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Mindfulness Meditation Therapy for Overcoming Depression

Depression and recurrent anxiety are only too common problems that affect us all
at various times during our lives and many of us feel the need to learn better ways
of working with our feelings and negative patterns of thinking and seek the help of
a psychotherapist.
When clients suffering with depression and anxiety come to me for mindfulness
psychotherapy, the two central issues that I encounter time after time are: 1) The
problem of Habitual Emotional Reactivity, and 2) The need to learn how to relate to
the inner feelings that power the habitual reactivity.

We tend to be completely unaware of our habitual reactivity, and become victims,

condemned to repeat the same reaction over and over again. This is a fundamental
problem that lies at the root of our anxiety and depression. Therefore, the very first
task of the psychotherapist is to teach the client to become aware of his reactivity
so that he can begin the process of changing old patterns into new and more
functional responses. This RECOGNITION phase is an essential part of successful
therapy and starts the process through which the client begins to break free from
being the victim of his own conditioning.
After gaining experience in recognizing reactivity, the next phase of cognitive
therapy is to convince the client that he has choice in how he responds. Most of us
are convinced that the reason we feel bad, upset, angry or depressed lies outside. I
am upset because he let me down. I am anxious because my job may be
terminated. I am angry because she said very unkind words. We blindly accept
these causal connections, not realizing that there is actually no law that connects
the cause and effect. It may be reasonable to feel these emotions, but not
inevitable. In effect we do have choice and we need to fully understand this and not
blindly submit to having to suffer because things don’t go the way we want.
The next preliminary phase of cognitive therapy involves converting the emotion
into an object to which we can relate and investigate objectively. This very
important process is called reframing. Instead of saying, “I am depressed,” we
change it into, “I notice a feeling of depression that has arisen in me.” Whatever
the emotion, we try to take the “I” out of it and start to see it as a mental object
that has arisen. This simple process of reframing helps us break the blind
identification with the emotion, and establishes some sense of separation that
prevents us form being overwhelmed and becoming reactive.
The essential problem of habitual reactivity is the combination of basic
unawareness, on the one hand, combined with the compulsive emotional impulse
that makes us become the emotion. He says something unkind and we become the
emotional reaction of being upset. An emotion of anger arises and we blindly
become the anger; anxiety arises and we become the anxiety.

Mindfulness as taught in Mindfulness Psychotherapy and Mindfulness Meditation

Therapy, is a particular awareness skill that teaches us to be aware of what is
happening while it is happening. Through diligent practice, we begin to recognize
reactions as they arise form moment to moment throughout the day. We then
respond to the reaction with the simple formula: STOP, LOOK and LISTEN. When a
reaction arises we simply greet it with: “No. Not now. I choose not to go down that
path.” In the very act of recognition of a reaction, we are given a brief moment of
choice when we can stop. The habit to react may be very ingrained, but through
constant practice, we can begin to open up this space in which there is choice.
This is the active part of mindfulness. However, we don’t stop there, but in that
moment of recognition, we choose to respond and form a relationship with the
emotion. This is the relationship of mindful listening. The power of simply being
100% present, not reacting and not even thinking about the emotion that has
arisen is the heart of successful therapy. If you want to change anxiety or
depression, you must establish this kind of relationship in which you allow the
emotion to exist in the safe space of mindful awareness. The art is to maintain this
mindfulness so that you do not become caught up in the emotion and also that you
do not resist or fight against the emotion; just sit with you inner pain as you would
sit with a friend in pain. When you have established this mindful-relationship and
safe inner space around the emotion, it will respond by changing. The more present
you are, the more it will unfold, unwind and transform.
This is the unique contribution that mindfulness training can make to
facilitate successful psychotherapy for anxiety and depression. We are taught that
we have to fix the problem and make the negative thoughts and feelings go away,
but actually if we simply learn to be present with them, we create the ideal
conditions in which inner suffering will transform itself quite naturally and under the
healing influence of our innate intuitive wisdom-intelligence. The answers always lie
within the problem; the trick is to learn to listen, and mindfulness is the perfection
of this skill.