. For the latest articles, please refer to her latest blog site: www.freespiritedme.com
The Silence Of Mindfulness: A Path To Inner Peace And Emotional Wellbeing
Do you struggle with a mind that never stops, hammering you with harsh thoughts, demands and self-criticism, never letting you rest or get a good night’s sleep? A busy, racing, out-of-control mind is the driver for all symptoms of anxiety and depression. This is especially so if you've been the target of a workplace bully. However, your first priority must now be taking care of your own emotional wellbeing.
Practicing the skill of mindfulness in a daily self-reflective practice is the most effective way to a clearer, more peaceful mind, better relationships, improved creativity, a happier workplace as well as for working through limiting, self-sabotaging beliefs.
Mindfulness helps you to connect with a deeper sense of who you really are and experience abiding and long-lasting inner peace. I also consider it to be the cornerstone of emotional transformation. So what is mindfulness and how is it used to heal emotional pain?
Mindfulness is a state of relaxed and alert attention on the present moment. It involves focusing just on what’s happening now. Deep mindfulness is an altered state of consciousness in which everything slows right down, allowing a heightened awareness of the present moment.
In contrast, when we are in ordinary consciousness we have thousands of thoughts rushing around in our heads at any one time. The nature of these thoughts is such that we reference from our past experience and project what we think will happen into the future, bypassing the present moment entirely.
Physiologically, the body that reacts in the same way to what we imagine as to what is objectively real. The end result is then a body that finds itself in a continual state of alarm and tension as we continually prepare ourselves for the worst.
If we’re habitually stuck in the future we usually experience anxiety in the drive to control any number of catastrophic outcomes we may imagine. If we’re habitually stuck in the past we might experience feeling stuck or bogged down with sorrow, depression or anguish. It is precisely these states of mind that cause all our suffering.
The first step to practising mindfulness is the skill of dual awareness. Dual awareness is the recognition that we each have two parts of ourselves: The Experiencer and the Observer.
The Experiencer is that which we are caught up in every day. This is the part of ourselves that is fully involved in everything that happens to us - from our anxious over-thinking to the adrenalin rush we get in times of exhilaration.
All too often in our culture we have an over-developed Experiencer where we believe “I am my experience”. For example if someone cuts me off in traffic, I might yell out “I am furious!” In that moment I have become completely caught up and identified with my fury, I am the fury and nothing else exists.
This kind of emotional experience has a distinct timeless quality to it: it feels like I always have felt this way, I always will feel this way and people will always behave in ways to make me feel this way. In that moment I have lost myself and who I truly am; I no longer have access to any other part of me that might offer me different response possibilities in that moment.
In that moment, the cool rational part, the humorous quirky part and the active imaginative part cease to exist. This is truly the definition of suffering: over-identification with experience.
Now think back to any other painful emotional experience you’ve had that is deeply familiar. Perhaps it’s an abiding sense of grief and loss that acts as a background to your whole life. Perhaps it’s a simmering rage or a sense of numbness and emptiness.
All too often we carry identification with experience from childhood where something may have happened that disturbed our developing sense of ourselves. Children in earlier stages of development have an egocentric view of the universe. In other words, they are the centre around which all things evolve. For example, “if mummy and daddy divorce it is my fault. If I had been better behaved, prettier, cleverer or quieter this would never have happened.”
Thus from these experiences we develop core beliefs about ourselves that are sustained throughout adulthood unless we address them, such as in psychotherapy. Typical beliefs might be “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unworthy”, “I don’t have the capacity” and “I’m unlovable”. Present time experiences will only serve to reinforce these dysfunctional beliefs and trigger ongoing bouts of suffering.
Enter the Observer: the antidote to suffering. The Observer sits back and coolly notices what is happening in the moment. It describes our experience simply (7 words or less): “I notice an angry feeling right now”.
The wisdom of the Observer is that it recognises that all experience is transitory. All feelings, no matter how intense, all arise and pass away.
Thus the statement: “I feel furious”, though imperceptibly different from “I am furious” in fact contains an ocean of wisdom. It says, “Although an experience of rage is passing through me right now, it will pass and it is not who I am.”
Mindfulness is so useful because it allows us to slow down enough to study the deep internal processes that drive our problematic symptoms. Normally we are too busy and preoccupied to understand what’s happening to us or sometimes to even be aware that there is a problem!