As an occupational therapist (OT), I have spent the last 10 years becoming an expert in “doing”. Essentially, my job is to find out what people want to be able to do, but can’t because of disability, and help them find ways to do these things. This is driven by a core concept within the OT profession: that quality of life is at its best when people have the ability to independently do the things that are most meaningful to them as individuals. Dressing, bathing, cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, studying, taking the kids to the park, working – the list of things to “do” is endless.
Since I’ve begun to use mindfulness in my clinical practice, I’ve often thought: how does an OT, so focused on helping people to “do”, end up promoting the activities of “non-doing” which are so valued in mindfulness practice? As a health care professional offering mindfulness training, I’m encouraging people to sit and be rather than get up and do. What initially seems like a contradiction to my OT practice is actually a very nice complement for two reasons.
First of all, I view mindfulness meditation as an important self-care activity in and of itself. This act of “non-doing” can be seen as a type of activity (not unlike physical exercise) which can be engaged in to take care of self and promote good health. We’ve all heard of the multitude of health benefits that can come from mindfulness meditation practice: less pain, decreased anxiety, improved mood, better immunity, blood pressure stabilization, sleep improvements, better attention – as a student of mindfulness research the list seems endless. As an OT, it makes tremendous sense to present mindfulness meditation as an important self-care activity and offer training on how to practice as a way of enabling clients to independently take care of their “self” and their health.
Secondly, it is clear to me that mindfulness meditation is so much more that an activity of self-care – it can become a way of being that supports increased activity in all areas of life. With consistent mindfulness practice, I’ve seen clients be better able to engage in so many of the other things that are important in life – pursuing old or new hobbies, increased productivity at work or school, taking care of the house, feeling more capable of handling relationships – again, the list seems endless. It is as if mindfulness practice becomes a catalyst for improving activity engagement in other areas of life, making it easier to do all of the other things we need to do or enjoy doing. To me, it seems very much like finding a way to increase ability and decrease disability – something that is integral to the practice of occupational therapy.
So, in a society, and a profession, that values “doing”, it seems incredibly worthwhile to embrace the “non-doing” aspects of mindfulness meditation as a way of engaging in good self-care and lessening the overall impact of disability.
Photo by Marija, Alumni