Mindfulness is when someone focuses their attention on the present moment – what they are seeing, sensing, and feeling – without any judgment. It has been proven to help with many mental health and emotional disorders as well as some physical problems.
In the past decade, it has really gained in popularity. But mindfulness is an ancient practice that people have been doing for thousands of years.
Most of the mindfulness methods popular in the Western world today are derived from Hinduism and Buddhism. But it was scientist, writer, and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn who significantly introduced it to the West in the 1970s with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts to treat chronically ill patients.
Since then it has really spread as a form of therapy. This is due to an increasing number of medical and mental health experts noticing its great success in helping with various physical and emotional problems.
Be here now
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as: “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.”
Spending time thinking about the past, planning for the future, making decisions and choices, problem-solving, or drifting away in your head to somewhere other than where you are can be a mental and emotional drain on us.
This also helps us learn to observe our thoughts, which is an invaluable skill to have. Many people don’t realize that we always have a choice over which of our thoughts we pay attention to at any time.
If we focus on negative thoughts we will experience negative feelings. Then this is likely to lead to more negative thoughts as we try to understand why we feel so bad.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness teaches people how to ignore negative thoughts and beliefs. This allows for more space for positive thoughts, which create positive feelings and so boost energy levels. Life is overall much better.
Mindfulness has helped with many physical and mental health problems, including:
Stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
We all have the ability to be mindful. But there are some methods that have helped many people.
Here are four popular mindfulness techniques:
Start to slowly walk from a quiet spot. Put your attention fully on this experience of walking and continue for about 20 feet. Feel sensations and observe sounds, such as what noise there is as your feet touch the ground and then the sensation in the soles of your feet. You can spin round and walk back if you wish, staying mindful of every step.
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and palms facing upwards. Now pay attention to every part of your body, starting from your scalp and slowly work all the way down to your toes. As you run down your body, notice any sensations and feelings you have in each part. As well, be observant of any thoughts you might have about any body part as you focus on it.
It doesn’t actually need to be a raisin, any food will do. Put it in front of you and note how it looks, feels, what happens if you squeeze it, what smells it has, and finally be fully aware of its taste. As with other types of mindfulness, imagine that you’re seeing or experiencing something for the first time. It helps to look at how children are when they see something for the first time – that joy, excitement, and inquisitiveness.
Sit with a straight back with both feet flat on the floor and hands resting in your lap. Now while breathing through your nose, focus on every breath that moves in and out of you. Do this for five minutes or more, and also note how your chest rises and falls with each breath.
Mindfulness: how frequently and when?
Mindfulness can be practiced at any moment and anywhere. Many people find that outdoors among peaceful nature is best, although it can be done in a busy urban area too.
As with the location, when you practice mindfulness is up to each person. Many people have discovered that first thing in the morning is the most beneficial time to do it and the best way to start every day. Try for five minutes at first and work up to a longer time, whatever you feel is helping you.
Our peaceful environment here at Tikvah Lake is ideal for mindfulness. Many of our guests sit by our tranquil lake to do just this or walk in the beautiful peaceful nature that is all around us.
Many people have a constant feeling that there is more to their life. For some, it is like a background hum, while others hear it as though it’s a relentlessly loud screaming out loud.
Some people may even have great material success – but still, feel and deep inside know there’s something more. They need to find their meaning in life.
It’s one thing to realize and know this… but how does anyone discover their purpose?
Search for meaning
A century ago, Viktor Frankl was a successful psychiatrist in Austria. Since the 1920s he had realized that meaning was the key motivational force in people.
He had superb expertise in his field, which included from his teens onwards having contact with esteemed psychotherapist Sigmund Freud. Frankl studied medicine at the University of Vienna, specializing in psychiatry and neurology with a particular focus on depression and suicide.
But because he was Jewish, Nazis forced him to close his private practice after Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938. Four years later, Frankl and his family were forcibly taken to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
His father died within months there of pneumonia and starvation. Frankl and the remaining family members were taken to Auschwitz in 1944. His mother and brother were killed here.
After this, in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, his wife died of typhus. Viktor Frankl spent a total of three years in four different concentration camps before the Second World War ended in 1945.
