In the fast-paced life that we have today, we are pressed to make spontaneous decisions all the time from choosing to study or to surf social media, to deciding whether we like something or not, to making up our mind to quit your job or not, or you name it. With so many choices that we have to make each day, it doesn’t feel like conscious decision making anymore. Some decisions are made so reactively and impulsively that at times we wonder how we ended up doing what we are doing. Worse even, we sometimes do exactly the opposite of what we wanted to do. Does it sound familiar?
In DBT, we try to find the state of mind that allows us to choose an effective way to handle the situation at hand and make conscious decision to behave in certain ways in light of our long-term goals in life rather than short-lived satisfactions. We call it Wise Mind and we seek this inner wisdom by practicing mindfulness.
Wise Mind is an idea that DBT adapted from the Eastern Philosophy that we are born with innate goodness. By being born, we become a part of the society and the universe that share the same destiny. The goodness in us would naturally want to do what is good for all the existence because without it, we cannot co-exit. In other words, our individual goals must be in line with those of humanity.
What would everyday life with Wise Mind look like concretely? Wise Mind will inform us when we are about to make a decision that we would eventually regret and encourage us to rethink. Wise Mind reminds us not to do any harm to ourselves and others. Wise Mind brings out kindness and compassion in us. Wise Mind does not use conflict and competition to solve problems. Wise Mind allows us to see the reality as it is as oppose to the way we want to see it.
Does it sound wishy washy, wacky or New Agey? I felt like all of those in my teenage years, 20s and 30s myself.
When we are young and feel “calmness” means boredom, and “kindness and compassion” mean weakness, Wise Mind sounds like a proposition to give up on all excitement in your social life, so no way.
When we are experiencing emotional roller coaster and our life feels very volatile, Wise Mind sounds like a joke or an unthinkable proposition. We might sigh and say, “Oh, if that was possible, I wouldn’t be here in the first place,” or “I wish it was that simple.”
For those of us who are on top of our life, Wise Mind sounds like a back-handed compliment, or guilt trip. Not competing with others, not wanting to win the game, or not wanting to have more, go against the whole principle of capitalism. Are ambition, improvement and convenience all bad? Well, ignore Wise Mind, your inner voice might say.
Yes, I was skeptical. Starting the practice of mindfulness was VERY difficult. How do I even find the motivation to get into it? I chewed on the idea for a long time and didn't do anything for even a longer time. And I just made up my mind that I would do it. I think there are three important assumptions that helped me start (finally!) and continue the journey. Here are the assumptions. I can't prove them, but I decided to abide by it anyway.
First assumption: It's possible that I have it.
Even though I could agree totally with the idea of innate goodness in general, it was still difficult to say that I was also good. There are bunch of things that I’ve done in the past that I’m not proud of. I see day in and day out the ugly side of me. But for the sake of practice, I decided to give it a benefit of the doubt. “I could be a good person" didn't sink in. So, I settled with "It's possible that I have it." ("it" means innate goodness, of course.)
Second assumption: It's like treasure hunting.
I want to find it, and I will do everything to find it, but I will be extremely lucky if I found it. It’s also like finding a hidden pleasant place when you are lost. I thought I wouldn’t get disappointed if I tell myself that it’s OK to get lost and arrive at a totally different result.
Third assumption: Wise Mind is showing me the contradictions.
Whenever I feel contradictions and opposing forces in life, I used to think that it is almost impossible to imagine that they could co-exist, and this thought was one big factor preventing me from starting. I decided to turn the table and look at it from the other side. I decided that contradictions are the indication of Wise Mind. Yet without Wise Mind, we would probably not even see the contradictions. We pick one of the elements and be totally oblivious of the other. Instead of judging myself not being able to mobilize my Wise Mind, I decided to think that invisible Wise Mind is letting me see the contradictions.
With these three assumptions, I’ve been doing my daily practice of mindfulness. (I’ll talk about mindfulness practice some other time.) It isn’t easy to find this innate goodness and call upon it when I need it. There are moments I say to myself, "I've been doing this and have I changed at all????"
Over the course of my life, my goodness becomes covered by acquired qualities such as desire and ambition to have more, to do better than others, to do everything faster and more easily, etc. Because the goodness was invisible to me for so long, all my decisions were made using the outer layers as indicators. I’m not totally there yet, but at least, I became good at asking myself what I might be missing, and catching myself when I am making decisions without looking at all aspects.
I also realized that “doing something” had been such a big image that I created for myself. Doing nothing felt like a sin. As I practiced to do nothing and just allow myself to be, my relationship with "not doing anything" probably changed a little bit. It doesn't feel like a waste of time and air any more. I don't feel like I'm missing something. Being is also doing, I began to think.
As an extension of the realization that being and doing are not so different, I realized many other things that I had a polarized view; “emotion or reason,” “thinking or doing,” “love or indifference,” “fight or flight,” “money or values,” “work or family,” “freedom or responsibility,” etc. The list goes on. When we do this, our choice of behaviors tends to be black and white, or all or nothing. The end result, I realized, is that we are never sure if we made the right choice.
Strangely, even without finding my Wise Mind, believing that I probably have it has done good to me. Subjectively, I’m kinder to myself now than when I negated my capacity to be good. When I tell myself that I have innate capacity to be good and do good, I am more willing to be easy going and accepting. I try less to frantically change things or do whatever.
DBT posits mindfulness practice of finding Wise Mind as CORE of the therapeutic journey, and now I understand why. I hope you give it a try to find your Wise Mind however doubtful you may be!