“Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.”

-Nadine Stair, eighty-five years old, Louisville, Kentucky

 

It’s relatively recent that mindfulness became main stream in the world of psychotherapy. Yet, the marriage of traditionally western methods of psychotherapy and mindfulness that originates from Buddhist meditation tradition is not a coincidence.

“Mindfulness” is the English translation of the Pali word sati, which also has been translated as “constant presence of mind” or “awareness”. There are many books written on the subject and it’s is defined in a variety of different ways, but they all basically boil down to this:

“Mindfulness means paying attention with flexibility, openness, and curiosity to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.

There are few important points in this definition. First, mindfulness is an awareness process, not a thinking process. It involves bringing awareness and paying attention to your experience as opposed to being “caught up” in your evaluations of this moment, your memories, your worries about future, or your other thoughts. Second, mindfulness involves a particular attitude, attitude of openness and curiosity as opposed to judgment. Even if your experience in this moment is difficult, painful or unpleasant, you can choose to be open and curious about it instead of avoiding it or fighting it. Third, mindfulness involves flexibility of attention: the ability to consciously direct or focus your attention on different aspects of your experience.

Mindfulness is a simple concept, yet we are rarely mindful. Most often instead of being present and fully in contact with what’s happening in the moment are caught up in distracting thoughts or in opinions about what’s happening in the moment. Or we are not even fully aware of what’s happening in the moment because we are preoccupied with the future or the past. Think about following situations:

–          Driving from home to work “on autopilot”, not noticing or remembering anything from that drive

–          Snacking without being aware of eating

–          Breaking or spilling things because of inattention, or thinking about something else

–          Watching a beautiful sunset and instead of noticing the changing color of the sky being caught in a memory of another sunset

This is all mindlessness. Mindfulness, in contrast, focuses our attention directly on what’s transpiring in the present moment. When we are mindful, our attention is not entangled in the past or future, and we are not judging or rejection what is occurring at the moment. We are present. This kind of attention generates energy, clear-headedness and joy.

The goal of any psychotherapy is to alleviate emotional suffering. There are many kinds of suffering: stress, anxiety, depression, despair, interpersonal conflict, illnesses, losses, old age. However suffering is presenting itself, mindfulness as a skill allows us to become more of an observer of an experience and less reactive to it. We can use it to connect with ourselves, to improve our self-knowledge – to understand more how we feel and think and react. We can use it to connect deeply with ourselves and people we care about. And we can use it to consciously influence our own behavior and increase our range of responses to the circumstances of our life. It’s a profound way to enhance psychological resilience and increase life satisfaction. Fortunately it’s a skill that can be cultivated. And it is a universal practice that anyone can benefit from.

Noted author and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn was a first one who promoted a secular understanding of the idea of mindfulness. His ideas have grown into a therapeutic model called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which has helped thousands of people make progress on issues of physical and emotional pain. At this moment there are hundreds of MBSR programs run around the country and around the world. Following the development of MBSR program the concept of mindfulness found a way into mainstream psychology practice. Currently there are few types of therapy that include mindfulness as a component: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Compassion Based Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

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