Last updated on 22nd April 2013
"If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life." Wu-men
This is one of a series of blog posts triggered by attending a MBSR training - see for example the recent "Learning mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): second evening of the course". A key aspect of the training is the development of "mindfulness" in everyday life. To me, mindfulness during daily activities seems to have different flavours at different times. I wonder if this is useful, if varying the flavour depending on the situation can be helpful? Here are three examples from the last three days:
At the weekend I was visiting a dear friend. We were taking tea and eating from bowls of nuts and fresh fruit. We were silent, a kind of bliss. Watching the steam curl and swirl above the mug of tea in my hand. The flavour of the apple segments and the grapes, delicious. A deep sense of happiness. Feeling tension in my face smoothing out. Feeling my body softening, relaxing. The view out of the window. Autumn trees. Soft joy. Tears close to the surface.
A couple of days ago in an interpersonal group with other therapists. Noting myself 'wince' as another person cut across someone else with a comment. Describing my internal wince out loud. Exploring how I felt and thought about his behaviour, his interpersonal style. Speaking too about my own history, my own understanding of why I might wince so much at apparently thoughtless behaviour. Noticing his expression and the tone of my voice as I spoke. Offering my experiences with care, caringly, honestly.
Yesterday evening playing tennis. Deciding to explore coming back to the breath in my belly between each shot. Not trying to change anything. Noting the impulse to 'try particularly hard' at certain points in the game. Noting how I reacted when I was playing with and against certain people, or when I was being watched by certain people. Seeing the movements of the server, how the ball bounced, sensing my own movement making a stroke. Finding that I was playing better than I have done for weeks.
These are all examples that include 'mindfulness'. They can be viewed through a whole series of different theoretical 'lenses'. I'm interested in using the five-facets of mindfulness 'lens' to see if this can be helpful. I've written about this five facet model, for example in the post "Learning mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR): second evening of the course". I think it's a good model. To read more about it, you could look at Ruth Baer's 2006 paper "Using self-report assessment methods to explore facets of mindfulness" and the 2008 extension "Construct validity of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in meditating and nonmeditating samples". Last month, Bohlmeijer & colleagues' paper replicated and took this area further forward with "Psychometric properties of the five facet mindfulness questionnaire in depressed adults and development of a short form". The names of the five facets are largely self-explanatory - Non-React, Non-Judge, Observe, Act-Aware and Describe. Schroevers & Brandsma's work "Is learning mindfulness associated with improved affect after mindfulness-based cognitive therapy?" suggests that stepping back psychologically with increased levels of Non-React & Non-Judge seems particularly helpful in reducing levels of distress, while increased levels of Observe & Act-Aware may be more potent in increasing positive emotions. Bohlmeijer et al's recent paper further reinforced these differential findings.
So sitting with my friend taking tea, there were high levels of Observe & Act-Aware. I was deliberately slipping into "Savouring" - see the post "Savouring, mindfulness, flow & positive emotions" or click on "Savouring" in the tag cloud. This overlaps and dovetails as well with our evolving understanding of different forms of imagery - see my post from last year's "Manchester BABCP conference: Emily Holmes & imagery" with its comment "She talked too about the important distinction between thinking about things more verbally or thinking about things more using images. So considering a positive past or future experience from a verbally described observer perspective can actually drain out the "goodness" of the positive experience whereas considering the same event from a sensory-visual first person field perspective is likely to boost good feelings. Of course with painful "toxic" memories, mixing verbal processing with the sensory-visual helps to drain away the "badness" which is contrastingly a welcome outcome."
My experience in the therapists' group was different again. Yes there were levels of all five facets but, I think, in a different proportion. Possibly most distinctively there was a lot of Describe, a facet that doesn't seem to be so boosted by MBSR/MBCT trainings - unlike, for example, other recent mindfulness training approaches like DBT or ACT or even some traditional Buddhist practices where there is more emphasis on both noting and describing internal states. My blog post "Naming emotions is another useful self-regulation and mindfulness strategy" looks at further aspects of this facet, while Dekeyser et al's paper "Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behavior" looks more broadly at the mindfulness/relationship connection. In their research, they found that "All elements of mindfulness were positively associated with expressing oneself in various social situations. A greater tendency for mindful observation was associated with more engagement in empathy. Mindful description, acting with awareness, and non-judgemental acceptance were associated with better identification and description of feelings, more body satisfaction, less social anxiety, and less distress contagion."
And last night's tennis. Fascinating and fun. Definitely slices of Non-React & Non-Judge helping me not become over-charged in my efforts. This was more the territory of mindfulness facets "draining" unhelpful tightness out of a situation. Act-Aware & Observe were also putting in a pretty good appearance. Great. What fun exploring different "flavours" of these internal modes.