The WHAT Skills of Mindfulness

The following is a synopsis of a weekly Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) group lesson, based on the work of Marsha Linehan out of the University of Washington. This week’s lesson is actually outside of the normal DBT content, it is solely based on the codependency literature, specifically the work of a wonderful fellowship called CODA.

New Disclaimer: I LOVE doing this, I think it is desperately needed, and I WANT to do it. However, I have zero time to do it so, while I am committed to giving it my all, I may fall behind or skip a week or two. I apologize in advance for that, and for the fact that I will not be spell checking, fixing formatting, or doing a read through before I post. No offense, but I gotta draw the line somewhere!

The WHAT Skills of Mindfulness

So I missed last week, but will cover that here, we discussed all 3 WHAT skills of mindfulness the last 2 weeks, but first we have to consider what “Mindfulness” is.

Mindfulness: To Be fully aware of the moment. Or at least, that’s my definition. Mindfulness is the opposite of Mindlessness. As a society, we go about our daily lives very mindlessly, running from thing to thing, proudly multi-tasking, ruminating on the past and fretting about the future. So this lesson is super important, and super hard. Mindfulness is common in many religious or spiritual practices, and is very hard to grasp because it is either very deep and philosophical, or so abstract that it is hard to know if we are being mindful. But it is, in and of itself, a dialectic. It is simple, and very complicated at the  same time. So practice one of my favorite Alcoholics Anonymous slogans: Keep It Simple Stupid.

If you are trying to learn mindfulness and you get confused, you are overthinking it. STOP thinking about it and just be. That’s it, just be and allow whatever IS to BE. I have picked up a lot of various articles, books, etc. about mindfulness, and I have a VERY short attention span, and even shorter patience for things so I get bored or overwhelmed and I put it down. I love  the DBT model of Mindfulness, because….IT’S SIMPLE!. There are 3 “What” skills, and 3 “How” skills. The 3 “What” skills are, Observe, Describe, and Participate. HOW we do them will be discussed the next couple of blogs. So here’s WHAT we do to be mindful, cut and pasted right out of Linehan’s worksheets:

Observe:

Just notice the Experience. Notice without getting caught in the experience. Experience without reacting to your experience.

Have a “Teflon Mind,” letting experiences, feelings, and thoughts come into your mind and slip right out.

Control your attention, but not what you see. Push away nothing. Cling to nothing.

 

Be like a guard at the palace gate. Alert to every thought, feeling, and action that comes through the gate of your mind.

Observe by focusing on experiencing the moment. Watch your thoughts coming and going, like clouds in the sky. Notice each feeling, rising and falling, like waves in the ocean. Notice exactly what you are doing.

Notice what comes through your senses – your eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue. See others’ actions and expressions. “Smell the roses.”

Describe:

Put words on the experience. When a feeling or thought arises, or you do something, acknowledge it.

For example, say in your mind, “Sadness has just enveloped me”…or…”stomach muscles tightening”… or … “A thought ‘I can’t do this’ has come into my mind” … or … “walking, step, step, step…”

Put experiences into words. Describe to yourself what is happening. Put a name on your feelings. Call a thought just a thought, a feeling just a feeling. Don’t get caught in content.

Participate:

Become one with your experience, completely forgetting yourself.
Act intuitively from Wise Mind. Do just what is needed in each situation – a skillful dancer on the dance floor, one with the music and our partner, neither willful or sitting on your hands.

Actively practice your skills as you learn them until they become part of you, where you use them without self-consciousness. Practice:

1. Changing harmful situations
2. Changing our harmful reactions to situations.
3. Accepting yourself and the situation as they are.

Practicing the WHAT skills is easy, you can observe, describe, and participate in ANYTHING. You can observe things inside of you, outside of you, or both. Some people feel safer observing outside of them, for fear of the thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences we may have. (These are the ONLY 3 things inside of us to observe, referred to as “The Triangle of Awareness”). Things outside of us are anything else; someone’s reaction, a car going by, washing a dish, or anything that comes through our 5 senses (looking at a tree, listening to a song, smelling a rose, petting an animal, tasting a piece of food, etc.). Start with whatever is safest and easiest for you, but remember that with mindfulness, WE choose where we put our attention, and we can change that focus anytime we want! That’s a lot of power and a lot of freedom!

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