Taking Refuge in “Big Sky Mind” — Feelings Are Facts, Not Problems

main_ACTMadeSimple_3dbooksRuss Harris, author of ACT Made Simple: An Easy-To-Read Primer on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, notes that “virtually every addiction known to mankind begins as an attempt to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings, such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety, depression and so on.”

When it comes to feelings, ACT therapists take a radical approach: they refuse to label any feeling as a problem. They also have little interest in reducing symptoms.

Instead, ACT is based on mindfulness — moment-to-moment, non-judging awareness. With mindfulness, we fully accept and permit any feeling.

In ACT, Mindfulness is described with analogies, including the following.

Big sky mind

In this analogy, conscious awareness is compared to the sky and thoughts and feelings to soft, wispy clouds that arise and pass away. Even violent storm clouds (distressing feelings) eventually disappear.

Space

Consider the space in a room. It allows people to enter and leave the room. Those people laugh, cry, or scream at each other. No matter what happens in the room, the space remains unaffected. In the same way, awareness remains unstained by any thought or feeling.

Game board

Intense battles unfold on the squares of a chess, checkers, or Monopoly board. Yet all the battles eventually come to an end. The pieces are picked up, and the players disperse. The game board acts as a container for conflict but remains essentially unaffected by it.

“What if you are the board on which this game was being played?” asks Steven Hayes in his book Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life. “What if you aren’t defined by your pain, but rather you are the conscious container for it?”

For more on this topic, see Harris’s wonderful article Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (PDF).