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What is Mindfulness?
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What is Mindfulness?

‘Mindfulness’ is an ancient type of meditation found in a wide range of Eastern philosophies, including Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism and Yoga. The word mindfulness is currently used to describe a process, a skill and a philosophy of living that encourages the cultivation of wisdom, insight and happiness. Mindfulness involves choosing to pay attention, with kindness, acceptance and curiosity to what ever is happening right now, within and without.

I gained an understanding for the first time that mindfulness offers a powerful form of insight not available through cognitive reflection and self-analysis- MBCT Course participant

Key Benefits of Mindfulness Training

For the professional
• Evidence-based, deep level learning
• Simple yet important tools
• Perspective shift, insight into action
• Rejuvenating, preventing burnout
• Taught by registered APS Psychologist

For the client
• Soften the inner dialogue and chatter
• Concrete tools for use at any time
• Break thought and behaviour patterns
• Experience clarity of mind and body
• Increase capacity for self-soothing
• Feel more in control, confident and happy

What is the aim of Mindfulness?

Sometimes people think the aim of mindfulness is to be calm or relaxed in every moment. Mindfulness is about paying attention and remembering the patterns or habits you see. While one of the benefits of mindfulness is the cultivation of calm, the purpose is more about insight.

Insight
Insight requires time and perspective. Mindfulness meditation gives us a way to develop both. Just as the grandmother stays calm and smiles knowingly even when the parent is fretting about their child’s current phase of behaviour. The grandmother has the perspective of time and many experiences. She remembers the ebb and flow of that which has come before and knows what the possibilities are, and when and how to act, and when to just watch.

Mindfulness then is not so much about staying calm, but how you respond when you lose your calm! At critical moments you do things naturally, and it is what you do naturally in those critical moments that counts.

The paradox of happiness
The paradox of happiness is that the more happiness, clarity, calm and kindness you have, the more opportunities you have to lose it. Do you respond in a way that improves things, or do you react in a way that makes things worse?

In mindfulness meditation you learn to stay present and pay attention to what is happening whether you like it, don’t like it, or are confused about it. You increase your tolerance for seeing the unpleasant – neither identifying with it, nor running from it, and in so doing you come to notice the patterns of your mind and behaviour and can respond with choice rather than habit.

Kindness and discipline
We learn to bring kindness to bear on that which arises, even the thoughts and behaviours and feelings we don’t like such as our boredom with the practice, or anger at a loved one. We also bring discipline to bear in order skilfully move us in the direction of more awareness and wiser living. In the end we see that kindness and discipline support each other.

For the very true beginning of wisdom is the desire of discipline; and the care of discipline is love. - The Wisdom of Solomon, 6:17

How does mindfulness work?

The greatest gift we can give to another is to be fully present with them, and the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to be fully present with ourselves. Often we are interpreting ourselves through this philosophy or that, seeing our selves through one lens or another, measuring and comparing ourselves with some idea of who we do or don’t want to be, some idea of what we do or don’t want in the future, and of experiences in the past that we either want to relive, or avoid forever.

Amongst all of this we often lose sight of what it means to simply be present with ourselves, in those subtle and yet powerful sensory levels. We are aware of our thinking, we know what we think we want to do, we just may not be with our experience, and therefore we may not have all the information we need to make wise decisions. And so in mindfulness meditation we learn to simply be present.

The mind as one of six senses
From the Buddhist perspective, there are six senses, not five. The sixth sense is mind. In the west we often times emphasise the information from the mind to the exclusion of the other senses. This creates imbalance. However when you see your mind as a sense organ you can recognize the full spectrum of its functioning, from thinking and feeling and sensing to non-conceptual knowing. You can see the interplay between the mind and the other sense organs. The mind informs all the other senses bringing them to life, just as the other senses bring the mind to life. You have the opportunity to know yourself deeply as an individual, as member of a family or group, and as a species, and to live and act in the world in ways that contribute to its fullness and beauty.

Mindfulness meditation cultivates a rebalancing, a moving our awareness, the focus of our attention, to our sensory experience and away from our thinking. We all have experiences of mindfulness during daily life, and we know it when we lose it. If you were out on the cricket pitch seeing a ball come to you, your focus is on the ball, on the ball, on the ball, then all of a sudden, if your mind starts thinking about what could go wrong, or remembering the last one you dropped, or thinking about how embarrassing it will be if you drop this one, or how wonderful it will be if you catch it and become the star of the match… what happens? You drop the ball. You drop the ball because the focus of your attention went from your sensory experience of looking at the ball, to your chatting mind as if you were looking straight at the chatter box of your mind.

Mindfulness meditation teaches us to pay attention to where our focus is, how it moves, what happens when it moves, and how we choose where it is. This cultivates an experience of presence.

Presence
We hear all about the value of presence, we know the experience when we have it, and we don’t always know how to re engage with that state. Presence is not always about being happy. If I am grieving the loss of a loved one, I do not want to feel happy, yet I can be loving and joyfully present to my experience of deep sadness.

Mindfulness cultivates the experience of presence, invites us to become familiar with it, recognise it when it is there, know how to cultivate it when it is not.

Different types of meditation
Mindfulness meditation is different to calm abiding mediation. People seek meditation for a range of reasons, mostly to calm themselves, open up to creativity, increase flexibility of mind, to generate balance, open up intuition, for healing, intellectual curiosity, and for some it is more of a spiritual journey. But the most fundamental reason is to calm and steady the mind, to gain focus and peace of mind: to live in the present.

Where does mindfulness meditation go, lead to?

