Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mindfulness - The Ultimate Mood Stabilizer

I'm preparing a keynote I will be presenting to the Kansas DBSA State Conference on Saturday (see side panel for details). Part of my talk will focus on mindfulness, which meant going back over some of my earlier pieces on the topic. Following is an extract from a longer piece on mcmanweb. Enjoy:

“Mind precedes its objects,” reads the first line of the Dhammapada, the best-known of the Buddhist scriptures. “They are mind-governed and mind-made. To speak or act with a defiled mind is to draw pain after oneself, like a wheel behind the feet of the animal drawing it.”

Further down, we read: “A disciplined mind leads to happiness.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD of the University of Massachusetts is a molecular biologist and meditation teacher. In his new book (with three co-authors), “The Mindful Way Through Depression,” Dr Kabat-Zinn urges cultivating awareness by not taking our thoughts so literally and by “disengaging the autopilot.”

Mindfulness, say the authors, “is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to things as they are,” rather than as we want them to be.

If I felt myself becoming unduly agitated, I would typically take a “time-out” from my routine. If I felt myself starting to feel sorry for myself or getting depressed, I would make it a point to get out of the house. On and on it went, all the little coping tricks. Things we do all the time.

Half the trick of mindfulness is being able to spot your mood episodes as they begin - or even before they begin - while you are still in control of your brain, while you still have choices. Most of the time, the solution is fairly simple - a time-out, a break, some quiet moments, a good night’s sleep.

The other half of mindfulness is detachment. Detachment is a key part of Buddhist teaching. When the mind watches the mind, the skillful person does so with practiced disinterest, as if observing the grass growing or the paint drying. Mind you, detachment is way easier said than done, especially when you sense your brain is on the process of rapid disintegration.

Mindfulness begins with the painful reminder that life is not safe. We are vulnerable. Nothing is fixed. Our situation is constantly changing around us. Psychologically speaking, we are always walking at midnight in a bad neighborhood. We need to be awake. We need to be vigilant.

But we have a paradox at play, here. As we grow more adept at mindfulness techniques, our lives become more safe, our existence less fearful. Hypomania no longer has to automatically mean a prelude to mania. And a bad hair day is not necessarily the end of the world.

Bipolar has been called “a dangerous gift,” one that many of us would gladly return to the customer service counter of life. The practice of mindfulness opens up the possibility of realizing our potential, but it also necessitates working within our limitations and leading highly disciplined lives. It means calling it a night when the party is just getting started. It means chilling out in the middle of a productive hot streak. It means maintaining our composure when we feel our situation or our lives falling apart.

We all employ mindfulness to some degree, but cultivating the practice is going to take time. Mindfulness is no quick fix. It is advisable to stay on your current meds doses until you have your high dose mindfulness and other recovery practices well in place. Even then, knowing when to bump your meds doses back up should be part of your mindfulness game plan.

Be mindful. Live well ...

Also check out:
Mindfulness - Living in the Present

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