Iowa Blog

Mindfulness – Living in the Present Moment

by Heidi Vermeer-Quist, PsyD


Mindfulness is a hot topic and tool used in psychology, spirituality and popular self-help these days.  As one who often has her mind “full” of thoughts, learning mindfulness skills and helping others to practice mindfulness is joyful work.  The goal of Mindfulness is to take hold of your mind; using your whole mind as fully as possible.  A psychologist and guru in the study of Mindfulness, Marsha Linehan, encourages us to being aware of and use both “reasonable mind” and “emotional mind,” increasing the likelihood of better decisions.  We come to a place of “wise mind” decisions when we consider both our reasonable and emotional mental processes.

 

From a Christian perspective, acknowledging and relying on God’s presence and His Word are enormously helpful.  We acknowledge that wise mind is produced by not only reasonable and emotional minds working together, but also through dependent dialogue with God.  A prayerful experience can help us feel less alone, look at a bigger picture than just their own frame of reference and discern meaning/purpose in the midst of their suffering.

 

God created us to love and depend on Him constantly; therefore, He guides us toward “wise mind”, a grounded place, as we converse mindfully with Him.  I like the imagery by the prophet Jeremiah: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes, its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:7-8). 

 

Linehan trains Mindfulness from a behavioral approach, teaching both the “what to do” and the “how to do it” skills. For example, if someone just tells you to “smile,” you may or may not enjoy it. However, if someone tells you to “smile” and “imagine your favorite place,” you probably will.  Similarly with Mindfulness, the “what” skills tell you what to do, while the “how” skills teach you how to approach the “what” skills.

 

MINDFULNESS…WHAT TO DO?

 

First, observe the moment you are in. Turn your mind to WHATEVER is in this present moment. Focus on what is external (outside of you) or what is internal (inside yourself). Accept it just as it is (not necessarily as you would have it). Do not judge it; rather look at it as objectively as possible. 

 

Second, describe what you are observing. Attach words to what you are experiencing. Be like a scientist observing and writing down field notes on an object or experience.

 

Third, participate in the moment. Be involved in whatever you are doing, like a musician who is 100% involved in a piece of music. If you are walking—walk. If you are driving—drive. If you are talking—talk. If you are typing—type….

 

MINDFULNESS…HOW TO DO IT?

 

First, take a non-judgmental stance and accept the moment just as it is. Acknowledging what is helpful and what is harmful is fine, but try not to judge. 

 

Second, each activity is approached as one-mindfully, defined as doing one thing at a time.  Let go of distractions that keep you from focusing fully on accomplishing this task. Allow yourself to use what Linehan calls, “Teflon mind,” letting unhelpful thoughts slide off your mental frying pan and then return to the present moment and the task at hand. 

 

Third, focus on what works effectively for the moment. Use the principles, morals and values you know and trust. Use tools like journaling, prayer and social support to identify your helpful options. Consider your options, and choose what is most effective (not perfect) for the situation.

 

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to trust God and participate in the present moment, just like the birds of air and the flowers in the fields (Matthew 6:25 -30).  He also teaches us to let go of judging, especially judging one another.  We are encouraged to constantly communicate with God, trusting Him to guide us, guide others and allow Him to be the judge (Matthew 7:1-5).

 

I love how Jesus tells us to stop our over-controlling and deal with ourselves...right now...effectively addressing the plank in our own eye and depending on Him to help us remove it.

 

These are the skills to use when practicing Mindfulness.  Observe, describe and participate in the present moment, noticing what is going on inside of you or outside of you.  Do so with slow, steady breath and enter into each moment with a non-judgmental stance, one-mindfully and effectively.  As you do these steps you will likely enjoy the moment!

 

Above skills taken from Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan, The Guilford Press, 1993.


Heidi Vermeer-Quist, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist working at the Pine Rest Des Moines Clinic since 2002. She provides psychotherapy to people struggling with depression, anxiety, relational conflicts, unresolved grief and adjustment, and personality disorders. 

Posted by at 2:04 PM

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