"What" is Mindfulness?
“There’s never a good time for mindfulness, and there’s never a bad time”—Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or DBT, is a model of therapy that teaches life skills. It teaches 4 categories of skills, all stemming from mindfulness.
Like Marsha Linehan says, there really isn’t a great time to practice mindfulness. We often think it requires carving out time to sit down and meditate for a length of time. I definitely have this belief about mindfulness at times. But really, mindfulness comes down to being aware of and present in the moment without judgement. We can actually do this any time, no matter what we are doing. We can practice mindfulness while falling asleep, brushing our teeth, in the middle of a conversation, or while stuck in traffic on the way to work. So, there’s also never a bad time to practice mindfulness.
One of the fundamental mindfulness skills in DBT is the “what" skill: observe, describe, and participate.
Observe: observe through all the senses. Notice without judgement what you are seeing, hearing, physically touching, smelling, or tasting. You can notice physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts too.
Try it out:
Notice in this moment, what do you hear?
What do you see right in front of you?
What does it feel like to really notice your feet on the ground or your body making contact with the chair?
Is there a smell in the air or can you take a moment to smell something nearby like lotion or food?
Is there anything you could take moment to taste?
Observe your thoughts like clouds in the sky or leaves on a stream. Allow them to come and go without holding on to them or pushing them away.
Tune into and really notice the feeling of breathing in your body.
Describe: without any judgement (like good or bad, positive or negative), label what you are observing.
Try it out:
Describe what you hear, see, touch, smell, and taste. For example, notice the pitch or rhythm of what you hear, the colors of what you see, the temperature of what you are touching, the quality of what you smell (sour, floral, herbal, etc.), the texture of what you are tasting.
With your body sensations, label the breath “in” and “out”.
With thoughts, I really love the phrase “I’m having the thought that…”
Participate: fully engage in whatever you are experiencing or the activity you are doing. Let yourself become fully a part of it to the point of not even noticing yourself as separate. Have you ever experienced something as so engaging you forgot about yourself and were totally focused on what you were doing? This is participate.
Try it out:
Really listen to what you hear, such as in a conversation. Redirect your mind to only what you are hearing, fully and totally. Redirect when you start thinking of what you will say next and be totally open to wherever the person you are talking with is taking the conversation.
Be in beginner’s mind, as if you are experiencing things for the first time and want to experience and learn every nuance of it.
Be curious, be open, feel excitement to be totally engaged in what’s happening right now.
Go for a walk and be fully in the act of walking, the sounds you hear, the temperature around you. Everything totally and completely.
What will you mindfully observe, describe, and participate in today?