* Be present and more fully alive rather than lost in the past or future
* Have more choice on how you respond rather than react to whatever arises
* Experience direct knowing, intuitive knowing, the truth of experience rather than thoughts about experience
From the contemplative point of view, our basic nature is intrinsically healthy, but our awareness is often obscured. Contemplative psychotherapy is the process of uncovering this fully awake and aware state. We become liberated from unnecessary suffering through experiencing and accepting ourselves exactly as we are.
Basic meditation practice (in all schools of Buddhism) includes using the specific tool of mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present in the moment to whatever arises. This skill is developed by focusing attention on the breath (the anchor of mindfulness) and then by enlarging the attention to what the Buddha called “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” to effect what is known as “clear seeing.” The practice of mindfulness is brought to: body sensations, discriminating the nature of these sensations (pleasant, unpleasant, neutral) mental states, emotions, and the impersonal presence/truth of life.
The Anchor of Mindfulness-The Breath
Our work begins with the breath. If you just stop your busy life for one moment and find time to just breathe, you will find some peace. Go into the bathroom of your home or close your office door. Inhale. Exhale. Find the place in your body where you notice the movement involved in breathing—feel the air coming into your nostrils, feel your chest or belly moving. Sit with this for a few seconds and just notice what happens.
Breath is like rocking your body in gentle awareness; it is what oxygenates the blood and transports out carbon dioxide. This transfer of substances equalizes anxious states. It is the first technique/tool that is used to modify anxious mood and behaviors. Once you become aware of your breath, you can direct it in creating calm, in focusing your attention to body parts that hurt and away from thoughts that are causing anxiety.
The breath is our constant companion. It follows us from the first moments of our birth and expires with our final moment. Breath is our guide through our human journey without it we die and without being aware of it we live without appreciating the life stream we embody. As Thoreau stated in Walden, “Only the day dawns to which we are awake.” Are you awake?
Inquiry-”Who Am I/What Is This?”
If our work begins with breath, it is supported by inquiry. Children are naturally curious; they want to know how things work. The process of becoming friendly with your self involves being curious about who you are. We start from this place of being curious about who we are. The question of, “Who am I,” can lead to surprising confusion, an overriding of the mind’s ability to come up with an answer. Surprisingly, not knowing releases expectations and problems.
Inquiry-Unpacking Our Conditioning
Often, however, we’ll begin more traditionally by trying to answer from our habitual knowing, our conditioned mind. Our process of inquiry may explore troubling symptoms by exploring their origin. In their origination they served an adaptive function. We tend to hold onto something because it originally worked—but when something becomes a habit it is no longer adaptive. Our process appreciates this progression so we have more choice over our behaviors and our moods. As we work together you will cultivate an attitude of self-acceptance, which supports self-esteem the foundation for healthy living.
Significantly, however, the answers are much less important than the questioning and the tone of questioning. William Butler Yeats said, “The journey into the inner self is not just the important one, it is the only one. We need to listen to the sound beyond the silence.” All of life is built on the mystery of vastness of which we are a part. We can enter this vastness and begin to appreciate that the content of our suffering leads to an expanded vision of what it means to be human. It is my belief that it takes a committed heart to go beyond the mind of suffering.