More on Mindfulness
"What a liberation to realise that the 'voice in my head' is not who I am" (Eckhart Tolle)
The American professor of medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn is widely acknowledged as the person who introduced mindfulness into mainstream western medicine and society. In 1979 he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic in the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre and developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) for treating depression and pain which is now used globally.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as,
"paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally".
On first reading, this may appear familiar; "Well I do that anyway".
Well, great if you do - but most people don't.
It even sounds simple, but again to quote Jon Kabat-Zinn, "it is simple - but not easy".
Learning mindfulness is all about the practice. People often think it's about sitting down to practice for 15 minutes a day then you get on with your normal life. Adopting such a practice can give benefits and it's a great start. However mindfulness, in its fuller sense, is also something that you can take with you as you go about your life. It offers a new way to experience your life; the good times and the bad - yes, the bad times too (it's not about floating around, cross-legged on a fluffy cloud in denial of life's difficulties whilst eating lentils).
Mindfulness offers a holistic way of authentically connecting with all of your here-and-now life experiences as they unfold in each moment. This differs to what seems to be the default condition of distraction, auto-pilot and being 'lost in thought'. Lost in opinions, judgments and rehearsals. Listening to the old nagging critical voice in the head. Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Clinging on to pleasant experiences and pushing away the unpleasant.
The reality is, we just plain miss most of our true life experience. Scientists including Dr Bruce Lipton claim that 95% of your life is determined by the subconscious mind.
As life is happening, we are often elsewhere.
You may now be asking, "Okay - but what about when the present moment is truly terrible - even unbearable?" Mindfulness techniques are possibly even more appropriate during the difficult times. With practice, you begin to see that so many of these difficult experiences come and go - but we keep them alive in our minds and bodies long after they have ended. "You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf".
But sometimes they still manage to sneak in under the radar, become established and eventually claim squatters rights. As insight develops, we begin to see that there are layers to the difficult experience. It may be true that we are powerless to change the underlying problem but generally this is accompanied by a layer of mental suffering - something our own mind adds to the mix. If nothing else, the layer of mental suffering can always be worked on.
A profound Buddhist quote popularised by Haruki Murakami says,
"Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional".
Actually when mindfulness is used for chronic pain management the distinction is made between the actual pain and the mental and emotional suffering that it causes.
Question - "Where does the suffering come from". Answer - "You".
A quote from Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps in World War II,
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom"
I integrate mindfulness techniques as part of my therapeutic service. I can also sign-post to a range of more specialist mindfulness training options such as evening courses, the 8 week MBSR program, retreats, books and smart phone apps.