Therapy As “Assisted” Mindfulness

By April Hadley, MSW

Horse blindersA few years ago, I took a ride with my family in a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park. If you have ever had this experience, you may have noticed the “blinders” the horses wear to cover a portion of their eyes. Blinders are small, square pieces of leather designed to block out some of the horse’s peripheral vision. They help the horse stay focused and not spook as easily, which supports their ability to safely navigate the pathways of the park.

Much like the horses of Central Park, we put on “blinders” of our own in order to safely navigate our lives. Although the word “blinders” has a negative connotation, they are not necessarily bad. In fact, they are often an outward expression of our innate creativity and wisdom as we learn how to manage the challenges life brings our way. Our blinders become integral to the way we organize and manage our moment to moment experience.

We begin to put on our human blinders at a young age in the form of habits, actions, beliefs, and perceptions about the world. It may seem counterintuitive but our blinders often show up in our bodies in subtle and not so subtle ways.

Pause for a moment and notice your body. Is there a familiar way you sit? Hold your head? Your jaw? Your hands? Shape your chest? Do you regularly hold your breath?

As I type this sentence, my left leg is crossed over my right leg and my left foot is hooked behind my right calf. This posture feels familiar to me. In fact, I often find myself sitting in a posture that feels like I am protecting myself in some way. It is something I can be curious about as I go through my day because it may be a clue to one of my blinders.

Our blinders become an integral part of who we are. We tend to forget we are wearing them until experiences in our life challenge their usefulness. When this happens, we may begin to feel like something is just out of view or like we are “missing” something. We may sense that it is time to try a new way of being in the world but our blinders may prevent us from seeing clearly and exploring new options.

My blinders are part of the reason I began practicing mindfulness 8 years ago. I wanted to see my life more clearly. Mindfulness has been and continues to be a powerful tool to help me see my own blinders and to understand whether they are helping or hindering me.

A couple of years ago, I began to sense there were some blinders that were so deeply a part of my subconscious that I could not “see” them on my own. I sensed that I needed some support. I made the decision to return to individual therapy. My therapist can see things from the outside looking in that I cannot see from the inside looking out.

I now consider my weekly therapy appointment to be an integral part of my mindfulness practice. I think of it as “assisted” mindfulness. Perhaps you already experience this type of assistance through a relationship with a close friend or spouse or your own therapeutic process.

This support and assistance is so beautifully conveyed in a story about the Buddha’s disciple and long-time friend, Ananda. After a long period of practice, Ananda had an epiphany about relationships. He ran to the Buddha and exclaimed, “This friendship is no less than half of the spiritual life!” To which the Buddha responded, “No, Ananda. It is the whole of the spiritual life.”

Although mindfulness is often experienced in a solitary way, support is a vital part of this human journey into wholeness and clarity.

To this end, I am excited to begin offering Hakomi Therapy through the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness. Hakomi is a form of mindfulness-based psychotherapy. It is a creative and elegant system in which the client and therapist work together to create an environment that allows for the study of the “blinders” we all wear in life. Our blinders do not have to be thrown off in some harsh manner. Hakomi is a gentle and honoring approach. As we study our blinders we can decide if they help us or if new ways of being are called for in order to safely navigate the streets of our own lives.

If you are interested in learning more about Hakomi, please contact me at April@grcfm.com or visit The Hakomi Institute to read more.