With mindfulness, there is no destination, but rather a direction we move toward with signposts along the way. Sometimes we need to cultivate more depth, or breadth. Sometimes we need to cultivate more awareness of subtle detail, or of a broader context. Certainly we want to develop insight into how all of this flows, how the inner and outer meet – and how we live more skilfully and happily.

My alert system has greatly improved- MBCT Course Participant

Perspective
Perspective is about looking at things from a place that you are not, most especially in critical moments (Roger Hamilton). It’s not about 90 minutes of talking to resolve things, but 2-3 minutes of insight, of seeing what is really happening, that makes the real difference.

We think so much about what we are doing, because we forget who we are, and lose sight of what our experience really is. Mindfulness brings us gently, lovingly, back to our experience, so that we may see clearly.

The Dalia Lama says that “Wisdom and Compassion as the two wings of the bird that flies over the ocean of truth. Just as we need clarity and perspective of cognitions, so too we need the warmth and hope of the heart of compassion. In a therapeutic context the combination of a mindful practitioner, sophisticated understandings of how the mind works, and mindfulness practice creates a rich and powerful process of healing.

It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf- Walter Lippman

Mindfulness and Psychotherapy

All mindfulness practices increase focus and performance. Mindfulness practices increase our capacity to be present, to focus, and to accept what is, neither avoiding what we don’t like, nor clutching what we do like. Paradoxically, this both cultivates happiness and our ability to deal with unhappiness and struggle.

Mindfulness training has emerged as a powerful, evidence-based tool for enhancing psychological health. Research showing the positive outcomes of mindfulness interventions in a plethora of conditions has grown exponentially in the past few years. It is empirically supported as an effective intervention in a wide range of clinical disorders, including chronic pain, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, OCD, substance abuse, and borderline personality disorder, CFS, ruminating, problem solving, relationships, Axis 2 disorders, eating disorders, workplace stress, leadership, wellbeing, and the list goes on.

These skills are not new, and a number of therapists and non mainstream therapeutic models have incorporated aspects of these mindfulness models throughout the 20th Century.

In 1979 Jon Kabat Zinn started incorporating mindfulness training for chronic pain management in what became known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – MBSR. Jon did not use the word stress in a narrow sense, but rather as a culturally acceptable way of saying ‘suffering’. Soon afterward, Steve Hayes developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – ACT for a range of therapeutic contexts, Marcia Linehan developed Dialectical Behaviour Therapy – DBT for treating borderline personality disorders, and in conjunction with Jon Kabat Zinn, Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy MBCT for the prevention of relapse following recovery from depression.

These Mindfulness-based therapies formed the ‘third wave’ of behavioural therapies. They all emphasise mindfulness as a core principle in understanding, and relating differently to what were destructive cognitive, emotional and behavioural patterns.

All of these traditions aim to increase awareness of and acceptance of ordinary human experience, very much including the unpleasant, so that we can live our lives joyfully, skilfully and according to our inner wisdom and values. Any exercise which will have us practice being in the present moment will increase focus and enhance performance.

You can read more about the similarities and differences in Mindfulness-Based Therapies.

MBCT was specifically developed by clinical psychologists fro preventing relapse of depression and this gives it a degree of rigour and explanation about the depressive mind.

Now I am more respectful of those most important to me, this leads to more valued living- MBCT Course Participant

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy has a specific focus on being kind to ourselves and cultivating positive experiences. We can’t learn this from a book, only from the experience, and we develop integrity in teaching this by embodying it.

In Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy we learn to relate to and process our thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in different ways. Every human being has some version of a I’m not good enough story in their minds that comes out when under stress. Some individuals tend to ruminate over things which are worrying them, including their symptoms, problems, and life dramas. They do this with the best of intentions, assuming that it will help them understand the problem better, or solve the problem more effectively. Unfortunately, research suggests that the opposite is true and that rumination actually reduces effective problem-solving. Even if we don’t ruminate as such, old and often unhelpful habits of thinking and behaving can be effortlessly activated under stress which only add to the problem.

MBCT assumes that the combination of Non-awareness and judgment are fundamental to the cause of our mental and emotional suffering. With lack of awareness, old habits of negative thinking, ruminating and worrying can spiral into more distressing and unskillful states. With judgment, our constant wish for things to be different, or belief that they should be, gives rise to unhappiness and habitual, sometimes obsessive, and often unhelpful thinking patterns in an attempt to problem solve. This happens because we have a low tolerance for discomfort or displeasure and in MBCT we learn to see these habits of mind and relate to them differently.

Studies have shown that individuals who are able to ‘let go’ of worries or unhelpful habits of thinking are more effective at managing their problems. Being in a calm clear state of mind allows the mind/body to activate its own resources and healing systems without interruption, and that can often be enough to sort things out.

With emotional problems, letting go can sometimes be enough but if not, then the skilful considered use of Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy strategies can be added with effect. In some cases, that may be a wise and considered decision to start or resume medication. MBCT is not meant to replace standard techniques but to complement them.

We need to first to be able to meet ourselves, be with ourselves, all the seemingly likeable and un-likeable, pleasant and unpleasant aspects of our being.

Then we meet others where they are, first and foremost the inner experience, to listen and understand. We know that understanding is not the same as agreeing.

First we meet, then we come into steadiness and gather ourselves, then we gain perspective about what is happening right now, about our place in the world, and about the world. And there is freedom.

I gained an understanding for the first time that mindfulness offers a powerful form of insight not available through cognitive reflection and self-analysis- MBCT Course participant


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