The Voice of the Mind

You are not the voice of the mind. You are the one observing the voice of the mind.  

This simple, yet powerful realization is rooted in eastern spiritual traditions and stands as a key perspective for many contemporary psychotherapy approaches, such as cognitive behavioral therapy as well as acceptance and commitment therapy. It is also foundational for the practice of mindfulness meditation.  

Take a moment to reflect on this statement:

You are not the voice of the mind. You are the one observing the voice of the mind.  

Pause and listen to the voice in your head, the voice of your mind. What is it saying?  Do you notice how it is always talking, always narrating your life? Sometimes it might be questioning you or critiquing you. Sometimes it might be listing the things you should or should not be doing. Sometimes it even takes opposing positions and argues with itself! None of this is you. You are the observer of the voice.  

The voice of the mind is constantly active, following its habitual patterns of thought to help you navigate your life, often attempting to reduce distress through prediction and control. However, all too often this voice is not helpful. Sometimes this voice even creates more problems! 

Have you even been sitting quietly or meditating and noticed that the voice has become quiet, even momentarily? If so, do you recall how this experience felt?  

You are not the voice in your mind. You are the one observing the voice in your mind.  

Practice observing the voice in your mind throughout the day and repeat this simple statement as a reminder. “I am not the voice in my mind. I am the one observing the voice in my mind.” With practice you will gradually gain distance from the voice in your mind and develop greater objectivity around your experience. You are the observer of the voice and the observer of your moment-to-moment experience. In this way you are much bigger than any single thought, worry, or self-criticism.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

Lindquist Psychological

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Thanksgiving: The Power of Simplicty

It is easy to get distracted by the many things in our lives. Our society tells us that we must be active and striving to gain and make progress at all times. Even our vacations can become a next best list of achievements. These messages penetrate all levels of our culture as we see children pressured to excel and adults struggle to sit idle for even a brief moment as their minds quickly identify the next thing they can accomplish in their day.  

We tend to feel great when things are going well. To be sure, it is important to appreciate our efforts and connect with a sense of pride. We may also feel great when we achieve a raise, buy a new car, rent a new downtown apartment, or complete an addition on our home. Again, it is not wrong to appreciate what we gain.

The problem with this formula relates to the sources of our happiness and sense of worth. The items on this list are external sources of satisfaction. As such, they provide a temporary satisfaction and a fleeting contentment. There is always something else waiting outside of our grasp. Furthermore, an eternal list of achievements can leave us in a state of anxiety as we hold tight and fear losses or setbacks. When our minds and hearts are connected to these powerful external forces, it is difficult to find a stable and lasting sense of contentment or peace in our lives. 

How do we achieve a stable and lasting sense of contentment? This is an important question to ask ourselves. One path toward contentment involves practicing simplicity. In doing so we practice letting go of our attachments to external sources of happiness. This can be incredibly difficult, but it presents an opportunity to begin to broaden our sense of freedom and begin to loosen our grasp on the many external things that can hold us hostage. Ask yourself:

Where might I find simplicity in my life?

What is truly most important?

What is truly lacking in this moment?

Our tendency to grasp external things and accomplishments is not a criticism, nor does this suggest a personal or moral failing. It is simply an invitation to consider the ways you are striving or grasping external things and how you might shift your perspective to gain a greater sense of inner peace and freedom. Throughout the coming days you might try taking a pause when you begin to feel distressed or anxious. Ask yourself what is needed in order to let go and find greater peace. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

Lindquist Psychological

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Tidal Wave of Emotion

People often seek therapy to get support dealing with emotions, or more specifically, uncomfortable emotions, such as fear, anger, or sadness. It is not uncommon to want these emotions to be stopped, shut-off, or taken away. However, such a goal is ultimately impossible as emotions are an inherent part of human experience and play an important role in our overall functioning as they help us navigate the world. Although they are not always pleasant, we can learn to better recognize, understand, and manage our responses to emotions in healthy ways.  

Generally, emotions can be viewed as messengers or signals that encourage us to engage in various behaviors. Such behaviors are most often automatic and adaptive.  For example, fear is a basic response to danger and signals us to take action to protect ourselves or others. Similar things can be said about sadness as a natural response to an uncontrollable situation, loss, or disappointment. Sadness may signal us to withdrawal, regroup, and seek or elicit support.  

