Mindfulness is not something one masters overnight. It is a journey that requires effort, commitment, and dedication. While mindfulness may provide relatively rapid relief to one’s distress in certain situations, it is perhaps better conceptualized as a long-term shift in perspective that allows us to better manage the complexity of human psychological experience. Like learning a new language, mindfulness takes time and patience to master, and ongoing effort to remain fluent.
So what exactly is mindfulness, and how does it apply to OCD and anxiety? A simple definition of mindfulness is that it is the practiced skill of non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of our present-moment experience, including all of our unwanted thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. Mindfulness teaches us to accept all of our unwanted internal experiences as a part of life, regardless of whether they are “good” or “bad”. When treating OCD and related anxiety disorders, mindfulness is a tool that can supplement and enhance Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is the gold standard for managing these conditions.
Mindfulness originated in ancient eastern philosophy, and is based on the premise that our attachment to feeling good and our aversion to feeling bad are the cause of much of our suffering. Much of the time, when things are difficult, we take up compulsive or avoidant behaviors in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. I often joke with clients about the fact that we never find ourselves running out of our bedroom with our arms flailing above our heads screaming in fear, “Oh my, I am so happy! Why am I so happy? What if I am happy forever? What should I do?” We only do this when what we are experiencing something we perceive as being “bad” or “wrong” or “unwanted”.