The practice of mindfulness has been a part of most of the world’s major spiritual and religious traditions for millennia. While the practice serves many who are seeking enlightenment, it has also been proven that practicing mindfulness has dozens of health benefits of both a physical and psychological nature.
Dr. Blaise Aguirre and his colleague Dr. Gillian Galen gave a four-part lecture on mindfulness as part of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD) call-in lecture series. They explained the ways in which mindfulness has come to be a major foundation of the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), both in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and in mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In this first article on the series of talks, we will look at what mindfulness is, how it can address the specific problems associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, and the proven benefits mindfulness has on those who practice it regularly.
The Theory Behind Mindfulness
In very simple terms, mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, being present and staying in the moment, experiencing the here and now.
“Anything you can do mindlessly, you can do mindfully,” said Aguirre. “You can pick up a fork and use it mindlessly or mindfully.”
So much of our behavior is habitual that we go through a huge percentage of our waking life simply doing things by rote. Mindfulness means stopping to fully experience even mundane tasks, such as washing dishes or driving to work. Aguirre recommends approaching mindfulness with a “beginner’s mind” and trying to bring a sense of childlike wonder and newness to each moment.
Mindfulness and Borderline Personality Disorder
The minds of people with Borderline Personality Disorder are often stuck in the past reliving experiences of hurt, anger, suffering, injury, slights, and failures. Buddhist tradition teaches that attachments and clinging are at the root of all suffering. Holding on to past pain perpetuates suffering.
The same can be said about living in an imagined future that is bleak. People with BPD frequently spend much of their mental energy and focus on painful past experiences or imagined futures of loneliness and failure. Aguirre points out that, with practice, Borderline Personality Disorder patients can choose where to put their attention.
Benefits of Mindfulness
To fully explain the broad spectrum of benefits that emerge from the practice of mindfulness, Aguirre asks us to imagine a drug that reduces anxiety and depression, panic attacks and binge eating, numbing and avoidance, chronic pain and stress, while simultaneously improving concentration and lowering blood pressure. Then imagine that this same drug has no negative side effects, costs nothing, and can be taken at any time.
Numerous studies bear out that these are all tangible benefits of mindfulness. With evidence like that, it is difficult to remain a skeptic.
We will further explore the role of mindfulness, specifically as used in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder in follow-up articles further summarizing the talk given by Aguirre and Galen.