Much of what we do in therapy is intended to change our perception of life events so that we experience them in a better or more comfortable way. We make an effort to be less annoyed or less upset by circumstances as a way to cope with them. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) functions differently. It operates with the understanding that our experiences themselves don’t need to be altered–our approaches to those experiences do.
Mindfulness is intended to allow you to have a different relationship with your experiences, and leave them as is, rather than altering them. During the practice, we experience things in “doing” mode, or “being” mode. In the “doing” mode, we notice a difference between how things are, and how we want them to be. in the “being” mode, we instead emphasize accepting things as they are. In mindfulness, it’s important to find a balance between these two modes, and not tend towards one more than the other. Mindfulness allows us to expand how we experience a situation in any number of ways.
In this video, Dr. Zindel Segal helps us to experience both the “doing” and “being” modes, by guiding us through a mindfulness practice about, well, our feet! By following this quick exercise, you’ll see the differences between experiencing a simple moment in the “doing” and “being” modes.
Mindfulness Practice: Think about your feet
If you're new to mindfulness, here's a concept that gets played out throughout these programs in a number of different ways. The basic idea that the practice of mindfulness is not intended to change your experience or to fix your experience if you find that it's unpleasant or difficult. It's actually designed to allow you to have a different relationship to your experience, leaving your experience just as it is.
What does that mean? It can seem a little bit befuddling at times, because much of what we do therapeutically or with an investment of our energy and effort is to change things for the better so that we're less upset, we're less annoyed, we're less irritable, we're feeling a lot better. These practices have at their base, the idea that our experiences don't need to be altered or repaired in any way. It's that we can approach them with a different ability, to be with them, to notice them and then to see how they land in our minds.
Let me give you a very quick example. One of the concepts in Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy is this distinction between doing mode and being mode. This is a very easy concept to grasp if we try and explain it with reference to something very simple and basic. For example, if you're listening to this video, let me invite you to just think about your feet for a second. Just take your attention to the idea of your feet, how far you've walked today, maybe something that you like or dislike about your feet.
Maybe comparing one foot to the other foot, maybe asking yourself whether your feet are like other people's feet, whether they're better, whether they're worse or just generally thinking about anything else that comes into your mind about your feet. You may have some ideas or thoughts and just noticing them and then maybe taking a breath and kind of wiping the slate clean for a second, feeling the breath coming into the body, leaving the body. Now let's take our attention back to our feet, but this time see whether you can feel the sensations right at the bottom of your feet.
Feel perhaps the way the feet are pressing into the floor through your shoes, feeling the sensations in the souls of your feet, maybe the points of contact of the big toe, the little toe, and the heel and just noticing what those sensations are like. Noticing any throbbing or pulsing, tightening in this region and just noticing the sensations from one moment to the next as best you can. Then just going ahead and returning your attention to your breath. In this simple example, we used the feet to really illustrate a fundamental perspective in the practice of mindfulness, that we can know something through these two different lenses.
We can know it conceptually, in other words, the first way of knowing our feet, comparing, judging, evaluating, asking ourselves questions that involve figuring things out or we can know our feet just by the present moment experience of the sensations that are here that we can attend to and that we can watch from one moment to the next as they unfold. We may get a very different story about what it means to know our feet in this way. Mindfulness isn't about telling you that one way is better than the other or that you really need to choose, it's about expanding your repertoire so that you can see that the possibility of knowing through these two different perspectives is available in every possible moment.
This example illustrates a fundamental perspective in practice--that we can know something conceptually by how we interpret and consider something, or simply by the current moment and the sensations that are present.