Although similar functions or signals can be described for all core emotions, it is often difficult to identify how our emotions can be useful or how we can interpret and react to our emotions in ways that are helpful. It is not uncommon to experience emotions as a tidal wave of feelings and sensations. However, we can break down this wave into three components, consisting of thoughts, behaviors, and physiological responses.  

Breaking our emotional waves down can be useful in helpful us understand, react, and manage our emotions more effectively. However, many of us have had limited education and experience understanding our emotions or practice managing and responding to difficult emotions. The good news is that we can always improve upon our emotional intelligence. Monitoring our emotions is a great place to start. Next time you feel a strong wave, take time to ask the following three questions:

 Key questions for monitoring emotions

What am I feeling? (What is the physiological response or sensation?)

What am I thinking?

What am I doing?

For example, you might find yourself feeling anxious, sad, agitated, and stressed when you call your partner and they sound upset. You might think they are unhappy or think “they are mad at me,” or “I’m not a good partner,” or “I’m a failure,” or “I will never be in a happy relationship.” The behavior might be to try and fix any perceived problems for your partner or work hard to clean up your apartment and make a nice dinner. Alternatively, you might find yourself ruminating about your role in the relationship or getting upset and pacing around endlessly.

You can take this a step further and practice monitoring what triggered your emotional experience, your response (physiological/ feelings, thoughts, behaviors), and finally the consequences, which might include things such as stress, arguments, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, self-blame or doubt.  

Emotional experiences evolve out of a process of interaction amongst thoughts, physical sensations or feelings, and behaviors, all of which impact the intensity, frequency, and duration of our emotional experience and play a role in developing symptoms or maladaptive coping behaviors. As you practice monitoring this process you can begin to make your emotional experiences more conscious and perhaps gain a better understanding of the ways your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors occur and interact. Increased awareness and understanding can allow for more freedom to observe this process, question our automatic thoughts, and alter our behaviors in ways that are more intentional and less driven by a tidal wave of emotion. In other words – we can learn to surf.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

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Living with Ease

Ease is defined as the absence of difficulty or effort. To ease is also defined as to make something less serious or severe, soften, and to move carefully and gradually.  

Living with ease is different from being relaxed. Specifically, relaxation has more to do with lessening our feelings of tension and reducing stress. Ease has more to do with an inner sense of peace and harmony. 

Living with ease starts by loosening our grip on the roots of our suffering. It involves letting go of rigid views and opinions of how life should or should not be unfolding. Likewise, it can also involve letting go of impulsive behaviors that continue to repeat and unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior that arise as we struggle to maintain or impose our expectations on the world around us.  

In Buddhism, living with ease is seen in the concept of viraga, which has been translated as “detachment.” In this sense, detachment refers to a distancing from cravings and desires, which is understood as a path to greater freedom and ease. It is also a detachment from thoughts as the driving force behind our experience and interpretation of the world around us.  

We can see similar concepts in modern western psychology. For example, approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refer to a similar process using terms such as participant observationde-centering, and cognitive diffusion, all of which involve efforts to change awareness and reactions to thoughts and interpretations with the goal of more adaptive reactions.    

Stepping outside of our experiences to observe or detaching from the impact of thoughts, opinions, expectations, and cravings can lead to reduced distress or greater ease.  

What does “living with ease” mean to you?  

Notice the small moments of ease that appear throughout your day. What do you notice from focusing on ease in your life? What steps can you take to get there more often? If you have an idea of how ease develops in your life, practice bringing more ease into your life in the coming days and weeks.  

Practices for living with ease

Meet all of your feelings with balance and curiosity.

Let go of winning and losing.

Connect with the feeling of joy in your heart, even amongst the chaos.

Practice mindfulness throughout your day.

Monitor the nature of your thoughts. 

Reflect upon impermanence. 

Make time for leisure and enjoyment. 

Practice self-compassion rather than self-criticism.

Practice gratitude.

Let go of judgements and practice compassion towards others. 

Be flexible with your expectations. 

Appropriately assert boundaries and politely say no when it is appropriate. 

Pay attention to your body.

