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A Thought on Mindfulness by Craig Rafla

A Thought On Mindfulness

I recently lost something that was important to me. The experience shook me up, and the emotional centre of my brain kicked in with all kinds of ways to get quick relief from the pain. Not fun. But as I sat down to write this reflection, I realized how much mindfulness has taught me about how to work with emotions, pain, and difficult life events. And then my thoughts turned to the work we all do; all of the challenging things we face on a daily basis and how intense and emotional it can be doing the work we do. So today, I want to share and reflect on one aspect of a practice that helps me move through difficult times, both personally and professionally, with the hope that it might help you too.

Try to expand your awareness and observe your state of mind. This is a pretty powerful skill, because knowing what state of mind you are in gives you the power to change it, to work with it. For many of us, we have lived for years on autopilot, reacting quickly to our emotions in habitual ways without really being aware of what it is we are feeling or needing. And it is in those spaces where we say or do things we might not feel happy about later on.

Through my practicums, I have had the opportunity to do introductory DBT (dialectical-behavioural therapy) training. In DBT, I taught that there are 3 dominant mind states:

1.      Emotion Mind: In this state of mind, our feelings are in control; we feel intense emotion and tend to act on those “hot” feelings (e.g. saying or doing things that we would not normally say or do). When we find ourselves in this state of mind, our ability to think logically or to take in facts or logical information is limited. Arousal is high, adrenaline courses through our system and we simply cannot process. Note, however, that while emotion mind is typically the place from which we act impulsively or self-destructively, it is also the place from which we experience love and courage and creativity. If it wasn’t for emotion mind, we would never fall in love, create great works of art, or bravely overcome some of our greatest fears.

2.      Reasonable Mind: Think Spock from Star Trek. Reasonable mind is “task-focused” living and is characterized by an over-reliance on logic and facts to make decisions. In this frame of mind, emotions, needs, and desires are dismissed or perceived irrelevant. It is very difficult to feel satisfied in life and to maintain relationships when we ignore our emotions and view the emotions of others as unimportant. That said, there are times when we must be logical, cool-headed, and able to follow instructions. 

Both of these states of mind represent forms of emotion dysregulation (emotion mind does not regulate and reasonable mind over regulates). Without even noticing, many of us either live either predominantly in one state of mind or flip between the two extremes, which is very destabilizing. Both limit our ability to make wise thoughtful decisions and both tend to leave us feeling exhausted and frustrated because it is close to impossible to get our needs met if we allow ourselves to remain in these states for prolonged periods of time.

3.      The way to experience greater calm and a better ability to manage stress and challenges is to find a middle ground – something DBT refers to as being in Wise Mind. Wise Mind is a place, deep down, where we know the truth about what needs to happen in a given situation. It is our inner wisdom. In Wise Mind we stay with our emotions, we acknowledge and allow them, we listen to the information they provide but we never lose sight of our long term goals and values.

So I have started to check in with myself at various times of the day and notice what state of mind I am in. I ask: How much am I in Emotion Mind? Reasonable Mind? Wise Mind? What triggers me into one state of mind over another? Is staying in Emotion Mind or Reasonable Mind helping me? Is it causing problems for me? Do I want to stay in this state of mind or do I want to shift? What does my Wise Mind say about this situation? 

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Reflecting on Mental Health Week May 2-8, 2016

This week students in the ADLER Master of Psychology program are completing the first trimester of 2016.  With preparations well underway for the June 1st Convocation at Hart House, of 20 new ADLER graduates. These students have reached a significant milestone on their journey, leading them to a future in which they will deliver, or continue to deliver, mental health services to the community. Mental Health is a complex mix of the biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors that influence and shape the functioning of an individual in society. Working in the mental health field in Ontario is equally complex, and demanding, but they will be ready for whatever they encounter.

ADLER is a small school, with a focus on the individual and community. We see our students as they come into the program, perhaps a little unsure of where they will go. We follow them through the rigours of the academic portion of the degree, and the real world learning opportunities of being in practicum placements and see the individual growth and change occurring. When they come into the school, with their practicum evaluations complete, their theses bound, ready to graduate, we see them transformed. They have become practitioners, with an understanding of the complexity of mental health and wellness.

For the faculty and staff, there is a great satisfaction in knowing that we have supported students who will go out and make a difference in the field of mental health. Practitioners who have a sense of the person in the environment, and the way they fit, as professionals, into that environment. This, Mental Health Week, is a fitting time to be preparing our graduates to cross the stage, into their careers in mental health.

Many Congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2016! 

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