For well over a century, psychology has been a vehicle for helping us understand who we are and how we may improve our lives. Each theory of psychology holds a prescribed trajectory for how to achieve such awareness. Similarly, mindfulness is a conduit that cultivates peace, happiness and freedom. By observing our thoughts, feelings and reactions in real time, mindfulness increases our awareness of our patterns and helps us live with a greater understanding of ourselves and with heightened gratitude in and for each moment. The common thread between psychology and mindfulness is the healing and transformation that summons us to a place of equilibrium.
Today, psychology and mindfulness are used in tandem to help us find this state of balance by integrating our past with our present. By examining our past through analysis, integration and reconstruction of what we have lived, psychology can help us form a healthy self. By teaching us to release the self from the past, mindfulness can help us achieve a state of joy and presence. Furthermore, psychology posits the construction of a self while mindfulness is rooted in dissolving the illusory self. As the two approach the self from such different viewpoints, one might ask how they work together? Therein lies the challenge for each therapist. For there is not one global prescription for applying the two. Each therapist must work according to the values, beliefs and needs of the client. Such collaboration can help the client identify if the methods employed through mindfulness are an appropriate fit as a complement to traditional psychology. If not, there are multiple roadmaps and mindfulness is but one approach we will assess here.
The self is unaware of itself.
The concept of self is one that varies across cultures. In the West, we have long intellectualized and identified with the concept of self as a reflection of one’s personal nature and unique characteristics. From this viewpoint, the self is an endless well of unconscious knowing that must constantly be cultivated into consciousness in order to evolve. In essence, the self emerges through our learning and the more knowledgeable we become about our subconscious the more influence we have over our personal growth.
The self is a part of something larger than itself.
In (some) non-Western cultures, the concept of self is but one aspect of who we are. And who we are is interconnected. To some extent, this interconnection lends itself to the notion that each individual is considered a part of the greater system of interrelatedness with others beings, our planet, our universe and perhaps beyond. From this vantage point, the self is boundless. It becomes aware of its universal interconnectedness and its natural essence. The self is not a separate entity but a being capable of harmony and unity with all things.
How mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness helps us slowly and tangibly quiet the mind by utilizing all of our physical senses—touch, smell, taste, sight, sound. And with further practice, mindfulness can help us develop and heighten our non-physical senses, such as intuition, sensing and feeling. Research shows that mindful meditation can provide neurological restructuring and improved states of awareness and non-reactivity, all of which can train and aide us to remain in the present moment. That is, a state where we are not ruled or commanded by our thoughts but, instead, our thoughts are simply a part of our awareness. When we become aware of our thoughts, we can regulate our responses and, instead, direct them to bring us greater clarity, peace and awareness of being.
Additionally, mindfulness can be employed in any taskto carry us through and ultimately, out of our stories of pain by connecting the mind, body and spirit. An exercise of bathing, or putting on shoes, or walking to a destination invokes the opportunity to perform the task consciously. By becoming aware of our body’s interaction in the task through the sensations and the sounds, our every physical connection with each motion allows us to be exactly where we are in that moment and not somewhere else, lost in thought, worry, or pain of what was or what will be.
Furthermore, by entering into such conscious awareness, we can begin to live with life’s challenges by developing a sense of reality existing in the present rather than being defined or consumed by our past or potential future. We can become aware of our pain and exist alongside it. By reconnecting to our inner compass, our essential self, we stop compromising ourselves to the demands of our conditioned mind, which constantly move us out of our center and our peace.
Our conditioned mind is ruled by thoughts of every person, every teaching or message that influenced us into thinking ourselves into being rather than being ourselves and utilizing our thinking to transcend. Often these conditioned thoughts cause us great pain and deviate us from living integrated and present lives.
It is only by entering our present being that we can move into self-transformation. A mindful approach can carefully guide us toward such change and ground us into a practice that slowly brings us back to that place where our nervous system rests from the commotion of modern-day life. When we suddenly stop, it can be jarring to hear the cacophony of our minds, but slowly and with practice we can begin to return to that connected place where all we are is in the current moment and our hearts are home.
Partners in aiding our healing.
And so it can be argued that through psychology we can build the self and through mindfulness we can move beyond the self into the stillness that is, that place where our awareness transcends into simply being. Together, psychology and mindfulness can help lead us to a place of integration within the self. By coming into awareness of the relationship with our past, our sadness, our fear, our longing and suffering are acknowledged, woven into our narratives and finally released.
In tandem, psychology and mindfulness can be partners in helping us to come home. Whether home is referred to as the “actualized self,” the “authentic self,” or the “great peace within,” it is a beckoning to return to where the psyche is whole and that union becomes our restored being.