While the path of therapy is unique for each individual, I found that cultivating and applying the following qualities and attitudes will be helpful in support of our therapy work together and life in general:
– Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the conscious and non-judgmental awareness of our present moment experience. It means paying attention and noticing our inner-dialog, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, plans, memories, images, etc. It requires slowing down while telling our story to notice the lived experience in our body, to feel our thoughts and think our feelings. Nothing in our experience is rejected, excluded or ‘held onto’ and everything is allowed and included, without getting lost in, or pushing away any “negative” feelings. What we resist persists. Research shows that simple allowing and mindfulness of our experience (rather than being lost in it) is helpful in creating new neural pathways in the brain and getting us unstuck from those negative groove patterns. Mindfulness is aided by an open attitude of self-acceptance and supported by our curiosity.
– Curiosity: As children all of us are born with curiosity, joyfully discovering the world and ourselves. With curiosity we have the interest and desire to learn, explore, understand, and fully experience whatever is happening to us. Whether we are experiencing joy, love, gratitude, passion, contentment and peace, or sadness, anger, hatred, anxiety and fear, we can always approach it with an attitude of curiosity. We ask ourselves what is this experience like? How do we feel it in our body? What images, energy, thoughts, and association does it have? In addition to the joy of learning and self-discovery, staying present, mindful and curious to our experience, whether ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ helps reveal its meaning and uncover its roots, which support our deeper healing.
– Self-Compassion: Self-compassion involves a non-judgmental, openhearted, caring, and kind attitude for acknowledging, remaining open to, and willing to be with our pain and suffering. It can be thought of as the attitude associated with gently putting our hand on our own heart and tenderly saying “I am suffering here and I care”. Let’s face it—all of us humans suffer. As is recognized by all of the world’s wisdom traditions, suffering is an inherent part of the human condition. Our turning away from and refusal to experience our suffering is a form of self-rejection that further contributes to our suffering. Self-compassion is contrasted with self-judgment, which sees our suffering as indicative of something being wrong with us. Self-compassion is also different from self’-pity (‘poor me’) that views ourselves as separate and isolated victims. With self-compassion we experience our suffering as connecting us to all humans that suffer similarly.
In summary, an open attitude of mindfulness, curiosity, and self-compassion is mutually reinforcing and supportive of our growth, and healing and ultimately leads to greater contentment and joy in our lives. And of course none of us are perfectly mindful, curious and self-compassionate. So when we find ourselves judgmental, not mindful, not curious, and without self-compassion, we can bring curiosity mindfulness, and self-compassion to that. We can mindful about our lack of self-compassion, or curious about its roots. We can be curious about our lack of mindfulness, and ask ‘how come I seem to space out when…’, etc. Wherever we are is the entry point. As we build our muscles of mindfulness, self-compassion and curiosity, life becomes an ongoing practice of joyful self-discovery.