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Becoming more mindful on retreat at @el_palmeral retreat house

imageHere I am at El Palmeral Retreat House in Spain, which is a very friendly house. Before I came out I dreamt that there were orange trees here, and when I came out and found there were I was delighted.

Wandering around the little orange grove I was struck by the picture of oranges on the floor, decaying and drying out, and the vibrant ones still on the tree.

I know there are times when I felt like the orange on the ground, isolated and lonely and in need of friends and community. I also know what it is like to feel like the orange on the tree, connected vitally to sources of life. Those sources of life include friends, family, community and God.

We don’t always feel able to re-connect because of our state of mind. Then we often need someone to reach out to us, who has mindfully noticed what we are feeling. But also mindfulness practice can help us find another state of mind where we can see more clearly ourselves.

One of the ways we can find more mindful states of mind, contemplative and open states of mind is to come on retreat. The hope is that we have opened the door enough on retreat to keep it open when we return home.

Is #mindfulness God-given?

A link to my recent article in the Baptist Times, Is Mindfulness God-given? In the light of the free online summit on mindfulness now running it is an important question.

http://www.baptist.org.uk/Articles/449731/Is_Mindfulness_God.aspx

Is the remains of your prayer life, lying there like a discarded nest?

like a discarded nest

like a discarded nest

Sometimes I talk to people and they describe the remains of a prayer life, like a discarded nest.

Spring is a good time though to start the process of rebuilding a prayer life again. We can take our lessons from the nest-builders.

The most difficult thing in prayer and mindfulness is a daily practice. It is also the most important thing. You have to gather the stuff of a nest, and the stuff of prayer consistently and regularly.

Just as with the birds the stuff we need is all around. In our prayer times God interweaves his Word with all that we bring into a place that we can begin to find, home in on, like a nest. It becomes a home.

Just as the birds find the stuff they need from the environment around, so can we. Time spent in nature, letting the grass whisper of the Creator, as embodied contemplation, adds to the nest. The flight of silence and solitude where we attentively look and listen for the footprints of the Invisible God who is already there with us. The encouragement of others we see flying in the sky, also looking to build a nest of prayer.

The building of a nest and the life of prayer require stability, the returning to one place, from which we can fly. In that place, just like the birds, we can nurture new life, that will grow wings of its own. Like the birds we also need to migrate, to find a place to retreat to. For me over the last 10 years that has been Worth Abbey.

Perhaps each year, like the birds, we need to re-examine the nest, and start the process of building a new one. Automaticity in prayer and life can be the thing that leads us to discard the nest prematurely, and not try to build again.

Building again asks us to hope again, to not give up, to become resilient in our prayer life. In our prayer life our ordinary, embodied and relational life is transformed, as we meditatively consider His Word, the work of His hands…

Mindfulness short: myth – in mindfulness meditation we are trying to empty our mind

One of the biggest myths about mindfulness is that in mindfulness meditation you are trying to empty your mind. Ruby Wax who is good at answering questions people are asking answers the question this way in her book Sane New World, ‘With mindfulness the rumour is wrong that the point is to empty your mind; you need your mind to analyse, memorize, create and most importantly exist. It can never be empty while you’re alive, even in a coma your mind is still chattering away.’[1]

Why can she say this so categorically? It is all to do with what we think the mind is and how we define it. Interpersonal neurobiologist Daniel J. Siegel points out there is a lack of awareness and understanding of the mind. He defines the mind to be ‘a process that regulates the flow of energy and information.’[2] The mind is always receiving information from a great many sources. This includes sources outside of our own self and body. So it isn’t possible to empty it.

Whilst not directly addressing the question of ‘am I trying to empty my mind in mindfulness meditation?’, Mark Williams looks at mindfulness and psychological processes. He says there are two modes in which the mind operates (sometimes called being and doing), but more technically ‘conceptual (language-based) processing versus sensory-perceptual processing.’[3] Again, that’s a lot of information coming into your mind from different sources.

