Fight or Dance: You get to choose!

Shauna Shapiro and her colleagues (reference below) wrote about the mechanisms of mindfulness and highlighted "reperceiving" as a fundamental shift in perspective that arises out of the practice of mindfulness. This is not just an interesting theoretical point, it has real consequences.

Consider the case of a patient suffering from chronic pain who learns, through the practice of mindfulness, that his “awareness of pain is not actually in pain”. This reperceiving of what was previously a very personal and self-identified experience affords the patient, in an instant, a whole range of possible behavioral and attitudinal responses to the pain that he cannot directly control. These responses may include some degree of acceptance, accommodation or creative responding that can be characterized as psychological flexibility.

This shift was highlighted with remarkable clarity by a participant in MBSR who had significant amounts of chronic pain, and had suffered with it for many years. This experience led to depression, anxiety and frequent suicidal thoughts when he encountered reminders of the likelihood that his pain would never go away. One day in psychotherapy after completing the MBSR class he noted “I’ve always been a fighter. I wrestled, I played football (and often played hurt), I became successful in business by being tough and competitive, and when I got injured and the pain persisted after multiple surgeries, I fought with the pain too. After taking the class and practicing meditation, I found that instead of fighting with my pain, I could dance with it. That’s huge!” Thus, in a simple but fundamental act of reperceiving (described as “an orthogonal rotation in consciousness” by Kabat-Zinn), this man was able to discover an option that had always been available to him but completely lost in his focus solely upon the pain itself. The profound possibilities inherent in that reperceiving (e.g. dancing rather than fighting with pain) forms a foundation for the type of fundamental changes and transformations that people experience through mindfulness practice.

What are you fighting with and could you consider dancing with it instead?

Shapiro, S. L., Carlson, L. E., Astin, J. A., & Freedman, B. (2006). Mechanisms of mindfulness. J Clin Psychol, 62(3), 373-386


About the Author

Steve Hickman

Dr. Steven Hickman, Executive Director of CMSC and Director of Professional Training, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and is an Associate Clinical Professor in the UC San Diego Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine & Public Health. Dr. Hickman is the Founder and Executive Director of the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, a program of community building, clinical care, professional training and research. Steve has taught Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for 15 years and has trained teachers of MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and, more recently MSC as well.Having witnessed the transformation that is possible out of the practice of self-compassion, he has re-dedicated himself to the dissemination of MSC as one important way that we can relieve suffering everywhere and improve the quality of our world. He is married and has three grown children, affording him ample opportunities to practice what he teaches.