How Mindfulness can help with some symptoms of Mental Illness

While working with some people with mental illness, I have learned a lot about how effective mindfulness can be in helping with some symptoms of mental illness.  I counsel individuals with a diagnosed mental illness.  Some of these people can suffer significantly from their symptoms.  For example, today I visited a lady who lives by herself and 12 cats.  She suffers from Schizophrenia, the paranoid type.   She is also hard of hearing.    When she opened the door, she complained that she could not sleep because the “voices” were too loud.  Can you imagine not hearing anything, except voices that scream at you  and don’t let you sleep at night?  I usually prompt her to distract herself by engaging in an activity that she enjoys, such as painting or watching TV.  Any activity that she enjoys and helps to be focused on the present moment.

I often encourage people to focus on the present moment in order to distract themselves from the thoughts that are triggering the anxiety, anger, or sadness. But recently I have tried to encourage clients to change their perspective by changing their physical position.

When we displace ourselves and have a different perspective, we are suddenly doing some mindfulness. For example, if we usually sit on the same side of a table out of  habit, but suddenly decide to change to another side, the perspective will change.  And when the perspective changes, our attention are automatically shifted to the surroundings.  We will then start studying, observing, and adjusting to the new perspective.  We start being mindful.

While talking to another client in counseling, I suggested to her to change to the other side of her sofa.   She was hesitant to do so because her usual side of the sofa makes her feel safe and secured .   But this “security” is only temporary and superficial.  It simply gives her a false sense of “power” and “control.”  But the idea of maintaining power and control does not lead us to inner peace.  It only triggers more anxiety and insecurity.  So letting go of the urge to be “in a safe place” is always short lived.  It is like being hungry for chocolate, so we go back to eating the chocolate candy that we crave for  and we are then satisfied.  But the satisfaction only last a certain amount of time and it eventually goes away, and we feel the urge to eat chocolate again.  By surrendering our urge to feel secured, we finally can start living inner peace.  We start experiencing true freedom.

Yet another client  has been struggling with grieving the death of her friend, but she tends to think about ending her own life in order to “join” her friend.  I reminded her that it is normal to be sad and to miss the deceased person.   It is healthy to set up time aside to cry and to be withdrawn.  But it is also healthy to return to the routine of every day life.  And this can be accomplished by changing  and engaging in new activities.  Every time we start something new, either a volunteer work, a new hobby, or a new chore, we are forcing ourselves to pay attention to the present moment.  We are inclined to observe and study what is NEW.  And it keeps the thoughts that were making us feel angry, anxious, or sad away from our minds.

So next time you feel anxious about whatever is causing the anxiety, one way to shift the focus is to move to a different spot.  Once you change spots, simply observe.  Look around you.   Contemplate on the details of your surroundings .  Also try to engage in a new activity.  Study it.  Learn from it.

And enjoy the present moment.  Fully.

Death and Sickness everywhere

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In my  personal life, I have heard and seen people getting sick and dying … Mainly because of cancer. These are the moments in life where I pause and reflect more about this present existence .
What are we? What purpose brought us to this existence ? Is our awareness of this thing we call life accurate? What awareness will we have , if any, after our bodies die?
No wonder people tend to believe in the afterlife.. To give us hope about this mysterious state of being.

Life goes on, but what exactly is this life? We hear all the time that this famous person and that other person died.  But what does it mean for “me” to die ?  It happens everywhere, and to everybody.  Yet we rarely think about it happening to us.

What would it be like ?  I may find out when my heart stops beating.   Or I may not even realize I have died… Like when I fall asleep and don’t realize it until I wake up the next morning . I don’t know.

But they know. Those who have passed away know.

I shall experience it too.

Prone to suffering

Every time we say ” I want …” and then you can fill in the blank,  we are prone to suffering.  Every time we even think that we want or wish something, we are setting ourselves up to suffering.

By suffering I mean the experience of disillusionment and disappointment.  We may feel sad, angry , or frustrated.  We put our hopes and expectations so high that we end up falling down .  Hard.

This is because we don’t always have or obtain what we wish for or what we desire.  So we end up suffering by wishing to have what we don’t always have. cEven with the littlest thing , such as a particular kind of clothing,  a way of life, or any possession, will open up the possibility of some kind ofdisappointment  at the end.  It is inevitable.

So what am I saying?  Am I saying that we should not  wish or want anything to avoid suffering? This is not about shoulds or should not.  It is about recognizing that whenever we suffer or feel  disillusioned or disappointed, it is because of an underlying wish or want that has not been satisfied.  If we define ourselves based on our possessions and accomplishments, we are fooling ourselves.  We are creating our own delusions.  We are setting up ourselves to suffering.

Are we entities that only live to obtain what we desire?  I read somewhere that true happiness is wanting what I already have.
I understand  that our basic instinct is to survive, to prevent death.   But this is based on needs,  not wants.  If we are hungry or cold, and do not eat or find shelter, then we suffer physically.  This is natural and necessary to survive.  But when it comes to possession, success, fame, and other “artificial” desires, then it is not based on survival.   It leads us to disappointment.  To suffering.