Tag Archive | Jon Kabat-Zinn

#mindfulness – inhabiting awareness

How do we enter the doorway of the present moment? One of the ways is by answering a riddle, says contemplative writer Martin Laird.

One of the riddles he sets is this, ‘What do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ (‘Into The Silent Land’, p.80). When I ask people that question, many people can’t answer it. The answer Martin Laird gives, based on his study of Christian contemplative writers is that our thoughts and feelings appear in awareness (p.88).

Now this is affirmed by cognitive psychology and neuroscience. J. Mark G. Williams and Jon Kabat-Zinn summarize this beautifully in their introduction in the book ‘Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins and Applications,’ jointly edited by them.

They define mindfulness as awareness, ‘an entirely different and one might say, larger capacity than thought, since any and all thought and emotion can be held in awareness.’ (p.15) This is something we need to become aware of. But as they go on to say, ‘While we get a great deal of training in our education systems in thinking of all kinds, we have almost no exposure to the cultivation of intimacy with that other innate capacity of ours that we call awareness.’ (p.15)

This is why people struggle to answer the riddle, ‘what do thoughts and feelings appear in?’ Williams and Kabat-Zinn go on to say, ‘Awareness is virtually transparent to us. We tend to be unaware of our awareness. We so easily take it for granted.’ (p.15) And yet it is one of our most important innate capacities.

As they conclude, ‘It rarely occurs to us that it is possible to systematically explore and refine our relationship to awareness itself, or that it can be ‘inhabited’.’ (p.15) Mindfulness is awareness but mindful practices can help us systematically ‘explore and refine our relationship to awareness’ so that it can be ‘inhabited.’

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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.’
http://mindfulnessinschools.org/images/files/keyDocuments/Mindfulness_inSchools_Burnett.pdf

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.