Within months of his freedom Frankl, then aged 40, started to write a book that he had thought about frequently while in the concentration camps. He wrote the first draft in nine successive days.
In the opening pages, the book details some of the horrors of the concentration camps. But the book’s real purpose is to look at our human ability to survive even in the most despicable and arduous conditions.
Nevertheless saying ‘Yes’ to Life
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances,” wrote Frankl in his book.
Its original title translated from German was “…Nevertheless saying ‘Yes’ to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp”. It became a bestseller in Germany but it was more than 10 years later until it was published in English with the title “Man’s Search for Meaning“.
It has since become one of the world’s bestselling books read by those in recovery having sold more than 10 million copies in 24 languages. Frankl believed its success was a sign of the “mass neurosis of modern times” because its title is about finding life’s meaning.
Frankl wrote in the book that the greatest test for everyone is to find meaning in our lives. His story of having survived in the most atrocious conditions showed that it is possible to find meaning, even in the utmost dire and seemingly hopeless circumstances.
Pursuit of happiness
In Man’s Search For Meaning, Frankl introduced a school of psychology and a philosophy that he termed “logotherapy”. It says that the main motivational force of people is a search for their meaning in life.
Frankl saw that people sought success and happiness. But he said about this: “For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself… It is the pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”
How do I find meaning in life?
Frankl went on to say that anyone who knows the “why” for their existence will be able to bear almost any “how”. It is actually finding meaning in life that gives us the happiness we all seek.
But the question most people ask now is: how do I find that meaning? Thankfully, there are some positive things that anyone can do to help them find their meaning.
Follow your bliss
Sometimes we lose sight of our real selves. This can be for a multitude of reasons, including suffering from trauma as well as cultural and family pressures. When we cannot see who we are we are likely to also lose sight of what our meaning is intended to be. We are not being true to ourselves.
Paying attention to gut instinct is one way to get back on the right route for your life. Professor of Literature Joseph Campbell, known for his discovery of the extraordinary “hero’s journey” concept, put it this way: “Follow your bliss. We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”
Develop positive habits
Positive habits are vital when looking for your meaning in life. They will help us to feel fulfilled.
In the 1920s a Boston Globe columnist called Frank Crane wrote a list of ten things to do every day that could be considered positive habits. From this developed the Just For Today card that is read and widely used in recovery communities since it was printed in a pocket-sized form by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in the 1970s.
An example of a couple of these is: Just for today, I will try to strengthen my mind. I will study. I will learn something useful. I will not be a mental loafer. I will read something that requires effort, thought, and concentration.
Just for today I will have a quiet half-hour all by myself and relax. During this half-hour, sometimes, I will try to get a better perspective of my life.
Starting every day by reading through the Just For Today card and then living out what it suggests, will help steer anyone towards finding their true meaning.
Choose your attitude
It’s easy to have a good attitude when things are going well. But when they aren’t… Yet this is one way to learn and grow – and so to keep on track to know our meaning in life.
“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering,” said Viktor Frankl. “Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”
Frankl thought it was not suffering that actually causes someone’s despair, but that if someone feels they have no one to love and nothing to give, then they will lack meaning in life – and it is that which makes any suffering especially hard. So if we can keep a strong attitude when things are not going well, we will not stray off our path and we will be much more likely to know our real meaning.
Meet new people, visit new places, have new experiences, read lots – and as you do keep looking out for something that gives you real meaning. Discovering a meaning, a sense of purpose vitalizes us. This is perhaps especially important for those people who are aging.
As poet Mary Oliver wrote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Our life is fleeting, and as far as anyone knows we only have one chance at it. So ask yourself what it is that you’d like to be known for – and that will definitely give you a sense of what your real meaning is on earth.
Finally, Frankl offered some wise words about how to find meaning in life: “What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.
“We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”
So look around because the meaning of life is being revealed every second – our choice to do the right thing under any circumstances reveals this to us and to others too.
There are so many Facebook groups now for music and fashion “scenes” of the past. These are very popular with people looking for some nostalgia from when they were younger and were perhaps a hippy, punk, or raver.