Be aware of early warning signs of stress and act in advance to take care of yourself.

Over the next few days and weeks, when worry or stress begins to arise in your life, just notice. Noticing is powerful and can start to shift the pattern of stress and welcome more ease into your life. Notice times when you feel strongly attached to an idea or outcome as well as times when you feel driven or compelled toward certain goals or behaviors. Pause and practice being curious about the ways your attachments to outcomes and ideas impact your stress and consider loosening the grip to make more room for ease in your life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

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Present Moment Attitudes

Many of us can easily get lost thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Yet, being present minded or mindful of the “here and now” is important for reducing stress and staying healthy. Moreover, strengthening present-moment awareness helps to reduce anxiety and rumination, while allowing space for a deeper connection to our lived experience.

Present-moment attitudes have the potential to color and shape our everyday experience in ways that promote our overall resilience. We can practice present-moment attitudes as we connect to the present and experience more intention in our daily life.  

Present-Moment Attitudes

Beginner’s mind involves seeing from a fresh perspective; as if you were seeing or experiencing something for the first time.  

Kindness is an attitude and quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Nonjudgment means experiencing the present moment without the lens of evaluation.

Compassion is the attitude and quality of meeting others and yourself with kindness.  

Non-striving is the quality of being willing to meet any experience as it is, without trying to change it.

Joy is the attitude and experience of taking pleasure that awakens more fully as we connect more deeply to our awareness in the present-moment. 

Self-reliance is an important quality for developing inner confidence. With practice, we can learn to trust ourselves and our capacity to cope with whatever arises. 

Equanimity is an attitude that fosters wisdom and provides a broader perspective so that we can see things more clearly and feel greater confidence and reassurance.  

Letting go or letting be is a quality that gives space to whatever we encounter in the moment.

Cultivating present-moment attitudes is a useful way to practice mindfulness and shift towards greater intention and engagement. As we develop a greater consciousness of the present, we may find it easier to stay grounded, rather than swept up in the ups and downs of daily living. We may also begin to see the bigger picture of our lives more clearly. Challenges may become less stressful and setbacks less devastating. As we feel more grounded through present-moment attitudes, we may feel less daunted and more enlivened by whatever arises around us.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

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Befriending our Emotions

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.

-Jon Kabat-Zinn

Take a moment and recall the last time you felt a strong emotion. What do you remember? What did your body feel like? What thoughts came to mind? What did you feel like doing? What did you do? Pause and close your eyes for a few moments to reflect on these questions.   

It is common to try and get rid of our feelings, particularly when we experience strong emotions of sadness, anger or fear. However, trying to get rid of emotions can actually make them more distressing and difficult to manage. Befriending our emotions through mindfulness as well as skills aimed at fostering emotional intelligence (i.e., recognizing, labeling and expressing emotions) are both helpful practices for engaging more effectively in our emotional lives. 

Emotions are important. Foremost, emotions communicate important information to us and to others. For example, anger may tell us we have been mistreated or sadness may tell us we have lost something important or need support. Emotions also assist us in organizing our experiences and actions. Again, fear may organize us to confront a wrongdoer or sadness may allow us to withdraw from busy activities so that we can have space to grieve. Experiencing painful emotions can also help us empathize with others and sharing vulnerabilities fosters closer relationships. Emotions also provide color to our lives as we experience moments of joy or feel proud of our accomplishments. In either case, both “positive” and “negative” emotions are important. Understanding and engaging with our emotional life is ultimately a significant strength.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a helpful way for us to practice befriending our emotions. Just as we practice being mindful of our breath or the sights and sounds in our environment, we can also practice being mindful of our emotions. 

We can practice being more mindful of our emotions as we experience them or by taking note of our emotions and practicing being present and connecting with our emotional experiences at a later time. We can also practice monitoring when we become self-critical. In both cases, the increased awareness and self-compassion that accompanies mindfulness practice will be useful for better understanding what our emotions are telling us and responding to our emotions in ways that are more intentional.

Practicing mindfulness of emotions is often challenging as judgement or criticism is likely to arise or we might struggle to remain present with intense or upsetting emotions. It is helpful to remember that the most important part of this practice is simply turning toward and becoming more aware of your emotions.

