Using Mindfulness to Navigate “Self”

Holding onto pain and loss keeps us mired in anxiety and perpetuates our problems over the long term. Mindfulness can help us change our relationship to what we find limiting in our lives.

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“I think, therefore I am,” doesn’t mean I am my thoughts, nor does it mean that you are yours. Even though Descartes believed, “If I am thinking then I must exist…” other philosophers later pointed out that the thoughts might be coming from somewhere else (although I’m not sure where that somewhere else is) so all we can really say is: “there are thoughts.” If you’re not your thoughts—a terrifying idea for some, a gift to others—what are you? We’ve been trying to answer the question of what it means to be human for centuries.

A couple of ways of thinking about what it is to be a sentient mammal in an increasingly secular world can be found within contemplative psychology or in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). The former describes us as a “heap” or aggregate of body (form), feeling (the tone of experience before thinking begins: pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral), as perception (naming or memory), as mental formations (thoughts, emotions) and consciousness (defined as contact with the senses and the objects of their awareness). CBT looks at us as a composition of thoughts, emotions, body, and behaviours. Thoughts, then, are simply one part of what it is to be…

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About the author

Patricia Rockman

Patricia Rockman, MD, CCFP, FCFP is a family physician with a focused practice in mental health. She is the Senior Director of Education and Clinical Services at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Toronto. She is an associate professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Family Medicine, cross appointed to Psychiatry. She has extensive experience practicing individual psychotherapy, leading therapy groups, and training healthcare providers in mindfulness based interventions, cognitive behaviour therapy, and change management for stress reduction. She is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and meditation practitioner.