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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is considered the core skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, the one thing that makes a person better able to use any of the other skills they will learn in DBT. But what is Mindfulness, and what’s the point of using it?

When Dr. Marsha Linehan was developing DBT, she was also simultaneously practicing Zen Buddhism. She noticed that some patients with whom she worked, particularly those struggling with suicide and self-harm, were not improving with standard cognitive-behavioral (change-based) approaches. She began to wonder if teaching her patients a non-judgmental stance, attention to the present moment, and focus on effectiveness, all found in mindfulness practice, might benefit her clients. In the 1990s, Dr. Linehan published a series of studies finding that a therapy that incorporated Zen Buddhist mindfulness, “radical acceptance,” significantly cut the risk of hospitalization and suicide attempts in the high-risk patients when practiced by therapist and patient.

Mindfulness became the core skill for Dr. Linehan’s treatment strategy. It emphasizes the need to be fully present and engaged in order to create change and/or accept what is. It allows people to take a non-judgmental stance with their circumstances and themselves. This helps people make decisions from a place of acceptance of what is, rather than fighting reality.

In order to be Mindful, you:

Observe. Just notice your environment, thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences without reacting to them, without judging them.
Describe. Just the facts about what you are observing.
Participate. Participate fully in your own life and experiences by throwing yourself in entirely.

The way to do these things is:

Effectively. Do what’s needed in the moment that keeps you on your path toward your short-term and long-term goals.
One-Mindfully. Do one thing at a time.
Non-Judgmentally. Increase your ability to just notice, just describe, or just participate, without adding a story involving your feelings or interpretations.

All in all, the purpose is to bring yourself to a place called “Wise Mind.” Dr. Linehan explains Wise Mind as: “…[T]he part of each person that can know and experience truth. It is where the person knows something to be true or valid. It is where the person knows something in a centered way.”

Wise Mind is that place where reason and emotion combine to become something more than either one – a synthesis of “knowing” both.

The practice of Mindfulness helps to increase the ability to get to Wise Mind and live effectively in each moment, without judgment. By being Mindful we can take on all other endeavors more successfully.

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