Tag Archive | Mark Williams

#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 to train your dragon (mind) fully

 When I speak to people about mindfulness I find that most are in the position I was before I began researching mindfulness, they don’t have a clear map of understanding of how their mind works or how to train it.

 One thing that mindfulness training offers is the best wisdom of cognitive psychology and neuroscience in giving us a clear map of our minds and how to train them.

 In their book ‘ Mindfulness, a practical guide to Finding Peace In a Frantic World’ Mark Williams and Danny Penman ask the question, ‘Why do we attack ourselves?’ (15-31). In their book ‘Mindfulness for Health’ Vidyamala Burch and Danny Penman talk about the ‘wild horses’ of the mind (53-75). That’s why I’ve used the title ‘how to train your dragon mind.’

 What I’ve found is that helping people have a clear map of understanding how their mind works, and how to train it, is very liberating for people. Whether it is understanding the neuroplasticity of their brains and how they can lay down new neural pathways through mindful awareness or meditative practices; or their capacities for rational critical thinking and the doing mental gear, or the streams of awareness within them and the being mental gear.

 Learning about our ability to both focus our attention and open our awareness, the importance of focusing on the present moment and having an attitude of that is compassionate, curious and non-judgemental – helps us put the jigsaw of our minds and bodies together, until finally we see the big picture. Seeing that big picture is often an epiphany moment, a charged moment of insight.

 People are interested in mindfulness for health, as developed in secular psychology through treatments like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – and I talk to many who are intrigued by the Christian idea of mindfulness of God.

 Mindfulness is also being used at work, in education and leadership and many other areas including sport, art, writing and music. Very good introductions to mindfulness are the two books I’ve mentioned above.

 Having a clear map of understanding how your dragon mind works and how to train it, is, I think, one of the most important things we can do to open up our inner world, and the world around us, in a way that enables us to live life fully.

http://franticworld.com/

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 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 – 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.

Mindful Conversation 1

Last night I met with some therapists who are Christians to talk about mindfulness. I wanted to know had they come across it, where had they come across it, what did they think of it?

I learnt a lot from the dialogue, and  I hope we can start many more conversations. One of the key learning points I think that came out of our discussion is the importance of clarifying definitions.

So we talked about mindfulness as a universal human capacity. What evidence do we have? I am interested in collecting examples! There is the attentiveness in nature-writing, the way poetry can lead us into mindful awareness. I came across some research recently trying to determine if tango dancing is as effective as mindfulness in reducing symptoms of psychological stress and promoting wellbeing (http://www.complementarytherapiesinmedicine.com/article/S0965-2299(12)00089-1/abstract).

We talked about the mindful awareness practices (mindfulness meditations) that help us develop mindfulness and their reality-focused nature. Christianity is an incarnational religion and so how might we scan our bodies?

We talked about the overlap and distinctives with Christian contemplative practices and their therapeutic as well as spiritual value. Our God is of course interested in our mental, physical and emotional health. Jesus came that we might live life in all its fullness.

It is also clear that intelligent and engaged study and dialogue with Buddhism and Buddhists is an important path to follow right now.

Someone asked what would be a good introductory book to read on mindfulness. I recommended ‘Mindfulness: a practical guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (http://franticworld.com/). Professor Mark Williams is one of the leading researchers into mindfulness and co-developer of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), and Dr Danny Penman is an award-winning journalist and author. MBCT is recommended by the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence as a treatment for depression.

It is very clearly written, well-researched and very human book, infused with a deep compassion for all who might read it. Read it and see what you make of it?

We mustn’t be the apocryphal little boy with his finger in the dyke, trying to hold back mindfulness. The dyke has long gone. What we had last night was intelligent, respectful and engaged dialogue.