Core Mindfulness – Part one (Emotion, Reasonable & Wise Mind)

I’m not entirely sure how many ‘parts’ there will be to this blog post, but I have started to learn about the concept of Core Mindfulness and believe the best way for me to really understand it is to write about it, and hopefully writing it in a way which will allow others to understand will benefit both myself and you guys too.

From DBT Help; The central concept of DBT is mindfulness. The concept of mindfulness comes from both Western and especially Eastern (Zen) meditation and spiritual practices. Mindfulness means being in the present, being aware of what is happening and what you are doing, observing what is going on, participating fully in what is going on around you. It is a skill that is practiced and learned throughout DBT, little bit by little bit.  By learning to live in the present, you can have a life that is more in tune with your feelings and your activities.

So I will start at the very beginning, with some very basic principles;

Within Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), it is assumed that the mind can be in one of three states;

1) Emotion Mind – a state where our thoughts and behaviour are controlled by our emotion. Emotion mind is passionate, it is irresponsible, it is impulsive. Being in emotion mind causes us to ‘act how we feel’ and can affect us physically (anger can make us pumped full of adrenaline, depression can make us fatigued). The consequences of actions are not  considered and self destuctive behaviours are common as behaviour is carried out in the ‘heat of the moment’.

Examples of Emotion Mind:

  • Crimes of passion where someone will murder someone they love very much due to intense rage, jealousy or hurt
  • A mother running into a burning building to find her child – with no thought to the danger to herself
  • Having an argument or a fight
  • Walking past a tattoo shop then deciding to go in to get someones name put on you arm
  • Self harming
  • Making love *See point about how emotion mind can be a good thing
  • Using credit cards or overdrafts because you want to go on a shopping spree

2) Reasonable Mind – a state where our thoughts are logical and rational. Things are well thought out and consequences are evaluated before action is taken, and action is based on fact and experience. Reasonable mind is scientific, whereas emotion mind is  not.

Reasonable mind is used when learning, working, creating and is much easier to use when you are sober, not stressed, well rested and not anxious.

Examples of Reasonable Mind:

  • Before eating a large unhealthy meal, being able to think logically about the effect that a large intake of food would have on me; it would cause me to either a) Put on weight and feel bad about myself or b) Trigger a bulimic episode. Being able to consider the consequences of the behaviour and then act accordingly (Perhaps eating a less unhealthy meal or small portion size) would indicate that I was in reasonable mind.
  • Planning a journey rather than just going, and getting lost
  • Doing a weekly food shop and planning each meal for each day, and selecting the ingredients, rather than looking round and buying what you see
  • Looking up information instead of making guesses

It could be easy to think life would be a lot easier if we could use reasonable mind and forget about emotion mind altogether as a lot of our destructive behaviours occur during emotion mind. However, Emotion mind allows us to feel empathy, to love, to be loved; and without it life for me would not be a life I would want to live.

The ultimate goal is to find a place where both emotion mind and reasonable mind are used, this is known as Wise Mind.

3) Wise Mind – Wise mind is the state which is a combination of Emotion Mind and Reasonable Mind.

Marsha Linehan states: “Wise mind is that part of each person that can know and experience truth. It is where the person knows something to be true or valid. It is almost always quiet, It has a certain peace. It is where the person knows something in a centered way.”

Picture copyright to The Dandelion Girl (Go check out her blog, it’s fantastic)

A useful metaphor that I have seen used to describe Wise Mind is as follows;

‘Wise mind is like a deep well in the ground. The water at the bottom of the well, the entire underground ocean is wise mind. But on the way down there are often trap doors that impede progress. Sometimes the trap doors are so cleverly built that you believe there is no water at the bottom of the well. The trap door may look like the bottom of the well. Perhaps it is locked and you need a key. Perhaps it is nailed shut and you need a hammer, or it is glued shut and you need a chisel.”

So what does ‘Wise Mind’ feel like? What does it actually mean and how do I know when I am in it?

  • Wise mind can be described as an ‘aha!’ moment, where things seem to fall into place.
  • The logic of Reasonable Mind and the passion of Emotion Mind are combined to create a sense of peace and knowledge that you are doing the right thing by your own mind, and by your emotions – this is known an intuition
  • Being in wise mind is also known as being skillfull
  • Some people ‘feel’ wise mind in their stomach, in their chest or between their eyes; they describe it as a sense of calm, a sense that they just know they are doing the right thing.
  • Wise mind takes into account logical thinking and emotions (and doesn’t let either overtake or overshadow the other). It then adds something more – a sense of calmness and wisdom (intuition).
  • Sometimes wise mind is experienced after a crisis – similar to the feeling of the calm after the storm
  • Sometimes wise mind is the moment when everything becomes clear and you understand – similar to working out an algebra equation, when after hours of trying, ‘you finally understand it and end up with the correct answer’
  • Wise mind is a ‘gut feeling’

Wise mind is not only the sum of Emotion and Reasonable mind; when these two states are combined they create intuition. Intuition to me, means understanding the truth about someone, something or an event, without actually thinking about it; you just feel it. (Don’t confuse emotion mind with intuition – this happens sometimes). Intuition comes from experience, but with emotion and reason too and allows you to feel when you are doing the right thing for any given situation.

