Mindfulness and Meditation
What is happening right now? … what are the sounds you can hear, the aromas you can smell, the sights you can see?… you could now turn your attention from the outside world, to what’s happening in your inner world … to the temperature of your body, to the weight of it resting on your sitting bones, to the breath travelling in and out of your nose. You might notice thoughts coming and going … feelings… sensations in the body … memories might surface from time to time. Maybe the experience you’re having right now reminds you of something for a moment.
This is the state of being mindful. It’s the process of bringing one’s attention to the experiences occurring in the present moment. What’s the point of doing this, you may be wondering. What it does is to develop, what we call, a witness capacity. The ability to witness ourselves, our inner processes, and our behaviours is essential to the task of becoming conscious.
One of my favourite quotes from Carl Jung is “Until you make the unconscious, conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it Fate”. Mindfulness is a fundamental capacity for the process of making the unconscious, conscious.
Mindfulness is the ability to control where our attention lies and this takes time to develop. Just like building any muscle, it takes repetition and practice to build the ‘attention’ muscle. Starting off with a short 5 mins of mindfulness practice per day is enough to start the process. Then building to 10 mins. This is enough to make significant changes in the way the inner life is experienced. When this can develop into checking in with the self several times a day to find what is happening, what’s changed from an hour ago, what is needed for inner well being … then you’re well on the way to a deeper, more caring relationship with the self.
In psychological terms, mindfulness develops the ‘ego – Self axis’. We operate on the understanding that there is a part of the self which knows what is needed for us to grow into the fullness of ourselves. Jung identified this part as an archetype and called it the Self. Mindfulness allows the conscious ego to witness the guidance of the Self. The Self calls out (through emotions, sensations, behaviours, dreams, impulses, fantasies, thoughts) and a healthily functioning witnessing ego hears the call, considers it and, ideally, is able to act on it in a way which is constructive for the individual and others around them. Often modifications must be made to the call of the Self, to fit in with the realities of life. If a man whose wife has just given birth to their first child is fantasising about becoming a helicopter pilot in Papua New Guinea, this doesn’t mean he should run off and pursue this fantasy. But his ego can deeply consider what the Self is attempting to tell him. Perhaps it is informing him of the difficulty of this transitional period of time. Perhaps it is saying that he needs to be more in his body, less in his feeling state. Perhaps it is a reminder that his own father was largely absent during his childhood. Deeper reflection is usually important to understand the language of the Soul, but a capacity for mindful attention is always necessary.
There are many mindfulness techniques that can be taught by Soul Centred Psychotherapists and the experience of therapy itself can ideally involve focused attention on your moment by moment experience as a client. There is a useful smartphone app which I often recommend to people called Headspace. This app offers 10 free ten minute guided mindfulness sessions and can help to build a regular practice.