Using Mindfulness for Mental Health
By Relda Hill
A Technique for Transforming Challenging Emotions
An aspect of my mental health condition has stemmed from the fact that I was unable to tolerate challenging emotions, such as sadness or anger. In the past, I would behave destructively. But now, I find refuge in the present moment. This I learned through the gift of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a term coined by turn-of-the-20th century British scholar named Thomas William Rhys Davids who studied and wrote about Buddhism in India. Contemporary American psychologist and author Marsha M. Linehan uses mindfulness to teach people with mental health conditions how to take control of their minds by tolerating and regulating their emotions. Linehan is also the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), a form of psychotherapy joined with behavioral science and Zen concepts mindfulness and acceptance. She also lived the struggle of mental illness since her teens, a battle that helped spur her on to her PhD.
In her book Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, published in 1993, Linehan uses a diagram of two interlocked circles. The two intertwined circles signify self-integration. One circle represents “emotion mind,” which is volatile and labile. The other circle is called “rational mind,” which is logical, intellectual, factual, etc. The point where the two circles overlap is called “wise mind.” Each person’s wisdom resides in that overlapping space.
Mindfulness can be challenging, but I was able to achieve this state after many years of meditation and psychotherapy. Finally, I knew that I had achieved mindfulness after two large circles interlocked in one of my dreams. My life changed. I learned to evaluate situations before I went charging in to save the day. I have found that my interpersonal effectiveness had improved drastically. I am more strategic and diplomatic now. I used to be a firecracker when I got angry. Nowadays I feel the discomfort of anger, but I do not allow myself to act out prematurely.
Consequently, as a result of “wise mind” I can cultivate peace. I appreciate my life. I acknowledge the beauty of the earth. Now that I know I am a whole person, I can self-actualize. I am no longer driven by the base to find happiness outside of my Self because I am the “bower of bliss.” Thankfully, I realize that solitude is a necessary part of my evolutionary process. When I feel distressed and anxious with bitter emotions like sadness and anger, I do not act out. I allow my Self to have these feelings, and in time they always pass.
“Wise mind” has enabled me to tolerate anger and sadness by transforming them. For example, I had a painful experience where I was “priced out” of a gym in White Plains. I was not welcome there because of money and race. I felt rage, but this time I was not afraid of my mind. I understood that regression and repression were the domains of the shadow where my mental illness resides. Armed with this knowledge, I chose to transform the emotion. I observed my anger, felt my heart racing and skipping a beat. Through my awareness, I chose not to get caught in the maelstrom of my anger. Instead, remained at the center of the storm where my inner peace resides. I used my “emotion mind” to evaluate the situation, then made a decision. Next, I chose to act constructively by using my “rational mind.” Note that I had to use both the “emotion mind” and “rational mind” to make a decision. This is a prime example of using the thinking and feeling aspects of myself to act in unity. I dealt with my sadness by writing in my journal. I released hurt, pain and anger by allowing my pen to dance upon the page. This kind of transformative work is priceless.
In conclusion, I maintain that mindfulness is essential in gaining control of my own mind. I do not depend on any therapist to get me through the rough spots. I have learned to become interdependent. I will always need people in my life, but I am no longer a burden on others and vice versa. Now that I can tap into my own inner wisdom, I experience a sense of purpose that I never knew existed. We can each use mindfulness to transform difficult emotions by remaining centered in the now. When we remain in the present moment, we can tolerate negative emotions until they pass.
Mindfulness may take time and effort to achieve but it is well worth it. When we use this invaluable tool, we make life enhancing choices that allow for growth. We simply make the needed adjustments which allow us to control our destiny.