Monday, December 21, 2020

How can we help our patients to better understand the value of mindfulness through metaphors

Many of us would love to have a “delete” button for certain things in our mind, but it doesn’t come with a delete button unfortunately.

So how can we work around this?

One way is to detach or defuse from a thought, and treat it like “clouds in the sky”. When we detach or defuse from a thought, we are less judging of that thought, and have less urge or compulsion to act on that thought. We can choose to listen to it or not.

But what about feelings?

For some folks, feelings are a bit harder to detach or defuse from I think. I sometimes liken feelings to a gas/vapor in a room rather than an objective thing you can perceive in front of you.

When the vapor in the room is not pleasant, people often like to remove it or leave the room altogether. The problem is, it’s hard to remove the vapor or leave the room. Our minds have the habit of taking us back to this room at the most unexpected and unwanted times.

So how can we work around unpleasant feelings?

In Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), we may use “expansion” or “creating room” for this feeling/vapor so that it is more “diluted” perhaps, and still function well in this room. We may even come to like this “vapor” over time like Parmesan cheese, vegemite, or fish sauce, and use it better in a more helpful way.

I think many of our patients may fail to appreciate what “mindfulness” really is. It’s not simply for relaxation, although this may be a welcomed side effect. In my mind, it’s a practice for us to defuse or make room for our thoughts and feelings, so that we can observe them, accept them, play with them, and make better use of them. 

Metaphorically speaking, it’s somewhat like a clutch in a car. It allows us to lessen our urge or compulsion to judge/act, and simply perceive, so that we can choose to shift gears with more clarity. As humans, we don’t have a perfect automatic gearbox, and mindfulness is an effort to override that perhaps, go on manual, and over time, update the firmware in our automatic gearbox.

It’s definitely not easy for anyone, but awareness is a good start.

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