Emotional Intelligence 

As we become more aware or mindful of our emotions, we can use the five RULER skills developed by Dr. Marc Brackett, Ph.D., to regularly check-in with our emotions throughout the day, label our emotions, and express how we are feeling:

Recognize: How am I feeling? Cues from our bodies (posture, energy level, breathing, and heart rate) can help us identify feelings. 

Understand: What happened that led me to feel this way? As feelings change throughout the day, think about the possible causes of these feelings. Identifying the things (people, thoughts, and events) that lead to uncomfortable feelings can help us both manage and anticipate them in order to prepare an effective response. 

Label: What word best describes how I am feeling? Although there are more than 2,000 emotion words in the English language, most of us use a very limited number of words to describe how we are feeling. The primary or basic emotions include sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust. However, there many words we can use to label our emotions. A brief internet search will provide more options and you might consider printing a list to practice labeling.

Express: How can I express appropriately what I am feeling for this time and place? There are many ways to express each of our feelings. For example, many descriptions for sad, such as lonely, heartbroken, disappointed, hopeless, unhappy, troubled, or miserable.  

Regulate: What can I do to maintain my feeling (if I want to continue feeling this way) or shift my feeling (if I do not want to continue feeling this way)? Having short-term strategies (taking deep breaths or stepping back to allow distance) to manage emotions in the moment as well as long-term strategies (reframing negative experiences or seeking social support) to manage emotions over time is an important part of emotion regulation. 

Emotions are not a sign of weakness. They are not here to hurt us, nor are they the cause of our hurt. It is our reactions to our emotions through self-criticism and blame, or our harmful behaviors toward ourselves or others, that causes pain and suffering. If we are able to befriend our emotions and welcome them with compassion into our lives, we might find ourselves situated at a place of greater insight and freedom as we greet each new friend with a receptive heart.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

PSYPACT Authority to Practice Interjurisdictional Telepsychology (APIT) Map of Participating States

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

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Existentialism in Daily Life

Existentialism suggests that we have both the freedom and responsibility to make our own choices by looking within ourselves. Accordingly, we are tasked with finding meaning, determining our values, and making decisions that shape our lives. Existential psychotherapy builds on these views by approaching therapy with an emphasis on self-determination and our individual search for meaning. It also understands anxiety as part of the human condition as we struggle with common concerns around the nature of our existence and the purpose of our lives.  

It is possible to incorporate existentialism into your daily life by living with greater self-awareness and making choices that align with your values.  

Tips for existentialism in daily life:

Reaffirming your values – Take time to think about your values. You might write these down or start a list that you can update as you consider what is most important to you.  

Meaning and purpose – Pause and reflect on your purpose and meaning at work or at home. Remind yourself of the bigger picture.    

Practice radical acceptance – Accept things the way they are without resistance. Instead of fighting reality, practice accepting reality by letting go.

Practice shifting to gratitude – When you feel stressed or overwhelmed, practice focusing on what you are grateful for in your life. Connect with a sense of gratitude for basic things such as food, shelter, and health as well as a sense of gratitude for your friends and loved ones. 

Practice reframing challenges as opportunities to live into your values – Reframing challenges as opportunities to practice values such as kindness or integrity can build resilience, while also creating more space for meaning and authenticity as you navigate daily life.  

Talk openly about your deeper questions with friends and loved ones – It is probably not typical to ask questions about life and death or the purpose of life, but it might surprise you to learn how often others think about these “big questions.”  Sharing these concerns can lead to deeper understanding and connection within your relationships.   

Start a journal around themes of meaning, values, and gratitude – Journaling is almost always helpful for increasing self-awareness and providing space to reflect. Consider taking time to write down your thoughts or simply practice writing down things you are grateful to have in your life.  

Meditate on impermanence – It is easy to get lost in the challenges and tasks of daily life. Taking time to realize that everything around you is always changing and our lives are limited can allow for us to more fully connect with the present and more fully appreciate life. Each moment is fleeting and each moment you have with a loved one is irreplaceable.  

Connect with new people each day and recognize the common humanity you share – We often make observations, assumptions, and judgement about others. Try shifting your attention to the common humanity you share with all people. When you encounter a person in public, remind yourself that they may also struggle with similar questions or have similar concerns. They may even be in great pain and emotional turmoil. In either case, the “big questions” apply to us all and suffering is an unavoidable part of life.  

