an ever watchful eye (click on this link)
As Christmas comes will we in the season of Advent, wait for the adventure, or be Advert-led? Here is an Advent reflection I have written on the South Asian Concern blog, about a watching that is not anxious, acquisitive or competitive.
If you want to create a roadmap to help people understand mindfulness within Western psychology you need to start with the pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction treatment (MBSR). This is just a map to get you started.
MBSR treatment was developed in a behavioural medicine setting for people suffering with stress-related conditions and chronic pain (Baer & Krietemeyer, 2006). MBSR is built around an eight-week course (Kabat-Zinn, 2008). Course providers and clients must practice the meditations (Kabat-Zinn, 2008). During the eight weeks the clients are introduced to formal meditative techniques which they have to practise for forty-five minutes each day (Kabat-Zinn, 2008).
These include paying attention to one’s breathing, and Kabat-Zinn suggests this is the most important meditative practice that people take away with them (2008). Mindfulness of breathing is used in “the sitting meditation, the body scan, the yoga, and the walking meditation, which are all formal meditation practices” (Kabat-Zinn,2008, p. 57). One of the primary occurrences during meditation is the unending flow of our thoughts. As we pay attention to our breathing, “we see that we live immersed in a seemingly never-ending stream of thoughts” (Kabat-Zinn, 2008, p. 67). A key insight for clients within MBSR is the realisation that they are not their thoughts (Kabat-Zinn, 2008). During meditation, the clients “intentionally practice letting go of each thought that attracts our attention” (Kabat-Zinn, 2008, p. 68). After defining mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn outlines seven attitudinal factors that are at the heart of MBSR mindfulness practice: “non-judging, patience, a beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go” (2008, p. 32).
There are many illnesses treated by mindfulness within MBSR. These come under the general categories of stress, pain and illness (Kabat-Zinn, 2008). Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR treatment is a paradigm shift – one that recognizes that “we can no longer think about health as being solely a characteristic of the body or the mind because body and mind are interconnected” (Kabat-Zinn, 2008, p. 151). The popular name for what Kabat-Zinn calls the “full catastrophe” of life is stress (2008).
Stress acts on different levels and so can be analysed biopsychosocially (Kabat-Zinn, 2008). Kabat-Zinn underlines that “it is not the potential stressor itself but how you perceive it and then how you handle it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress” (2008, p. 237). This insight developed by earlier work on stress is accessible through the practice of mindfulness – suggesting that mindfulness practice helps with many conditions by changing our perspective.
Kabat-Zinn’s work is research-based. In his book Full catastrophe living he quotes research supportive of his mindfulness-based approach MBSR (2008). Generally MBSR groups are made up of participants with a wide range of disorders, but it has also been applied to specific disorders, including cancer, heart disease and relationship work with couples (Baer & Krietemeyer, 2006). A randomized controlled trial (RCT) was carried out with cancer patients (Speca, Carlson, Goodey & Angen, 2000, quoted in Speca, Carlson, Mackenzie & Angen, 2006, p. 254). Speca et al state that “participants in the intervention group had significantly less overall mood disturbance, tension, depression, anger…fewer symptoms of stress compared with those still waiting for the program” (2006, p.
254). Other research also shows promising benefits, but further research needs to be done (Speca et al, 2006). There is also empirical support for MBSR in worksite programmes including an RCT by the West Virginia University Wellness programme between 1994 and 1996 which showed that significant health and stress reduction benefits were obtained (Williams, 1996).
There is a very helpful book by Michael Chaskalson called The Mindful Workplace if you want to explore that dimension more closely.
Here are some important books:
Baer, R. A., (2006). Mindfulness-based treatment approaches. Burlington: Academic Press.
Baer, R. A., & Krietemeyer, J. (2006). Overview of mindfulness and acceptance-based treatment approaches. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 3–27). Burlington: Academic Press.
Brantley, J. (2007). Calming your anxious mind. California: Harbinger Publications Inc.
Chaskalson, (2011). The Mindful Workplace. Wiley-Blackwell.
Dahl, J., & Lundgren, T. (2006). Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) in the treatment of chronic pain. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 285–305). Burlington: Academic Press.
Hayes, S.C. (2005) Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. Oakland: Harbinger Publications Inc.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2008). Full catastrophe living. London: Piatkus Books.
Lynch, T. R., & Bronner, L. L. (2006). Mindfulness and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT): application with depressed older adults with personality disorders. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 217–236). Burlington: Academic Press.
Roth, B.,& Calle-Messa, L. (2006). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) with Spanish and English-speaking inner-city medical patients. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 263–284). Burlington: Academic Press.
Segal, Z., Williams, M., & Teasdale, J., (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. London, The Guilford Press.
Speca, M., Carlson, L.E., Mackenzie, M.J., & Angen, M. (2006). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) as an intervention for cancer patients. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 239-261). Burlington: Academic Press.
One of the lessons of the Lindisfarne Gospels was their slow, contemplative making. We can apply this practice to our children, marriages, work, relationship to the book of nature, peace. These things need a slow, contemplative making.
Michelle P. Brown’s book The Lindisfarne Gospels: Society, Spirituality and the Scribe would be one of my top three Christmas buys this year. In talking about the meaning of this book she says something deeply profound.
