If we really think about where we are – living on earth, in this vast, possibly multiple universe, it can change our perception about what actually matters in the wider scheme of things.
Imagine climbing a ladder or stairway to a high point – a mountain top or roof or tree and looking down, with detachment, on our lives and our inner and outer worlds.
Focusing on breathing in oxygen, seeing ourselves as conduits for particles scattered throughout the universe with which we are inexorably connected.
From this perspective we can gain clarity about what is important to us, to those we love, to the universe that sustains us. Maybe we will become more focused on our connection to this responsive universe that is our source, rather than continuing to pour our toxic waste into it and taking as much as we can from it without thought for the repercussions.
Maybe we will want to spend more time appreciating the universe, recognising that as human beings we have the ability to consciously know it.
If we could do this every day maybe we will find a clearer way of living, focusing our attention on priorities and filtering out the unnecessary stress and pre-conceptions that bind us.
As a psychologist I am aware that it isn’t easy to free ourselves from negative ideas about ourselves, relative to others and our environment.
Depression about the past, feelings of loss and regret, can hold us in dark places – akin to being trapped in a cave pressed in by feelings of doom and foreboding, fuelled by the hurts and disappointments we’ve experienced.
Fears about the future, often fuelled by concepts of how we ‘should’ be or how life ‘ought’ to be, can make us feel afraid to hope, as if expecting the worst is a safer bet. Negative thoughts feed feelings that can hold us in a painful limbo, preventing us from experiencing our own aliveness now.
The psychotherapy process helps to unlock and heal the patterns of the past, etched into us from childhood, and through awareness we can start to question our old self-concepts. We can express the pain, unravel the complexes and begin to loosen the hold of old ideas that we can wrap around us like threadbare, dirty clothes. It isn’t an easy process, but it can unlock our life forces from old, negative ideas, freeing us to more richly experience ourselves, relationships and our environment.
Gaining perspective can help us to be aware that most social norms, expectations, recipes for ‘successful’ living are just human ideas; thoughts that catch on, live for a while in our psycho-social realities and then fade to be replaced by new ideas. Many social ideas are only ‘real’ because we subscribe to them – they fade to nothing when we discard them, becoming merely amusing old-fashioned traditions. Yet they can be so gripping at times that we become consumed by them.
It is important to continue letting go of the ideas and concepts that skew our awareness of reality so that we can be truly alive; present. Mindfulness, an ancient Buddhist meditation practice, is gaining momentum as a simple but quite profound practice that can help to clear our minds of clutter and develop our ability to experience present moments with acceptance and openness. By focusing on our breathing, or sounds, smells and textures around us, we move out of our ‘heads’ and become engaged instead in the here-and-now reality. Mindfulness can also be used to gain insight about the workings of our inner worlds through observing our thoughts and feelings without being drawn into them; in this way we can cultivate an inner sanctuary in which to calmly process our lived experiences. This can be very helpful for relief from symptoms such as panic attacks, trauma-related fight-flight impulses, OCD, excessive worrying and dissociation. .
It is for this reason that I have decided to incorporate mindfulness techniques into my work, as an additional tool to aid patients in therapy. Mindfulness practice makes this often uncomfortable process easier to tolerate as we learn to detach from the emotional turmoil and simply observe it. The theory behind the practice fits in well with my psychodynamic orientation as it aids the process of facing ourselves, understanding our self-narratives and ultimately having the freedom to let them go.