Being caught in repetitive and unwanted patterns can frustrate us. We might experience these patterns as rigid behaviours, emotional reactions, or constricted forms of thinking, feeling, or ways of being. Whatever form the pattern takes, it can interfere with our capacity to be present, flexible in our responses, and nonreactive. We can feel that we have no control over what is happening inside ourselves. And we might relentlessly judge ourselves and others for not being different.
Our brains were once thought to be hard-wired, but current research has shown that the brain has neuroplasticity—meaning that it has the ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This is key to understanding how we can alter unhelpful patterns. Mindfulness is a way of shifting how we attend to our own thoughts, and the practice of mindfulness is one way that we can reorganize or re-pattern our neural pathways. Not only can we reconfigure our own thinking, but we can develop new capacities and ease the degree of suffering we feel. The practice of mindfulness can assist us in being more fully present in the joyous parts of our lives, too. Once primarily the domain of orthodox traditions of Buddhist practices and spiritual retreats, mindfulness is now broadly incorporated into psychotherapeutic work, and is often recommended by medical doctors and other health professionals. Mindfulness is being used to treat many psychological difficulties and other conditions, including addiction, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, trauma, and chronic pain.
Working with a therapist who incorporates the modality of mindfulness in psychotherapeutic practice often involves bringing more conscious attention to the present moment. The therapist can facilitate your own efforts to become increasingly aware of your thoughts, surroundings, and states of feeling. Developing these strategies—which is a form of practice—allows you to become more exquisitely aware of how you react to circumstances, events, and how you respond to other people. As you become increasingly aware of your reactions, and what activates them, your self-attunement and increasing observational capacity begins to change your longstanding or entrenched responses. Over time, and with practice, your ability to be fully present expands, your capacity to deeply accept yourself and others evolves, and your judgments of self and others ease.