I will briefly explain the reasons why we use mindfulness training. It is all about how we process information in daily life and how we can change the process of this information, rather than trying to change the content of the information.
In daily life we experience many different situations. Sometimes they arise all at once or one after another. You experience situations internally or externally. Internally you may feel bloating in your stomach; perhaps it is a symptom of the eating disorder. Externally it may be a cold and windy. How do you know that? Your senses make you to know that. If it’s cold, well certainly you can feel it, perhaps you can hear the wind, see it, or smell it.
If it is internal, you feel the heaviness inside the body which is called interoception, feeling internally something is happening.
This component of how we process information is called sensory perception. As soon as you feel a situation, very rapidly, in a matter of a few milliseconds, it is evaluated by your brain so that you can make sense of the world, recognize things in the world. You put it in a certain category and evaluate it as good or bad, useful or not, white or black. Cold wind becomes wind, not just air blowing from the side.
Also, we instantly judge the situation. As soon as it is categorized it is not just cold wind, it is: “Oh no, this is a terrible weather. It is so cold and windy that I can’t go for my daily walk.”
See now the difference between that interpretation and someone who has lived in a hot climate for some time and missed crispy cold weather. The crispy cold weather is perceived, categorized as something he missed, and straight away judged as a blessing. “This is a crispy cold day, something what I missed for many months.” The same situation for the two different people will produce very different experiences. The first sign of which occurs within the body.
If one is not mindful, these experiences in the body are not known. They are not perceived, therefore not appraised and dealt with, not taken into account. Mindfulness training enables the mind to feel body sensations, even subtle ones, then as soon as I say: “This is a terrible weather.”, then I may feel unpleasant sensations in my stomach, throat, perhaps in the back, tension in the shoulders, and I will also be aware that I will react to these, and not to the cold weather.
The cold weather is not an experience for you. Your sensations in the body are. Therefore your reaction is always to the body sensations which results from your interpretation of the weather. What produces the reaction is the habit of reacting to body sensations which are the result of thoughts, judgmental thoughts.
How often have you been in situations where you perceived yourself as lonely, betrayed, unloved, unworthy, powerless and bad? How did you know that you felt this way? In fact you thought, your body told you that. You felt lump in your throat, tighten stomach, tension in your back, neck and shoulders. Where these sensations come from? – they arise as a result from your thoughts, your evaluation of the situations as good or bad.
Your habitual response is to categorise many life situations as bad and consequently your body react to them as danger, bad or embarrassment.
But if you categorise the same life situations as neutral – then your body response will be neutral : the body feels fine and works on the safe mode. Why it is important to develop a neutral response? And mindfulness is all about neutrality – not just about positivity and negativity. Why is that?
The answer is that if we experience pleasant sensations, the tendency of our mind will be to crave for more of these. If they are unpleasant, the tendency of the mind will be to develop aversion, disgust towards these sensations. And you will want to either avoid feeling these sensations, distract your mind, or experience them with different reactive patterns such as more judgment. If your reaction leads you to feel a bit better, either because you had a drink, or ate, or had a smoke, then you feel a bit relieved.
The next time such a problem arises, you will use the same method of coping. This is called reinforcement. Your behaviour will be reinforced. Your coping mechanism, however useful or not useful will be reinforced. The same process of reinforcement occurred when you developed an eating disorder. Using food to compensate for pleasurable emotions was reinforced and then, it became a habit, then obsession.