There’s a common question on these groups – and it’s also one that’s often wondered and asked to many therapists: did all the drinking and/or recreational drugs I took when younger cause my mental health problems today?
Looking for an answer to this question is not just limited to people who were part of a youth “tribe”. Others realize that, for instance, in their teens and 20s they drank too much and too often or that they smoked far too much marijuana.
Many people are convinced that all their frequent drinking and especially the use of drugs, including marijuana, LSD, amphetamine, ecstasy, and cocaine, is behind their emotional and mental struggles now. Others are left pondering about their younger excesses: “Did I get away with it?”
Physical and mental harm
Medical research has proven beyond doubt that excessive use of alcohol and other drugs physically harms us. For instance, excessive alcohol use can cause heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, digestive problems, liver disease, as well as cancer of the voice box, colon, breast, mouth, and throat.
Then, using amphetamine can cause gastrointestinal issues and increase the risk of stroke as well as lead to heart muscle deterioration and bleeding in the brain. In emotional and mental health terms, excessive use of drinks and drugs is linked to all manner of mental health conditions.
But an important question that many people want to know the answer to is: would I have got my mental health problems if I had not drunk and/or used drugs so much in the past? Many are convinced that it is their abuse of alcohol and drugs that has left them struggling now.
Cause and effect
For anyone who’s struggling today with mental health problems, it cannot be said for certain whether any past abuse of alcohol or drugs was the only cause. But it most likely is not.
From then on, into teens and adulthood, people try to find ways to cope with what has happened to them or that they may have witnessed too. What we often think of as character traits are frequently in fact coping mechanisms. They’re not the true self.
Our modern-day society plays its part as well. As physician, addiction expert and author Dr. Gabor Maté says: “Illness in this society, physical or mental, they are not abnormalities. They are normal responses to an abnormal culture. This culture is abnormal when it comes to real human needs.
“It’s not a conscious choice; it’s more an automatic decision the young self makes to stay afloat in stressful emotional waters. Through no conscious will of your own, and for perfectly understandable reasons that had to do with your own emotional survival and thus were valid at the time, you have developed a personality style that has turned out to be bad for your health in the long run.”
So with all this in mind, it is perhaps to be thought that it is not the drink or drug abuse that has caused – or at least solely caused – the mental health issues someone has today. What they can do is make it more obvious that there is a problem or make problems worse.
This is the reason that psychiatrist and author of one of the world’s bestselling recovery books, The Road Less Traveled, said that alcoholism was the “sacred disease” – because it brings people to their knees sooner than most other mental health illnesses. Consequently, with no denial that there’s any problem, those people are more likely to seek the help they desperately need much more swiftly.
A chemical taste
Consider that esteemed psychiatrist Carl Jung said of excessive alcohol use that it was: “The equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”
In the hippy and rave scenes in particular there was clearly a spiritual element and attraction about them that many people were seeking through such as marijuana, LSD, and ecstasy. But there was also the great togetherness of people, as with all of the cultural movements.
For many people involved it gave them the loving family they’d perhaps never had. Excessive use of drink and drugs is often a way of trying to push down trauma, toxic shame, and overwhelmingly painful negative feelings about a failure of love.
When it started in the late 1980s, the rave scene was driven by house music, but also the drug ecstasy. The word “ecstasy” itself derives from Greek words meaning “standing outside oneself”.
For many who did not like what was going on in their insides, it was the greatest antidote for a while. It can be the same with drink, other drugs, and behavioral addictions such as work, relationships, sugar, gaming, and gambling.
Before people danced all night on it, ecstasy had been nicknamed “empathy” and had even been used in relationship counseling. It is a drug that gave people taking it at raves and in clubs from the 1980s onwards the chemically enhanced taste of togetherness, a family, which they craved – that perhaps was missing for many of them from their family of origin.
This can be said to be the same for any of the “tribes”. Also, there is an element of it for sports fans.
Every child needs to know they are loved. So how we interact as children with our parents and caregivers has a hugely significant influence on who we become as adults.
