Today, I'm going to talk about a core component of Mindfulness that is also a core component of DBT.
In DBT, there are three states of mind that are referenced. These three states are descriptors of different ways we interact with the world.
The first is "reasonable mind." When we are in this state, we are able to think logically or rationally about what's going on, about our options, and about the steps we want to take. We are focused, we pay more attention to facts, and we tend to plan out our behaviors. We may even be somewhat detached from what's happening, because we're only focusing on observable facts. Examples of behaviors that would be characteristic of "reasonable mind" might include: measuring ingredients to bake a cake, going to the WMATA website to check the metro schedules before going into DC on the weekend, studying for a final.
In contrast, the second state of mind is "emotion mind." This is what is sounds like - our feelings are driving the bus. When we're in "emotion mind," our thoughts are controlled by our emotions. We tend to be reactive, facts are distorted, and we can't remain (or have a very hard time remaining) objective. Examples of behaviors that would be characteristic of "emotion mind" might include: having a fight with someone that you've disagreed with, curling up in your favorite chair with your kitten and cuddling, buying something with your credit card that you can't afford just because you decided you wanted it.
This leads us to today's topic, "wise mind." We are operating in "wise mind" when we have balanced "reasonable mind" and "emotion mind." We're able to acknowledge our feelings and still think clearly about what we want to do about them. "Emotion mind" and "reasonable mind" have blended to develop a deep intuition, or knowing, that some describe as a "gut feeling" about what's best for the person. Your intuition tells you, this is the best course of action, because your emotions and logic are working together beautifully. "Wise mind" is sometimes the "calm after the storm" you feel after a crisis has passed, when you can see everything crystal clear.
Unfortunately, we don't stay in "wise mind" all the time. Things would be so much easier if we could!
A simple breathing exercise you can do to practice being in "wise mind" follows:
Focus on your breath, on inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Your breath should be soft and gentle. As you continue to focus your attention on you breath, let your attention settle so that it's deep in your breathing. The point where your attention is in the very bottom of your in-breath, at the center of your breathing, is "wise mind."
Drop into the Pauses
As you engage in mindful breathing, allowing yourself to notice the “pause” after each inhalation and each exhalation. This pause is much like the still space that exists when leaping between trapeze bars. Notice the stillness within each pause. Allow yourself to find awareness in the pauses at the top and bottom of each breath. Settle in to each pause and find stillness within.
Stone Flake on a Lake
To engage in this visualization exercise, imagine that you are seated next to a crystal clear lake on a beautiful sunny day. Imagine that you are a small flake of stone, chipped from a much larger rock, that someone has gently thrown out into the center of the lake. You are gently floating there on the placid surface of the still water. Now you begin to gently and slowly float downward in the cool water toward the smooth, sandy bottom of the lake. Notice the look and feel of the water as you gently float to the bottom. Notice the feel of the smooth sand as you lightly rest upon it. Become aware of the peace and serenity at the bottom of the lake. This deep stillness and serenity is the calm center of yourself. Allow your attention to settle into this calm centered place within.
Breathe "Wise" In, Breathe "Mind" Out
This exercise is particularly helpful if you feel stuck in emotion mind and are feeling overwhelmed. In these moments, it may be difficult to focus your attention on a longer visualization exercise. At times like this, simply notice that you are feeling intense emotions and begin to direct your focus toward your breath. As you pull the air into your lungs, say the word “wise” in your mind. As the air leaves your lungs, say the word “mind” to yourself. The idea is to focus your attention entirely on these words as you breathe in and out to begin to settle yourself back into a place of calmness and wisdom.
Is This Wise Mind?
Many of us often know that we are doing or saying something that is not in our best interest, but for some reason we do it anyway. This can happen for a wide variety of reasons, such as directing passive aggression towards yourself or choosing to self-sabotage. If you find yourself experiencing even the slightest sense that you are about to do or are doing something that you will later regret, notice this and pause. As you pause, take a slow breath in and ask yourself, “Is this (action, thought, etc.) wise mind?” Listen for the answer… don’t tell yourself the answer. Allow it to arise naturally within. Pause, breathe, and notice what answer presents itself to you. Now, it is up to you whether or not to do what wise mind knows is best.
There are many other exercises, one of which involves journaling different thoughts from the different states of mind.
Try a few, see what works for you. Remember that it takes practice to be in our Wise Mind, so pick an exercise and practice it regularly.