Wise Mind

Wise Mind


Question:
How do you find “wise mind?” What does it mean to practice it?


Answer:
The funny thing about wise mind is that, most often, it finds me, more than I find it. I mean, it's clear that I've had a "wise mind moment" when that "aha" happens, or when I'm reflecting on something and suddenly it all seems clear and I'm in the big picture and feel confident about what's going on. Those are like wonderful
moments of inspiration. But I haven't yet been able to consciously cultivate this sensation.

So what's this "practicing" of wise mind about? For me, I sit and do a short mindful meditation practice most every day because I believe it will be good for me in the long run. However, I have to admit that when I'm practicing, I don't feel all that effective. I mean, often, I don't come anywhere close to a state of wise mind. It's all I can do to repeatedly let go of the annoying chatter of my brain. Usually, I manage to relax a bit more and feel a little more centered before I continue on with my day, but it's nothing earth shattering.

So why do it? I do it because I figure, SOMETHING has to be done. I mean, I spent 40-some years absorbing a lot of negative messages. As they say in 12-step programs, "If nothing changes, nothing changes." Which is to say, that if I don't put in SOME effort to improve my state of mind, then how can I expect anything to be different?

So is my practice really doing nothing? Clearly, I must believe it's doing something or else I wouldn't continue. I have noticed that in crisis situations, a third “wiser” option has come into my thinking (other than emotion mind or reason mind) and it could be a result of the practice time. Here's an example.

I was in this writing class and on the first meeting, the instructor read a short piece about a person who suffered abuse. In the story, there was a one sentence mention of a character who had a history of self-injury.

In the class discussion, it was that sentence that became the topic of discussion. The students were going on and on about how strange such behavior was and really trashing people with severe mental illnesses. Meanwhile, I was
feeling extremely self conscious, avoiding eye contact so I wouldn’t be called upon to talk. Outwardly, I managed to survive the class period.


Clearly, it wasn't a supportive environment where I could share my experience. Nevertheless, the judgments voiced by the students over "the people who did that" seeped into my psyche and I felt it personally.

By the time I was making my way to the car, I was in tears. Like many crisis situations, I observed my mind split into two ways of thinking. My emotion mind was overwhelmed, hurt, fearful, and despairing. It insisted that I was bad, that I'd been judged, and I felt the urge for destructive behavior. My reason mind urged me to separate from my feelings and think about it logically. It reasoned that the people in class were naive about Borderline Personality Disorder and could not have known about my experience and what they said wasn't personal. It said I should get on with it and use my DBT skills before I gave in to the emotional response, which I would surely regret.

It was during this experience that I noticed a third opinion entering my mind. It was a very quiet, subtle and peaceful thought that insisted that everything would be okay, that I could handle this; I could trust myself and ride the wave of my emotions and that I had the ability to tolerate the distress. It occurred to me that I did not have to enter into black and white thinking -- either feel or dissociate. I had an option to be at peace.

In the end, I allowed myself to cry. I watched TV for about half an hour and pushed myself to go to bed. I told myself that I didn't need to make a decision about what to do right at that moment and that sleep was usually helpful in making that decision and despite my overwhelming desire to go with my emotion mind, I could let it go for the moment.

I believe it is partially due to my quiet daily mindfulness practice that the “wise mind” option occurred. My DBT instructors have taught me that one of the goals of DBT is to help us consider more possibilities on how to deal with crisis, rather than just reacting emotionally.

Lisa

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