This term is becoming much more accepted and understood
largely because of the work of some pioneers like Jon Kabat-
Zinn, using mindfulness based techniques to help with stress reduction and also chronic and unremitting pain. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy has a very good track record in helping prevent relapse amongst people with severe depression.
To describe mindfulness accurately is difficult as it is mostly an experience that doesnât fit easily into a concept. We all have the experience of our basic awareness but we can and often do miss out on our experience. Perhaps we can all relate to the experience of eating something, maybe chocolate biscuits orwhatever our favourite nibble may be, and finding to oursurprise and embarrassment that they have all gone! Not only that but we didn’t really notice that we had eaten them, and missed the enjoyment and the flavour.
Mindfulness is about how we connect with our experience,
without analysis, without judgement and without the desire for it to be other than it is. Mindfulness makes available a point of freedom. I want to make a distinction regarding to ways we can be aware. We could say that mindfulness is simply self awareness, that knows it is aware. Not only do we know that we are eating that chocolate biscuit, (i.e. we aware of the sensations involved, the taste, the texture, the smell etc.), we are aware of that knowing.
The second way we can be aware is self conscious, when we
are self conscious we get trapped in the reactive mode of the
mind. So our experience of the biscuit is so filtered through
thoughts and judgements, (I shouldn’t be eating this, I hope
nobody sees, why donât they taste like they used to, I deserve this, I know it won’t help me etc, etc) that we lose some or even all connection with the experience.
This mindful kind of awareness is natural to us, but we forget about it and it can take a little practice to re-connect with this kind of awareness.
Mindfulness combines very well with cognitive approaches
because it helps people see thought and emotions as mental
events. Most of us are identified with our thoughts, and feelings we believe that we are our thoughts, especially if we are suffering from some kind of problem that encourages this, (e.g. I’m an anxious type, I always think the worst) In fact what mindfulness really gives us is a core skill of being able to disengage from the thought processes that are causing us difficulty. We can think of this as switching from Doing mode to Being mode. You may well have asked your clients a question like âhow do you do the anxiety?â when we do this we are asking a client to reveal to us the way they structure their experience. If you have asked this kind of question you may have received a blank look, when the client doesn’t have the internal acuity to know. Mindfulness is asking them to attend to the experience of just being. This can be very rich and pleasurable, but more importantly it changes the way someone relates to their thoughts and feelings.
This works in three ways, first, awareness allows someone to notice their thoughts / feelings, secondly, if those thoughts are problematic e.g. provoking depressive or anxious states, uses some of there sources that would otherwise have gone into the thinking, thirdly, it allows the person to choose to let go of the thoughts. When we become grounded in this way of paying attention it becomes easier to see thoughts and feelings as just parts of our experience that arise and fall away again. We can also get a strong experiential sense of the presence of a deeper, wiser more alive part of ourselves.
This is crucial, it is all very well having maps, be they Jung’s,
Assagioli’s, or Wilber’s, but maps are not territory. In order to work effectively in this are we need to stay grounded in
experience not theory. One of my early NLP teachers taught
me always to teach by exposing people to the territory before the map. Otherwise people will try to modify their experience to fit the territory.
In my view one of the things that keeps people from
discovering the transpersonal in their lives is excessive thinking. Thought is a useful tool but a poor master. Mindfulness practice can help people to discover the transpersonal and is more akin to a compass than a map.
Mindfulness is traditionally developed by paying attention to four areas:
Thoughts (all mental processes and
Mindfulness starts with the body and feelings, this is important, it is what stops mindful awareness from being just a detached and mechanical watching, a sort of self policing. It is aimed at letting us see how we get caught up with the story of our history, our limitations and our fears to such an extent that we lose touch with our deeper sense of connection with a transpersonal dimension of awareness that is the source of our strength, creativity and joy.
Being mindful of reality is about becoming aware in a rich
precise and non-judgemental way of other people, our
context, and our sense of being connected.
It is an essential quality to work from effectively when doing so in a transpersonal framework. Both for the client and the therapist
J K Zinn – Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Bodyand Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Paperback) – Random
Epstein, M., 1996, Thoughts without a thinker: Psychotherapy
from a Buddhist Perspective., Basic Books
Segal, Z., Teasdale, J., Williams, M. (2002). Mindfulness-Based
Cognitive Therapy for Depression. New York: Guilford Press.