Practice mindfulness – Practice everyday mindfulness by connecting with the present moment throughout the day. Allow yourself to step outside of “human-doing” mode and into “human-being” mode. Review my past blog for more ways of practicing everyday mindfulness.  

Through existential therapy and existentialism in daily living, we can become more attuned to our inner lives and live with greater intention. As we become more conscious of our values, we can choose to do things that provide us with a greater sense of purpose and allow for us to live our lives more authentically.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Email to schedule an appointment: thomaslindquist@therapistsincharlotte.com

Therapy Group of Charlotte

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Living with Ease

Ease is defined as the absence of difficulty or effort. To ease is also defined as to make something less serious or severe, soften, and to move carefully and gradually.  

Living with ease is different from being relaxed. Specifically, relaxation has more to do with lessening our feelings of tension and reducing stress. Ease has more to do with an inner sense of peace and harmony. 

Living with ease starts by loosening our grip on the roots of our suffering. It involves letting go of rigid views and opinions of how life should or should not be unfolding. Likewise, it can also involve letting go of impulsive behaviors that continue to repeat and unhelpful patterns of thought and behavior that arise as we struggle to maintain or impose our expectations on the world around us.  

In Buddhism, living with ease is seen in the concept of viraga, which has been translated as “detachment.” In this sense, detachment refers to a distancing from cravings and desires, which is understood as a path to greater freedom and ease. It is also a detachment from thoughts as the driving force behind our experience and interpretation of the world around us.  

We can see similar concepts in modern western psychology. For example, approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) refer to a similar process using terms such as participant observationde-centering, and cognitive diffusion, all of which involve efforts to change awareness and reactions to thoughts and interpretations with the goal of more adaptive reactions.    

Stepping outside of our experiences to observe or detaching from the impact of thoughts, opinions, expectations, and cravings can lead to reduced distress or greater ease.  

What does “living with ease” mean to you?  

Notice the small moments of ease that appear throughout your day. What do you notice from focusing on ease in your life? What steps can you take to get there more often? If you have an idea of how ease develops in your life, practice bringing more ease into your life in the coming days and weeks.  

Practices for living with ease

Meet all of your feelings with balance and curiosity.

Let go of winning and losing.

Connect with the feeling of joy in your heart, even amongst the chaos.

Practice mindfulness throughout your day.

Monitor the nature of your thoughts. 

Reflect upon impermanence. 

Make time for leisure and enjoyment. 

Practice self-compassion rather than self-criticism.

Practice gratitude.

Let go of judgements and practice compassion towards others. 

Be flexible with your expectations. 

Appropriately assert boundaries and politely say no when it is appropriate. 

Pay attention to your body.

Be aware of early warning signs of stress and act in advance to take care of yourself.

Over the next few days and weeks, when worry or stress begins to arise in your life, just notice. Noticing is powerful and can start to shift the pattern of stress and welcome more ease into your life. Notice times when you feel strongly attached to an idea or outcome as well as times when you feel driven or compelled toward certain goals or behaviors. Pause and practice being curious about the ways your attachments to outcomes and ideas impact your stress and consider loosening the grip to make more room for ease in your life.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Schedule an appointment

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Mindfulness Myths

Mindfulness is everywhere! We see references to mindfulness in all types of magazines and books, television, and even in the names of businesses. To be sure, mindfulness can be extremely helpful and research regarding the positive role of mindfulness for improving wellbeing is impressive. Nevertheless, mindfulness is not always well understood and a number of myths about mindfulness have come to my attention.  

Mindfulness is meditation. Mindfulness is best defined as a process of focusing awareness in the present moment without judgement. In contrast, meditation is a practice of sustained awareness or attention on a specific experience, most commonly the breath. We can be mindful at any point by bringing awareness to the present moment, even for a brief period. This shifts into meditation when we practice sustained attention over a longer period of time, thereby exercising our attentional capacity. This is helpful to keep in mind as we can practice being more mindful without necessarily practicing meditation, although meditation is highly recommended for cultivating mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is relaxing. Although mindfulness can reduce stress and lead to states of relaxation, mindfulness is actually an active and intentional process of focusing on the present with non-judgement awareness. Therefore, it should not be substituted for rest or sleep. 

