Mindfulness: the missing facet 'describe', and meeting at relational depth with self & others - theory
Last updated on 8th December 2011
God guard me from those thoughts men think in the mind alone; he that sings a lasting song thinks in a marrow bone. William Butler Yeats
There are good reasons for viewing "mindfulness" as made up of five facets - see, for example, the post "A better way to measure mindfulness: a short form of the five facet questionnaire". The facets are Non-React, Non-Judge, Act-Aware, Observe and Describe. I believe "optimal mindfulness" in different situations calls for different mixes of these five facets. See the post "Mindfulness during daily activities: is it helpful to vary the proportions of the five facets?" for more on this. A series of research studies have highlighted Non-Judge and also Non-React & Act-Aware as of particular importance in reducing vulnerability to difficult emotional states like depression, stress & anxiety. It seems too that well-studied trainings like Mindfulness-Based Cogntive Therapy (MBCT) and the very similar, but broader Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are particularly good at helping course participants improve these mindfulness facets (although there might be other equally potent or better ways of achieving some of these outcomes e.g. two chair dialogue work with one's "internal critic", adding goodwill meditation practices, and so on).
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 reinforce these differential findings. And Dekeyser et al, in their paper "Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behavior", reported 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."
To an extent, the facets Observe (with its focus on awareness of our external environment) and maybe even more Describe (with its focus on awareness/description of our internal environment) are currently less "fashionable" research areas than Non-Judge and Non-React. Examples of Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire items assessing Describe include "I can usually describe how I feel at the moment in considerable detail" and "Even when I'm feeling terribly upset, I can find a way to put it into words" and - both reverse scored - "I have trouble thinking of the right words to express how I feel about things" and "When I have a sensation in my body, it's hard for me to describe it because I can't find the right words". This is the territory of "meeting at relational depth" both with oneself and with others. It's a crucial set of overlapping territories.
One of these territories is "meeting with oneself". I've come at this before in a series of ways. The superb work of the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio addresses this field - see, for example the three blog posts starting with "Antonio Damasio's 'Self comes to mind': overview". This internal connection is referred to as well in the Exploring & Processing component of the "Four aspects model of helpful inner focus". And this inner connection is essential in meeting others deeply too. I wrote a series of half a dozen posts last autumn on "Meeting at relational depth" - maybe the most useful is the last "Meeting at relational depth: a model". Here I wrote "In close friendships, with one's partner, and in one's family this dance of encouraging/listening for the other's "expressivity" while opening one's own "receptivity" seems often the best way to start this cycle of deepening connection. Then having the internal perceptiveness, an ability to articulate one's experience, and courage is crucial for deeper "expressivity" - but again (as with therapeutic work) this deepening cycle of meeting is nearly always best held in a setting of goodwill for the other person & oneself ... overall, deep meeting is like having another gear to one's car, another level in one's relationships and one's life. It's typically a "flow state" with all the joy and timelessness this entails. And close relationships where one has had a series of meetings at this depth seem to become coloured and made more precious by these shared experiences." See too "Friendship: science, art & gratitude" for more on this. Paradoxically I believe that there can sometimes be "interference" between the five facets of mindfulness, as I've pointed out in the posts on "The 'bus driver' is warm-blooded: integrating mindfulness & emotion". Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) are good developments. However they usually don't feed certain aspects of mindfulness like Describe. Other approaches may be more useful here - see for example the post "Is interpersonal group work better than sitting meditation for training mindfulness?"
To give these ideas more "colour", see tomorrow's post "Mindfulness: the missing facet 'describe', and meeting at relational depth with self & others - practice".