A short while ago I opened an opportunity for people to send me stories of mindfulness that can show the rest of us how it has had a practical impact on a particular event or their lives. I’m calling this column of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, “Voices.”
A number of people wrote in with stories. If you have a story, continue to writing in and as long as there are good stories that teach the rest of us how mindfulness can work in our lives, I will choose from them from time to time to post on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.
Of course those that get chosen can also send me a link that I’ll include in the post where people can learn more about them.
Here’s a truly touching story of mindfulness and the importance of breaking out of our limited beliefs and letting people surprise us by Christina Conlan O’Flaherty, Psy.D. :
In Chris Germer, Ron Siegel and Paul Fulton’s book, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, the idea that therapists might do well to adopt a position of “not knowing” when it comes to their patients is introduced. It’s suggested that by letting go of our preconceptions and expectations of who our patients are based on past experience with them, we can be more fully open to what the patient brings into the session. To illustrate this point, they include the quote below. This quote isn’t from a therapist but from an elderly (and apparently wise) man who grasps the importance of not assuming to know the people in his life–and not assuming to know himself:
“I have a friend, a woman I know already many years. One day she’s mad at me–from nowhere it comes. I have insulted her, she tells me. How? I don’t know. Why don’t I know? Because I don’t know her. She surprised me. That’s good. That’s how it should be. You cannot tell someone, “I know you.” People jump around. They’re like a ball; rubbery, they bounce. The ball cannot be long in one place. Rubbery, it must jump. So what do you do to keep a person from jumping? The same with as a ball; make a little hole, and it goes flat. When you tell someone, “I know you,” you put a little pin in. So what should you do? Leave them be. Don’t try to make them stand still for your convenience. You don’t ever know them. Let people surprise you. This, likewise, you could do concerning yourself.”
This quote resonated with me (after the third time I read it!) not only as a therapist who hopes to stay open to whatever her clients present in the moment but also with respect to my other roles: wife, friend, daughter. It reminds me to be curious about my clients, my husband, my mother and my friends and to allow them to grow, shift and change. It reminds me I should let people surprise me.
I also appreciate the idea of being curious about oneself and, as the old man suggests, surprising yourself. The truth is, we don’t know much about ourselves. We walk around on autopilot and do mental gymnastics to keep from acknowledging things about ourselves that we don’t like. We express different aspects of ourselves depending on the situation and often aren’t all that consistent in the same situation over time. We are, like everything else around us, constantly in flux. Bringing curiosity to our thoughts, feelings and behaviors can give us a glimpse into the mysterious & complex person that we are–in that moment. And there is great capacity to surprise ourselves. Thankfully.
I see it everyday with myself and others. We have beliefs about who we are and identify with them. We say, “I’m an anxious person,” “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t every really accomplish much” or maybe you say, “Yeah that’s my daughter, she’s not a very good writer.” The net effect of these are simply limiting.
Sometimes when we set aside our limiting beliefs about ourselves and others, life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interactions create a living wisdom we can all benefit from.