In fact, what someone thinks of as their character traits and what others see as their characteristics may not really be their real self at all. What is seen as someone’s traits are frequently actually coping mechanisms that they’ve developed in childhood and then continued with throughout their adult lifetime.
“It’s not a conscious choice; it’s more an automatic decision the young self makes to stay afloat in stressful emotional waters,” explains physician, author and addiction expert Dr. Gabor Maté. “Through no conscious will of your own, and for perfectly understandable reasons that had to do with your own emotional survival and thus were valid at the time, you have developed a personality style that has turned out to be bad for your health in the long run.”
Trauma, toxic shame and a failure of love
That is it’s bad for your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing. It will always cause internal conflict that can show as depression, anxiety or addiction if how you are is different from who you’re meant to be.
Much of recovery is about this, finding the real person again. This is why in fact it’s called recovery. It is recovering the real person as they were made before various negative things happened that had various negative impacts.
This is such as trauma or toxic shame that caused someone to develop new ways to be – so they could cope and survive. Psychiatrist and author Dr. Peter Breggin actually thinks there is one thing behind every mental disorder – what he terms a “failure of love”.
“Unlike most creatures, we humans are born with an essentially fetal brain, which leaves us totally dependent upon others,” says Dr. Breggin. “Nurturing in the first few years of life guides the development and expression of our social nature and our power as a species to survive and to thrive, and lack of that nurturing leads to psychological and social impairments.”
What are the four attachment styles?
One of the most basic and essential parts of life is our interaction with others. It is no wonder that our childhood years shape how we are in our relationships.
Many mental health and relationship experts believe our attachment styles are formed depending on how as children we interact with our parents and/or significant caregivers. Psychotherapist Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) formed certain theories about love that are the roots of today’s understanding of this.
Then in the 1950s, psychologist and psychiatrist John Bowlby (1907-1990) started looking extensively into relationships. He identified four types of distinct attachment styles that arise as a result of our childhood experiences.
These are still used by mental health and relationship experts to help people today. They are:
If a child feels certain they will remain safely loved because someone is always there for them, they are likely to form loving relationships when they reach adulthood. As a child they see that their needs will be met, their emotions recognized and validated.
So they form the idea that they will always be loved and that in general people are trustworthy. They feel secure, so they will form long-term healthy relationships without fear of abandonment.
Also referred to as ambivalent attachment, anxious-preoccupied, or ambivalent-anxious, this attachment style comes about when a child has an inconsistent parenting pattern. That is, one day a parent (or both parents) is there for them – but the next day the parent or parents are in some way absent and not there for them.
This leaves them anxious as to which type of care they are going to get for their needs. To cope, they will continually seek approval from their parents and they will develop a fear of being abandoned. In adulthood, this means they are often extremely needy in their relationships, constantly feeling unloved, and are unlikely to be very trusting.
This is an attachment style that forms due to a child having unmet needs as they grew up. So there was rarely or never an adult around to listen to their emotions, validate how they felt, or show them love.
In adulthood, they cope with this by avoiding relationships – and this can include subconsciously sabotaging any relationship that starts to develop or that has progressed to a certain point that they feel is getting too intimate. This is often due to the fear of abandonment again and the negative feelings that would come back to remind them of being a child who was not properly cared for or loved.
They are often fiercely independent. But they will almost certainly not be in a romantic relationship and in fact frequently spend time alone.
This is a combination of anxious and avoidant attachment styles. It forms because a child’s parents become a source of fear rather than the source of safe wellbeing they should have been.
So people with the Disorganized Attachment style do not really know what to do regarding relationships. Usually, they desperately want to love and feel loved. But they are afraid to let anyone get too close. There is an overwhelming fear that those who are closest to them could also hurt them.
Thankfully, there are proven successful methods to move on from any problematic relationship style. Anyone is capable of having a loving and healthy functional relationship, romantic or otherwise.
As a family-run recovery center, everybody who chooses to spend time with us in our home here is seen as one of the family. We fully understand how vital it is for recovery to have a supportive, calm, and loving environment.
Our expert team has decades of expertise in looking after and guiding people with all emotional problems and mental health conditions. Call us today to have a chat about how we can help you or someone you know.