MBCT: Mindfulness and Equanimity
"I need to get centered."
Humans have an innate ability to be aware of where we are in time and space and in relation to other people. When we find that center, we find power, and even peace. Being centered can help us maintain our bearings in situations of chaos, conflict and confusion, which can cause us to become scattered, distracted, and unfocused.
Mindfulness practices such as breath awareness, meditation (see apps such as Headspace and Calm) can bring us back to our "center" in mind, body, and environment. When we lose our way, our body and mind will give us messages that we often ignore or suppress. A mindfulness practice can help us listen more carefully to messages that are telling us that something's not right, and that we might need a new road map, or to try something else to figure out where we are and where we're going.
Humans also have a tendency to go to extremes. If something good happens, it is "the most amazing thing ever!", but if something bad happens, it is "the absolute worst thing ever!". We love the buzz of tapping into our capacity for excitement, but if we do that too often, we can deplete our energy.
Equanimity is a deep kind of mental calmness and composure that preserves our energy and well-being especially when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. If we can cultivate this powerful center, we won't be thrown off balance, and will be able to act with resolve for ourselves and for others.
If we can notice when we are pulling back or resisting, specifically in adverse circumstances, we may find it easier to be curious, letting things and people in. Overdoing it or underdoing it, sometimes known as a cycle of "crank and crash", can effect us without our even noticing. If we're in physical or emotional pain, we often try to blow past that pain or shut down completely. Either extreme doesn't help our healing or our state of mind. If we can calibrate to the middle rather than bouncing between the crank and crash modes, we will be able to do a given activity longer or accomplish more in the long run. This kind of centering of our exertion becomes very important as we age, when it's too easy to ignore or feel guilty about a decline in our physical, mental, or emotional capacities.
"And I need to get de-centered."
Centering can become problematic for us when it gets all tangled up with our identity. Our identity can involve not only where we grew up, where we live, what kind of family we have, but also the details of how we've been hurt, what we struggle with, our opinions, biases, complaints, etc. Where identity becomes problematic is when we cling to it so tightly as a fixed and unchanging anchor, that we filter our every experience to determine whether it's good or bad or neutral for us. This habit of verifying everything according to how it relates to us can create distortions and problems - largely because we are not the center of the universe. This often extends to our possessiveness, and who or what does or doesn't fit in or belong to our chosen clan. As we know, these personal judgments can easily grow to have devastating impact on society and culture.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
MBCT researchers Patricia Rockman and Evan Collins (who coathored, along with Susan Wood, the book Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Embodied Presence and Inquiry in Practice.), emphasize the importance of de-centering. Rockman and Collins say that our default mode is to take ourselves too seriously, getting stuck in self-importance that emphasizes either how bad we think we are, or how great. A main principle of all mindfulness teachings is that rigid attachment to who we believe ourselves to be and the stories we tell about ourselves
are limiting and the root cause of many of our problems. If we can take a step back from a fixed view of self, also called de-centering, we can get less hooked in believing our ideas about who we think we and others are. We can see these ideas as a constructed view rather than the absolute truth.
The message is: "Don't believe what you think." This will give us more options to deal with whatever life brings.