The practice of mindfulness

Our normal responses to our experiences, thoughts andfeelings, especially negative or difficult ones are either to express, repress, deny or avoid them. With positive experiences and feelings, our usual responses are to be become attached to them, and not wanting to let them go. Mindfulness practice encourages us to be aware of each thought and feeling, and to experience it as it without needing to change or do something about it.

Using the LAEBL approach, which I employed as an adjunct to counselling, and as an internal resource for individuals to apply in everyday living, individuals learn to label (L), acknowledge (A), experience (E) and let go (L) of their experiences (including feelings, thoughts, emotions etc.,) moment by moment. Where people find difficulty in doing so, they are encouraged them to focus on a neutral stimulus, such as the breath (B). The acronym LAEBL is intended to assist individuals in remembering this mindfulness practice. The rationale for this practice is that it helps people to foster a different way of relating to their experiences.

The idea of adopting a neutral stance towards our experiences incorporates the notion of letting be. Additionally, in being mindful of their feelings, bodily sensations, images and internal dialogue, individuals learn to separate their responses to a situation from the situation itself (to see things as they really are). Finally the point of letting go allows people to make space for, rather than identify with their experiences, thoughts and feelings.

I believe that right mindfulness increases our awareness of the circuitous nature of the mind, of how one thing leads to another and the cause and effect of our actions. This process can be illustrated by the phenomenon of anger. When we come into contact with an object or situation that upsets us, we may react with anger. If we become attached to this feeling, it could snowball into more feelings of anger, fear and anxiety. However if we understand that anger is perpetuating all the other negative feelings, and take responsibility for disrupting the process or letting the feeling be, the anger and associative feelings can dissipate.

Mindfulness practice takes into account the objective and subjective elements of human behaviour. From a psychological perspective, if a person is able to label and acknowledge his or her feeling of anger objectively, (“there is anger”) and also accept that he or she is experiencing it subjectively (“I am angry”), the emotion does not become reified as an entity separate from the experiencer and over which the person has little control, or even responsibility for.

Having attained this awareness and understanding, how do we break the circuit of negativity? In understanding the circularity of our mental and psychological processes, it is possible to understand that the causes of human suffering are concurrently their means of release. This means that the circuit or process can be interrupted at any point. Additionally, it can be seen that it is the subjective perspective of the recipient that determines whether an experience continues to bring about suffering or serves as a means for awakening. In short, the possibility and responsibility for change lies with the individual. By understanding the perpetuation of this cyclical process, individuals can take the responsibility to disrupt it so that things can be otherwise, either by letting be, letting go or working through the emotion and associative feelings. Working through does not mean eliminating or repressing this emotion, but rather changing the way we relate to it. In my view, the practice of Mindfulness allows the individual to respond rather than to react to different situations, feelings and experiences.

Extract from Khong, B.S.L (2003) Minding the Mind’s Business. Paper Presented at the 111th Annual Convention of the American Psychological, Association at Toronto, Canada.