He goes on to say ‘In every waking moment we are receiving sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch: stimuli from the external and internal world, but these are generally ignored in favour of spending most of our attention in conceptual mode: thinking, planning, daydreaming, analysing, remembering, comparing, judging, analysing, and so forth.’[4]

Our minds are very busy! Now in a very important and technical phrase Williams then defines what attentional training (mindfulness meditations or mindful awareness practices) is doing, ‘Attentional training in mindfulness programs cultivate the ability to shift modes as an essential first step to being able to hold all experience (sensory and conceptual) in a wider awareness that is itself neither merely sensory nor conceptual.’[5]

This is a shift from doing to being, from the narrative self (conceptual mode) to the experiential self (sensory-perceptual mode), followed by an ability to hold both in an open wider awareness. Far from trying to empty our mind we are learning how ‘to pay open-hearted attention to objects in the exterior and interior world as they unfold, moment by moment. Attention is paid not only to the objects themselves but to our reactions to them…’[6]

Why this is important is another question. But staying with the rumour or myth that in mindfulness meditation I am trying to empty my mind, it can also be addressed by approaching it from the angle of feelings and emotion.

Rimma Teper in an important article does address this question directly, ‘A common misconception about mindfulness, and meditation in general, is that it involves emptying the mind of thoughts and emotions.’[7] Mindfulness benefits executive function and emotion regulation and she asks, ‘Does mindfulness foster better executive control and emotion regulation because it eliminates emotional responding? We think not. Instead, we suggest that these effects accrue because mindfulness promotes an openness and sensitivity to subtle changes in affective states, which are essential in signalling the need for control and energizing its execution.’[8] In mindfulness your mind doesn’t work against your embodied mindful brain, but with it!

Mark Williams makes a similar point, ‘Mindfulness is not about “not feeling” or becoming detached from affect.’[9] What mindfulness enables is to see ‘something as it is, without further elaboration: for example, seeing thoughts as mental events, or seeing physical sensations as physical sensations…’[10]

So are we trying to empty our minds in mindfulness meditation? No, we are not! It may be that in switching to awareness, our minds suddenly may feel more spacious, but we are not emptying our minds – we are looking clearly at what our minds are processing. Mindfulness is seeing clearly and feeling clearly. It is an embodied, relational awareness that faces reality, not avoiding  it.

[1] Ruby Wax, Sane New World (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2013), 136.

[2] Daniel J. Siegel, The Mindful Brain New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 5.

[3] J. Mark G. Williams, “Mindfulness and Psychological Process,” Emotion 10, no.1 (2010): 2, accessed April 4 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0018360.

[4] Williams,2.

[5] Williams, 2.

[6] Williams, 2.

[7] Rimmer Teper, Zindel V. Segal, and Michael Inzlicht, “ Inside the Mindul Mind: How Mindfulness Enhances Emotion Regulation Through Improvements in Executive Control,” Current Directions in Psychological Science XX, no. X (2013): 1, accessed April 5 2015,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963721413495869.

[8] Teper, 1.

[9] Williams, 4.

[10] Williams, 4.

mindful walking place

Interesting facts about the English word #’mindfulness’

 The Buddhist technical term sati in Pali (or smrti in Sanskrit) was first translated with the English word mindfulness by T.W. Rhys Davids in 1881. So says Rupert Gethin in his article On some definitions of mindfulness (Contemporary Buddhism Vol. 12, No. 1, May 2011).

Previous dictionaries had translated this complex technical term with translations such as ‘remembrance, memory, reminiscence, recollection, thinking of or upon (any person or thing), calling to mind.’ (p.263)

One of the misunderstandings of the word ‘mindfulness’ is that people sometimes assume it is a Buddhist word, rather than an English word that translates a Buddhist term.

Gethin goes on to say that he is not surprised that this word is used. The OED ‘records the use of the English ‘mindfulness’ in the sense of ‘the state or quality of being mindful; attention; memory (obs.); intention, purpose (obs.).’ from 1530 A.D.’ (p.264)

Early uncertainty about how to translate the word sati gives way to mindfulness becoming ‘the only possible English translation of sati’ from 1910 with Rhys Davids influential translation of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta. (p.265) It is not surprising then, with this OED reference to the date 1530, that the King James Version of the Bible published in 1611 has the word ‘mindful’ in it a number of times.