Mindfulness is having no thoughts. This is actually not possible. Just as we cannot stop our heart from beating, we cannot stop our brains from thinking. Moreover, having no thoughts has never been a goal of mindfulness. The goal of mindfulness is to become aware of whatever thoughts come to mind, maintain awareness of these thoughts without judgement, and allow the thoughts to pass, rather than dwelling or becoming fixated in our awareness. 

Being mindful all the time is the ultimate goal. This is both impossible and undesirable. If we maintained such a high level of awareness at all times, we would become overwhelmed. The goal is simply to become more mindful, more often, and check-in with our thoughts and experiences as a way to connect with the present moment.

Mindfulness is joy or bliss. Although we can approach an experience of joy or bliss with mindfulness, achieving these states is not the goal. Mindfulness also involves being aware of negative or neutral experiences and does not apply exclusively to positive states. Nevertheless, we can work to be more mindful of our positive emotional states and experiences, which can have a positive impact on our well-being and sense of satisfaction.

Overall, it is helpful to keep in mind that mindfulness or being mindful involves the intentional act of bringing our awareness to the present moment without passing judgement. It is like standing behind a rushing waterfall as you become aware of the water rushing down in front of you. You may notice changes in the water or small objects falling, but you simply observe. The same metaphor can be applied to mindfulness. In mindfulness, we allow ourselves to observe our thoughts without judgement as we watch them pass. In this way, mindfulness can be a great help by allowing us to step outside of the waterfall of our thoughts and the stress of daily life and observe our experiences without judgement.    

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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Receptive Awareness

Attention is of central importance for navigating a chaotic world. It is also of central importance for practicing meditation and mindfulness. In meditation, paying attention to the breath is often taught as a starting point as beginners are encouraged to bring their attention back to the breath each time their mind wanders. Over and over again, attention is directed back to a focal point in what is termed concentrated awareness

In addition to meditation, mindfulness has been defined as purposely bringing one’s attention to the present moment or as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. Although acceptance and nonjudgement are also important aspects of mindfulness, the role of concentrated awareness is often primary.  

Directing of our attention through concentrated awareness is clearly important for meditation and mindfulness. It is also essential for a self-regulation more generally. However, there is another type of attention or awareness that often gets overlooked.  

Receptive attention or receptive awareness, in contrast, is much less about directing our attention and more about opening space and welcoming experience. It is about following the flow of our experience and simply remaining aware of what is happening. Rather than constantly telling ourselves to concentrate on the present moment, or direct our attention to the present, we are encouraged to develop a state of receptivity to the present moment.

Resting in receptive awareness is also an antidote to the challenges of our inner critic and our negative thoughts patterns or cognitive distortions. When we practice receptive awareness, there is less space for judgement and more space for acceptance. The attachment or identification we often experience with our thoughts and feelings becomes less pronounced and we can begin to connect with a sense of existence outside of these identifications; a resting consciousness where we can experience of ourselves simply as a human being.  

Ultimately, both concentrative awareness and receptive awareness are important for meditation and mindfulness. It is often helpful to begin with concentrative awareness and allow yourself to shift into a state of receptive awareness once you experience a sense of being grounded in the present moment.  

Begin with concentrative awareness by directing your attention to the present moment:

Focus on the surrounding sights and sounds in your environment.

Focus on the sense of being grounded in your chair with your feet on the floor.

Focus on your breath as you breathe naturally. 

Cultivate receptive awareness by letting go of a central focal point and opening yourself to whatever arises.

Imagine sitting in a small house. Your awareness is the air and space all around you. The air shifts and changes as a breeze blows through an open door or window, circulates around you, and continues back out another window. You rest grounded in the stillness, with no need to take any action, while remaining open to the next breeze.  You are aware and receptive to whatever comes next.  

As you can see, both types of awareness have an important role. However, concentrative awareness often gets all of the attention. Yet, receptive awareness is an important step for expanding your meditation or mindfulness practice and loosening your attachment to passing thoughts, feelings, and expectations.  

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Visit us at lindquistpsych.com

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