‘Jennifer O’Reilly has drawn attention to the patristic concept of the ‘inner library’ and the necessity for each believer to make him or herself a library of the divine Word, a sacred responsibility which Cummian referred to as ‘entering the Sanctuary of God’ by studying and transmitting Scripture. Books are the vessels from which the believer’s ark, or inner library is filled.’ (pp.398-399)
This says something about the meaning of our own lives, that there is to be a guiding inner ark. This ark carries not just our little self, but other things of the world, as the first ark carried breeding animals to save them. In our inner ark we are also to carry the presence of God.
What struck me was that this is a real carrying of what is there in the world. I might want to save the gerenuk, or Lindisfarne otters, and as I slowly contemplate them and grow in knowing about them, I begin to carry them with me in a way that might save them – because I bring this knowing to others.
Michelle P. Brown’s book was I believe a slow, contemplative making – and I write in praise of slow making. Inner arks, like books, are a product of slow making as well.
You could also read Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slow.
It is a myth universally acknowledged that otters evolved into the beguiling carnivores we know today. However, fresh evidence from a message found on a dead World War II carrier pigeon recovered from a chimney suggests this theory is incorrect.
Professor Sel R. Arch-Niwrad who worked at Bletchley Park was a historian and Classicist who spent much of his time decoding ancient fragments of parchments and sending these transcripts to his research assistant via carrier pigeons.
One day he came across a fragment which had been preserved within an ash tree near a river bank. This revealed the true and shocking story of the origin of otters.
In a mysterious Other Country there was a naiad called Nama (a water nymph). A favourite daughter of the river god. She liked to watch the dryads and especially the Meliai (and a rare male dryad called Meli). This was forbidden by the river God who had forbidden all in his kingdom to talk or meet with the dryads.
‘Tree and leaf mixing with spring and bubble always brings trouble,’ he liked to say. The queen of the dryads also laid down as taboo any contact for her dryads with the water people. This was in the days the dryads had been banned from drinking and having parties after 11 o’clock at night.
One day Meli was hurrying along the river-bank, a shortcut home, when he heard a faint voice crying out. ‘Help! Help!’ He saw Nemi, the water nymph caught by her hair among the roots of an overhanging tree. Despite the foreboding in his heart he knelt down to gently untangle her hair, and as he looked in her eyes he was lost. And as she looked in his eyes she was found.
For a brief summer, like the flowering of grass, their love blossomed. Lost and found in their love they did not see jealous spies among the dryads and naiads watching. One day the spies went to the river god and to the queen of the trees to betray the star-crossed pair.
Caught in one last kiss they were caught up in words of change spoken by the dryad queen and the river god.
Nemi became an otter with sharp teeth swimming as only naiads swim. Meli became an Ash tree by the river side. Even today otters will make their homes beneath the roots of Ash trees, thus proving this story true.
The jealous ones? They did not escape. The jealous dryad became a hound that could smell the scent of otters as it rested on the water. The jealous naiad became a spore on the wind, sent into exile for a thousand years…
Why was the otter made a carnivore with such sharp teeth? Were anyone brave enough to kiss an otter the curse would be broken. Some have tried and lost fingers. Why is the otter so elusive and hard to see? So that it could not be caught…
If you were to kiss an otter…you would lose some fingers.
Worth abbey retreat 4-6 January 2013. (Click on this link)
I am leading a retreat at Worth Abbey 4-6 January 2013 on silence, contemplation and watchfulness. Click on the link above for more details.
Kurt Jackson, the painter. He has a way of seeing things at different levels to most people. It includes wilderness, reams, angels, medicine walks and memory.
This his link: http://www.kurtjackson.com/index.html
Let me give you a quote from Miriam Darlington’s blog http://wild-watching.blogspot.co.uk/:
‘I’m standing beside a gate, screened by some sallow and oak branches. A movement on the water. The size of a water vote, but with a wake. Henry Williamson, who wrote “Tarka the Otter” and spent many years down at otter-nose level, called it a ‘ream’. Half way between a ripple, and a beam of light.’
Kurt Jackson is someone who sees ‘reams’. They are there but often invisible to the clothed eye. It is not just in landscapes we find them. There are reams with people, ripples and beams of goodness. In every day there are reams of God, ripples and beams of presence.
Annie Dillard in her book Teaching A Stone To Talk has a chapter in it ‘A Field of Silence.’ At the end she writes, ‘There are angels in those fields, and, I presume, in all fields, and everywhere else. I would go to the lions for this conviction, to witness this fact.’ (p.136)
When I look at Kurt Jackson’s paintings I understand what Annie Dillard is saying. Jackson’s paintings are bathed with the light of angels, but not fluffy, chubby angels but angels that make you write, ‘Holiness is a force, and like the others it can be resisted. It was given, but I didn’t want to see it.’ (Annie Dillard, pp.134-135)
Wilderness psychotherapy sends children and others out on medicine walks. As I look at Jackson’s paintings I end up walking in the landscapes. But it is a medicine walk.
There’s an idea in NewScientist of 6th October in their memory section, that memories are very important in shaping our happiness or sadness, ‘Our memories act as a kind of ballast that holds us steady in times of stress…’ (p.38). ‘Over-general memory’ as it has been called, where people ‘paint their past in broad brush strokes’ (p.39) but don’t remember the details can be linked to depression. As I gazed attentively and openly at Jackson’s paintings I found memories rising to the surface, happy ones. I found awarenesses of oneness, and unity rising to the surface. The paintings became a medicine-walk.
Slow down and look at Kurt Jackson’s paintings today- take a medicine walk amonst the reams of angels.