Finding Daylight


Mindful Recovery from Depression

January/February 2008


Mindfulness isn't a skill that comes naturally. If you want to anchor your attention to what's happening in the present moment, you must actively engage your mind's natural tendency to fly all over the place. At the heart of mindfulness lies, not a desire to suppress this inner restlessness, but a nonjudgmental curiosity about it, and a willingness to simply observe it as it happens. Making friends with our attention--not beating it (and ourselves) up when it drifts from its intended focus--helps teach us how to deal with other deviations from perfection in ourselves and others. When we're berating ourselves for falling short of our own expectations, mindfulness practice teaches us to bring the same type of gentle awareness to these self-denigrating thoughts and feelings in our everyday lives.

This perspective is definitely at odds with traditional therapeutic ideas about insight and change. The prevailing clinical understanding of meditation's effectiveness emphasizes that it teaches patients how to relax and lowers their chronic physiological hyperarousal. But the point of mindfulness training is to help people sustain an alert, flexible, and focused attention, rather than to relax, though relaxation occurs as a secondary consequence. Also, in contrast to relaxation training, which aims for the release of tension, mindfulness has no predetermined endpoints or goals. Whether we experience ease or difficulty is less important than greeting each sensation with…

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