Picture copyright to The Dandelion Girl (Go check out her blog, it’s fantastic)

Wiki Books says; “As you use your skills, you learn to act intuitively out of Wise Mind. Wise Mind is similar to intuition (or, perhaps, intuition is similar to Wise Mind). Acting intuitively out of Wise Mind, you trust that you know beyond what you think and feel. This takes flexibility, imagination, and open-mindedness. Awareness, in general, nurtures Wise Mind. Polarized thinking and a rigid worldview interfere with Wise Mind.”


Some practice exercises to help find Wise Mind, courtesy of Mindfulness (links following take you to this blog)

(1) Focus on Your Breath

Take a moment to settle yourself into a comfortable meditative position.  Breathe in and out, drawing your conscious attention to your breath as it fills and leaves your lungs.  Allow your attention to shift towards your center, settling yourself into the bottom of each breath.  Now focus your mindful awareness towards the center of your forehead (your third eye) as you settle into the top of each breath.  Notice how you can consciously control your attention as you focus on the top and bottom of each breath.

(2) Drop Into the Pauses

As you engage in mindful breathing, allowing yourself to notice the “pause” after each inhalation and each exhalation.  This pause is much like the still space that exists when leaping between trapeze bars.  Notice the stillness within each pause.  Allow yourself to find awareness in the pauses at the top and bottom of each breath. Settle in to each pause and find stillness within.

(3) Stone Flake on a Lake

To engage in this visualization exercise, imagine that you are seated next to a crystal clear lake on a beautiful sunny day.  Imagine that you are a small flake of stone, chipped from a much larger rock, that someone has gently thrown out into the center of the lake.  You are gently floating there on the placid surface of the still water. Now you begin to gently and slowly float downward in the cool water toward the smooth, sandy bottom of the lake.  Notice the look and feel of the water as you gently float to the bottom.  Notice the feel of the smooth sand as you lightly rest upon it.  Become aware of the peace and serenity at the bottom of the lake.  This deep stillness and serenity is the calm center of yourself.  Allow your attention to settle into this calm centered place within.

(4) Breathe “Wise” In, Breathe “Mind” Out

This exercise is particularly helpful if you feel stuck in emotion mind and are feeling overwhelmed.  In these moments, it may be difficult to focus your attention on a longer visualization exercise.  At times like this, simply notice that you are feeling intense emotions and begin to direct your focus toward your breath.  As you pull the air into your lungs, say the word “wise” in your mind.  As the air leaves your lungs, say the word “mind” to yourself. The idea is to focus your attention entirely on these words as you breathe in and out to begin to settle yourself back into a place of calmness and wisdom.

(5) Is this “Wise Mind?”

Many of us often know that we are doing or saying something that is not in our best interest, but for some reason we do it anyway.  This can happen for a wide variety of reasons, such as directing passive aggression toward the self or choosing self-sabotaging behavior.  If you find yourself experiencing even the slightest sense that you are about to do or are doing something that you will later regret, notice this and pause.  As you pause, take a slow breath in and ask yourself, “Is this (action, thought, etc.) wise mind?”  Listen for the answer… don’t tell yourself the answer.  Allow it to arise naturally within.  Pause, breathe, and notice what answer presents itself to you. Now, it is up to you whether or not to do what wise mind knows is best.

Useful Links:

Wise Mind; Experiencing Integration & Intuition

Linehan, M; Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder

Linehan, M; Skills Training Manual for Borderline Personality Disorder

Wiki Books – Open Books for an Open World

DBT Self Help –

The Dandelion Girl – The Dandelion Girl (Go check out her blog, it’s fantastic)

Mindfulness Muse –



  1. […] moving on from the states of mind discussed in Part one, I will now move on to the skills taught in the core mindfulness module. All these skills, when […]

  2. […] I have pretty much covered all the parts of the Core Mindfulness Module, in Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four & finally Part five. Core mindfulness, I am beginning to […]

  3. […] Core Mindfulness — Part One (Emotion, Reasonable, and Wise Mind) from Living with BPD […]

  4. […] Emotional flooding is a term used by John Gottman to describe when emotions overpower a person’s ability to reason. When a person is angry or upset, their heart rate increases. In studies, Gottman found that if the heart rate goes over 85 beats a minute, the person doesn’t hear accurately and doesn’t think or behave rationally. In DBT, Marcia Linehan refers to emotional flooding as being in emotion mind. […]

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