‘What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?’ (Psalm 8:4) Being mindful of God is becoming aware of when He ‘visitest’ us.

How can #mindfulness be secular, Buddhist, or Christian?

How can mindfulness be secular, Buddhist or Christian? Richard Burnett has written an excellent, well-researched, erudite and thought-provoking thesis called ‘Mindfulness in schools: learning lessons from the adults – secular and Buddhist (see link below). Within his thesis are important ideas that enable us to begin to answer the question above.

Firstly, mindfulness can be used in different settings because it is a universal human capacity for awareness and attention in the present-moment and must be distinguished from the meditative or mindful awareness practices that lead to this mode of awareness. In an important note on page 6 of his thesis Burnett says, ‘There is nothing ‘Buddhist’ about being mindful and paying attention to the present moment. Kabat-Zinn compares this to calling gravity ‘British’ because it was discovered by Newton.’

Secondly, it has a historical presence in Buddhism and Christianity, and in secular psychology there has also been a long focus on awareness and attention and the regulation of emotions. In other words people came across the capacity for mindfulness within different contexts, originally these contexts were religious. The other key idea, then, is to understand the context.

Richard Burnett is someone who has looked at this question of context within the setting of introducing mindfulness into schools (http://mindfulnessinschools.org/).

Thirdly, in counselling there is an important emphasis on client autonomy, respecting a person’s world view, experience and ethical values. That means boundaries are important. What is the context in which the client lives? An atheist might want to engage with a purely secular mindfulness.

This question of boundaries and client autonomy arises in mindfulness because it is a universal human capacity, and therefore appears in different contexts. These forms must be well defined and clearly articulated, although there is shared territory between the forms as well as distinctives. But a secular mindfulness course must not be ‘Buddhism by the back door.’ (p.32)

The key question is I guess: how do we ensure secular mindfulness is secular, Buddhist mindfulness is Buddhist and Christian mindfulness is Christian, for those to whom it matters? Someone looking at life through a secular lens for example.
Burnett argues, quite rightly that mindfulness in schools does not have the same objective as clinical psychology, because ‘in a classroom context we are not treating specific pathologies.’ (p. 24). Nor can it be introduced as a spiritual practice ‘as a classroom is not the place for religious instruction.’ (p.24) It can be used more generally to promote the key attitudes found in the National Framework for religious education of ‘self-awareness, respect for all, open-mindedness and appreciation and wonder.’ (p.27)

It then requires what has been called an ‘informational context’ (Feldman); or a ‘framework of understanding’ (Teasdale) or what Kabat-Zinn calls ‘scaffolding’. (p.28) Buddhist mindfulness is set within an ancient and complex scaffolding. (p.28) Helpfully, Burnettt argues that ‘The scaffolding in clinical mindfulness may be much smaller, but is very well constructed and arguably more effective in the treatment of specific conditions.’ (p.29) Mindfulness within Buddhism is set within religious or spiritual scaffolding, within clinical mindfulness it is secular (generally), although there are psychologists reframing Buddhism as a wise and ancient psychology and bringing in Buddhist insights that are psychological.
Burnett quotes from Kabat-Zinn, the pioneer of clinical mindfulness, as saying that mindfulness ‘may have to give up being Buddhism in any formal religious sense.’ (p.31)

This clear boundary around clinical mindfulness to ensure it is secular is important as Burnett outlines in a quote from Michael Chaskalson, (one of the key figures in mindfulness he has interviewed): ‘If you don’t establish clear boundaries you will exclude some people. There will be practising Christians for example, or dedicated Dawkins style atheists coming on courses and I don’t want to exclude them from conversation.’ (p.31)

So within schools Burnett argues that mindfulness should not be Buddhist (almost certainly). (p.31) If you are doing a Religious Studies A-level in Buddhism you would refer to the Buddhist scaffolding. But when taught as a practice it should be within scaffolding that is clearly secular. In that context what it can address, as a backbone for the engagement, is what Mark Williams calls ‘universal vulnerabilities.’ Although specific vulnerabilities identified in the context of schools such as ‘anxiety of exams,’ peer pressure, or mood swings, could be indicated to pupils. (p.33)

Burnett argues that mindfulness, especially in schools, brings with it ‘a sense of possibility.’ ( p.33). Burnett highlights these other possibilities, pointing out that there are a broad ‘range of potential applications’, including functional, therapeutic, to more spiritual applications when the context is appropriate. (p.33)

What I have been trying to develop, through ‘A Book of Sparks: a Study in Christian MindFullness’ and other writings, is a Christian scaffolding, drawing on biblical and historical roots for the development of mindfulness within the Christian tradition, as well as looking at the benefits of engaging with it today.

