Friday, March 1, 2013

March = Mindfulness Month

I’m declaring March my Mindfulness Month. Mindfulness means several things; being alert and aware, being open minded and not rejecting possibilities too soon, and being aware of events without judgment in the present moment. Most of what I know about mindfulness, which isn’t much, comes through my reading and studies in psychology. Most of that seems to have been borrowed from contemplative Buddhism. Mindfulness is an appealing idea that is gaining ground in psychotherapy these days; there are mindfulness based therapies for depression and anxiety and research demonstrates their beneficial effects. 

So what does it mean to have a mindfulness month? Well, mostly for me it means I am going to do some reading and maybe some practicing of the exercises I read about. I will also do some writing about the books I am reading and the thoughts they inspire. There are several books on or related to mindfulness that I have owned for some time without reading, and I am going to attempt to rectify that. 

I am going to start with “The Mindful Therapist” by Daniel Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a pediatrician and psychiatrist who has written extensively about the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy, which is a concept I find both fascinating and useful. He has written several books but this one is intended as a guide for people practicing psychotherapy. The introduction to the book outlined a framework for both cultivating mindfulness in oneself and then using that capacity to help others develop mindfulness in their healing journeys.

The next book I would like to read is “Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices” by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book offers several sections of mindfulness practices including daily practices, eating practices, practices with children, extended practices, and intriguingly, relationship and community practices. I am not sure if I will be able to actually do all of these practices but I would at least like to read about them and perhaps try a few.

If I am able to finish the first two books I will read “The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems” by Ronald D. Siegel. This book was marketed as a psychotherapy guide and I am hoping it will help me use mindfulness more both in my life and as I work with patients. The jacket material on the book emphasizes its accessibility and practicality.

The fourth book on my list is "Parenting from the Inside Out" which is by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. This is a book that I started around the time my daughter was born but have never managed to finish. I think at this point I should just start over and reread the beginning. It is a book about mindful parenting, based on the premise that mindfulness in a parent improves the parent-child attachment relationship, which is a major predictor of good mental health later in life. The book also describes the neuroscience related to parenting and self evaluation information presented in the book, which I think is interesting.

Finally, if I finish all of the prior books, I want to read "Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life" by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Cheung. This is another book I have started but not finished. It talks about approaching food and eating in a more aware, present way than I usually manage. 

Why am I doing this? Largely, I think, for myself. Mindfulness seems to be a powerful tool to help me become less attached to myself, to insisting that things have to be a certain way whether they are that way or not. Mindfulness lines up well with Christian values as I understand them and offers a way of seeking a life that is less self-centered and more open. I think being mindful is a way to be a better parent, so I am also doing this for my daughter. I haven't read a book that says this but I suspect that mindfulness would also help me be a better spouse, daughter, sister and friend to all the other important people in my life. I also hope it might help me be a better doctor for my patients. I don’t think mindfulness is easy. I don’t think a month will teach me everything I need to know about mindfulness and bring me to a place where I am consistently living that practice. My hope, however, is that a focused month of reading will lead me to being to practice consistently, so that I can continue reading and practicing these valuable skills.