A Mindfulness-based approach to talking therapy is rooted in the core concept that it is not the issue itself that is really the ‘problem’ but rather the way that issue is being approached. For example, it is not a feeling of depression that is problematic but rather the ideas, beliefs, expectations and attitude towards that feeling. If we are feeling anxious and we can learn the skill of allowing and acknowledging what is happening in experience then that in itself changes the nature of experience. Jung said that ‘What one resists, persists’ and this approach to mental well-being is all about looking at and exploring the resistance (the ideas, beliefs, expectations and attitude) towards that which is resisted. Mindfulness is a philosophy with its roots in the Buddha’s ideas about how and why we suffer. At it’s essence it is an invitation to empirically test what happens when we approach our experience in a more non-judgemental manner – something which first requires us to recognise all the ways in which we are currently subtly or not-so-subtly resisting what is currently happening.
Mindfulness is about looking with fresh eyes at the sensations, feelings and thoughts which are the 3 building blocks of experience. Awareness is the constant which holds and contains these 3 aspects, and it is awareness which is crucial to a Mindful approach. This is because awareness in itself is completely neutral, it is something which registers what is happening without any sense of evaluating what is there – just in the way a mirror reflects what passes in front of it without any commentary on the object it reflects. Often there is a desire for the feelings we have to not be there, and a Mindfulness-approach labels this as the crucial element in a stuck situation.
If a feeling such as depression can be fully allowed then paradoxically it is this change in attitude which allows it to shift and transform. Often there are fears about an aspect of experience such as anxiety (e.g. that if we allow it, the feeling will overwhelm us, define us, become unbearable, spin out of control, disorientate us or simply be exceptionally uncomfortable) and Mindfulness challenges us to first recognise and become aware of these beliefs and then to test them out and discover for ourselves if they actually match up with reality. Mindfulness-based therapy suggests that the problem is that we are trying to open a door that opens inward by pushing at it and that it is our very attempts to fix the problem which leave it unsolved. By changing our attitude towards experience we gently pull on the door of our problems and find that really it wasn’t a problem in the way we thought it was at all.