DBT GROUP NOTES: PARTICIPATE AND THE ART OF TAKING ACTION

MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness is a wonderful tool for shifting awareness out of your ruminating mind and into the environment around you. One of the simplest ways of doing that is using the Five Senses. This mediation known as the “5,4,3,2,1” meditation simply invites you to count 5 things you can see around you, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

This mindfulness practice can be particularly effective to combat dissociation.

THE ART OF TAKING ACTION BY GREGG KRECH

Often anxiety and overwhelming sensitivity to negative stimuli can immobilize us from taking action. How do we over come that?

Much of “the Art of Taking Action” by Gregg Krech addresses this problem. With guidance for shifting perspective and changing habits, Krech’s book provides a wealth of tools for “how” to Participate fully in life. He draws on Japanese Psychology to present remedies for procrastination and strategies for meaningful action.

SHIFTING ATTENTION

Gregg Krech recommends training yourself to shift your attention outward, and cautions against constant self-examination. He even criticizes western therapy for reinforcing this exquisite sensitivity to our own experience rather than helping clients escape the “prison of self-awareness”.

Hence for our mindfulness activity, we used a grounding technique that takes the focus outward into the present experience. The 5,4, 3, 2, 1 meditation can be used whenever your internal life starts to overwhelm you.

THE PRISON OF SELF-FOCUSED ATTENTION

Gregg recommends using several mindfulness strategies to pull ones attention outward. This video is enormously insightful.

Gregg Krech’s video illustrates the problem with too much self-focused attention. It is well worth the ten minute viewing.
(Just a trigger warning: Gregg briefly discusses women who are victims of violence. If you choose to watch the video, I urge you to take his words in context. I believe that he is not victim blaming, but rather just presenting information from a study. Information which is worth considering. If this brings anything up for you please feel free to share in the comments.)

PAUSE FOR REFLECTION

As you consider the following questions, it may be helpful to jot down your thoughts and reactions in your notes. Or feel free to respond to the questions in the comment section below.

1 . How do you feel about “The prison of self-focused attention” video?

2. Are we torturing ourselves with endless consideration of “my disappointments, my feelings, my problems, my aches and pains, my comfort, my convenience, my expectations?”

3. Does it sound refreshing for your mind to be occupied with anything other than “me, me, me”? or does this idea feel invalidating?

4. Its true that we spend so much time in therapy looking for support for all of the problems of “me”. Is there a dialectic here that we can explore? Is it possible that both things are true? That we spend too much time in therapy reinforcing a perpetual, painful search for insight and self-examination, venting and searching for validation? Can it also be true that we need a place to speak these things out loud–rather than having them constantly rattle around in our brains? That we do need external validation?

5. Can it be true that self-examination can be both problematic and helpful?

6. How can the Participate Skill release you from your cocoon?

7. What activities do you engage in that shift your focus outward?

IDEAS FOR PRACTICING SHIFTING ATTENTION OUTWARD

Gregg Krech suggests “activities that focus the mind on a new task naturally help shift your attention. You’ll find psychological relief, live more in the moment and discover greater joy in all your activities.”

MORE IDEAS FROM THE ART OF TAKING ACTION

I Get To

“Any time you begin to say ‘I should’ or ‘I have to’ try replacing it with ‘I get to’.

This simple word substitution prompts a far different mindset, “I have to go pick up the kids” becomes “I get to go pick up my kids”. Consider what that means: I get the chance to check in with some of their teachers. I get to say hello to friends in the parking lot. I get to see my children’s faces filled with the stories of the day. I get to enter the beautiful building taxpayers have created for families just like mine. How fortunate I am to get to have kids. With a turn of phrase I can notice a Naikan-like sense of appreciation shift in the balance in my everyday life.” (more about Naikan next week).

….What might you ‘get to’ do today?”

Gregg krech, the art of taking action page 126

Take a moment to reflect on your current life and all of your list of “I have to”. What does it feel like to shift each one to “I get to”?

In DBT we talk about balancing Wants and Shoulds. A life of having to attend to too many demands and not enough wants can lead to resentment and exhaustion. A life of preoccupation with wants and not enough attention to demands can cause problems in relationships and lifestyle. Netflix is a want, homework is usually a demand.

The idea of shifting demands into wants with this trick of language is a potent way to remove one barrier to action. Its so much easier to use the participate skill when you feel that you “Get To”.

Taking Action in the Midst of Sadness

“Hold the sadness and pain of samsara (the eternal cycle of life, suffering and death) in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the great eastern sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.” Chogyam Trungpa

The first thing we must be do is be willing to hold our pain and sadness in our heart. Most of us do this, but not skillfully enough. We are in touch with the disappointment of not getting a promotion, the frustration of our child’s drug addiction, or even the gloom that comes from watching the news of all the violence and harm being done in the world. ….Think about how you usually respond to the feeling of sadness or depression. You want to get rid of it. You want to avoid it. You want to make it go away…We want to fix our feelings. This is different than holding our experience in our heart. We meet our sadness with tenderness. We meet our pain with warmth and openness.

The second element of Trugnpa’s advice is to hold the power and vision of the great eastern sun in our heart at the same time. Now this is tricky–what is the great eastern sun anyway? …it represents a combination of wisdom and discipline. It is about moving forward. It is about waking up to your life. The great eastern sun…is cheerful, illuminating and carries the quality of non-aggression. So we are asked to hold on to this vision and experience even as we hold on to our sadness and pain. Is this possible? Can we hold two seemingly opposing views in our heart simultaneously? Try it and see if you can do it.

There is one final step in Trungpa’s advice: make a proper cup of tea. Up to this point, everything is about meditation and contemplation. But Trungpa wants us to take action. He wants us to get up and live our life. What is there to do? Make a cup of tea? Feed the birds? Plan a trip to visit your mother or write a letter to your senator? our heart is filled with both sadness and joy. And we take that heart with us as we act. We move forward with our life and with the awareness that our life (everyone’s life) is a bundle of pain and joy.

Gregg krech, the art of taking action, p 141-145

Gregg presents to us the central dialectic of taking action in the midst of depression, anxiety, sorrow–all of the emotions that drown us and pull us away from action. That we can hold those in our hearts, while attending to the business of life. Both things co-existing.

To be clear–these things are NOT easy to do! Its a toggling of the mind again and again. Using mindful awareness to see the dialectic and hold both mind-states simultaneously while taking action.

Reflect for a moment on your life, notice how when you have been able to do all of these things at once, feel your sadness and tenderly bring it with you as you attend to the tasks at hand? Perhaps initially you think you haven’t been able to do that. Look again. I am certain that you have.

Your task is to bring that mindful awareness of bringing the sadness with you, while you throw yourself into the participate skill and release from its bonds.

HOMEWORK

1 . Practice! Practice! Practice! Use the Mindfulness bell, the Get the Blues and 5,4,3,2,1. To practice shifting your attention.

2. Replace your “I have to’s” with ” I get to’s”

3.Hold both your sadness and your ability to move forward mindfully as you go through your days.

4. If you have a chance, please do look through the Art of Taking Action and select passages and sections with titles that speak to you.

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Diana is a licensed professional counselor based in Nashville. She has been teaching DBT skills for the last ten years after writing her master's thesis about making DBT skills training interesting and engaging. She loves using story telling to help illustrate how skills can be used.

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