Within this setting I believe it has spiritual as well as therapeutic benefits, because of the overlaps, and shared territory, and because we are ’embodied’ people. The evidence-based research within clinical psychology suggests that it would also be appropriate to point Christians, under the holistic guidance of doctors and therapists, to secular clinical mindfulness which might address ‘specific’ vulnerabilities they might be living with. For Christians are not immune from the universal and specific vulnerabilities that afflict all human beings.

Within this research I am keen to work collaboratively with other Christians who are interested in mindfulness, both psychologically and theologically. I am grateful for the collaborative partnerships that are beginning. Space doesn’t permit a description of the scaffolding that makes mindfulness Christian, I have done that elsewhere, but I do believe that for Christians, as well, as they rediscover their contemplative roots, it has a very real ‘sense of possibility.’

Click to access Mindfulness_inSchools_Burnett.pdf

Maps to #mindfulness – #Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy #MBCT

If you examine the ever growing tree of mindfulness therapies, one of the main branches is Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Here is a little map of MBCT to start you on your way.

Another key mindfulness-based approach is Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), based on MBSR (Baer & Krietemeyer, 2006). The aim of the MBCT programme is “to help individuals make a radical shift in their relationship to the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations that contribute to depressive relapse, and to do so through changes in understanding at a deep level”(Segal, Williams, & Teasdale, 2002, p. 65). The way to do this is through mindfulness, learning “how to pay attention, on purpose, in each moment, and without judgment” (Segal et al, 2002, p. 87).

Having started off believing that cognitive therapy made improvements in a person’s depressed condition through “changes in the content of depressive thinking” (Segal et al, 2002, p. 38), new research showed that more central was a change in the relationship between the client and their thoughts (Segal et al, 2002), and specifically a decentering or distancing (Segal et al, 2002). Out of an Randomized controlled trial (RCT) carried out by Teasdale and others came an awareness of important differences between the technology of mindfulness, with its emphasis on insight meditation, and other meditative techniques which focus more on concentration which increases access to the relaxation response (Teasdale & Associates, 2000, quoted in Segal et al, 2002). In the wider awareness of insight meditation “the focus of a person’s attention is opened to admit whatever enters experience, while at the same time, a stance of kindly curiosity allows the person to investigate whatever appears, without falling prey to automatic judgments or re-activity” (Segal et al, 2002, pp. 322–323).

MBCT is scientifically and research-based. MBCT was developed for depression, and especially those clients prone to relapse (Segal et al, 2002). Segal et al developed a Randomized controlled trial (RCT) for MBCT (Teasdale & Associates, 2000, quoted in Segal et al, 2002). The question asked in their clinical trial was “Does MBCT reduce rates of relapse and recurrence in patients who have recovered from major depression?” (Segal et al, 2002, p. 315). The most important finding was that “participants with three or more previous episodes of depression (who made up more than 75% of the patients we studied), MBCT almost halved relapse/recurrence rates over the follow-up period compared to treatment as usual” (Segal et al, 2002, p. 318). Coelho, Canter, & Ernst stated that “there has been no critical systematic evaluation of the evidence” for MBCT (2007, p. 1000). MBCT research is still in its early stages and they concluded that further research is warranted (Coelho, Canter, & Ernst, 2007). Williams, Russell, & Russell, in response to the Coelho, Canter, & Ernst report, reanalysed the two main MBCT trials, and argue these analyses “reinforce the original findings” (2008, p. 524). There may well be further research now building on these foundations, do let me know if you have come across it.

If you want to read one book in order to understand MBCT then look at the very clearly written Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, published by Piatkus in 2011.

If you have come across any other good books, or research do let me know. MBCT is recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and the Mental Health Foundation.

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.

Coelho, H. F., Canter, P. H., & Ernst, E. (2007). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Evaluating current evidence and informing future research. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(6), 1000-1005. Retrieved April 7, 2010, from PsycARTICLES database.

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.

Mental Health Foundation, Mindfulness Report 2010

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.

Semple, R. J., Lee, J., & Miller, L. F. (2006). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches (pp. 143-166). Burlington: Academic 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.

Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., Williams, S., & Segal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive awareness and prevention of relapse in depression: Empirical evidence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(2), 275–287. Retrieved April 8, 2010, from PsycARTICLES database.

Williams, M., Russell, I., & Russell, D. (2008). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: Further issues in current evidence and future research. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 76(3), 524–529. Retrieved April 7, 2010, from PsycARTICLES database.

Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression. London, The Guilford Press.

Maps to #Mindfulness – #Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction #MBSR

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.

Maps to mindfulness – some definitions of #mindfulness in psychology

The tree of mindfulness research and therapies is growing rapidly. It is hard to keep up-to-date with all the developments as they happen. But we can start somewhere. Important work is being done to arrive at consensus on such matters as defining mindfulness, and I’ll come back to that another time. In the meantime here are some definitions.

Mindfulness means different things. It is only fully understood by examining its historical situatedness. Mindfulness within most Western clinical practice has Buddhist roots, although it is not exclusive to Buddhist thought. Mindfulness in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) has a different topography deriving from Christian contemplative practices and Zen Buddhism (Lynch & Bronner, 2006).

Kabat-Zinn pioneered the use of mindfulness through Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) defining it as “the way of awareness” (2008, p. 19). Brantley, also an MBSR practitioner, calls mindfulness a “basic human quality” (2007, p. 4). It is a human quality based on inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight (Brantley, 2007). Brantley further defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, nonjudgmentally, and with a welcoming and allowing attitude. It means turning towards present-moment experience rather than away from it” (2007, p. 5).

Mindfulness meditation is different from other meditative techniques (Brantley, 2007). Brantley states that “Mindfulness is an awareness that is not thinking” (2007, p. 52). This is underlined by meditation teacher Larry Rosenberg who says “Mindfulness is often likened to a mirror; it simply reflects what is there. It is not a process of thinking; it is preconceptual, before thought”.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) talks about shifting mental gears from Doing to Being: ‘Mindful awareness -or mindfulness – spontaneously arises out of this Being mode when we learn to pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment, to things as they actually are’ (Mark Williams & Danny Penman, Mindfulness: a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (p.35).

Mindfulness in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) is defined as “learning to see your thoughts in a new way” (Hayes, 2005, p. 6). Mindfulness in DBT is defined as “a state or quality of awareness that involves keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality” (Lynch & Bronner, 2006, p. 218).

Mindfulness as a universal human capacity needs to be distinguished from the meditative or mindful awareness practices that cultivate mindfulness, like paying attention to your breath, eating a raisin (or chocolate) mindfully etc. Most of these mindful awareness practices are   ‘reality-focused’, they have no religous or spiritual component.

In the Being mode we learn to see differently, ‘It’s a different way of knowing that allows you to see how your mind tends to distort ‘reality’ ‘ (Williams & Penman, p. 35). These four treatments, MBSR, MBCT, ACT and DBT are the four main therapies out of many that are now  incorporating mindfulness or are based on mindfulness.

I am also interested in mindfulness as it appears in Christianity, as well as in Buddhism. A very good introduction to mindfulness within psychology is Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. This is especially true because if mindfulness is to be truly understood, I think it needs to be practiced – and this book helps you do that, as well as understand your mind.

Mindfulness needs to be understood and practiced and reflected upon. Christians need to engage with it as they have some important distinctives to talk about, including mindfulness of God.

Here are some other books that I have referred to, or will refer to.

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.

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.

Segal, Z., Williams, M., & Teasdale, J., (2002). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. London, The Guilford Press.