There’s a new post by Meg about mindfulness and happiness over on the Rewriting-the-Rules blog.
Tag Archives: mindfulness
Meg Barker writes about bringing mindfulness to driving, and the value of engaging mindfully at times when it is most difficult.
Mindfulness is huge at the moment. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have completed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme of Jon Kabat-Zinn. Counsellors and therapists train in mindfulness techniques in order to offer them to their clients. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends mindfulness therapies for depression. And the amount of research on mindfulness as a treatment for stress, pain, anxiety, depression, and a range of other health and emotional difficulties, has increased exponentially in the past two decades. The word ‘mindfulness’ brings up around 4000 hits on Amazon because self-help books, CDs and DVDs on the topic have also proliferated in recent years.
Meditation: A central focus?
Central to most therapies, programmes and books on mindfulness is meditation. Generally this takes the form of sitting quietly and focusing your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders (to a thought, feeling, or sensation, for example), you bring it back to your breathing. Through such meditation it is said to be possible to notice the kinds of habits that you often get stuck in, such as identifying with a pain that you feel, or telling a story about why you are feeling angry or sad. The practice of bringing your awareness back to the here-and-now of breathing in and out can shift such habits. Such meditation can also expand our attention so that we notice everything that is going on in and around us (rather than focusing on one thought, memory, or sound), and we may also see that everything is impermanent (the thing that was niggling us when we started meditating has gone by the end).
However, the focus on meditation in mindfulness approaches has recently come under criticism. Wakoh Shannon Hickey points out that the Buddhist traditions which mindfulness was drawn from only advocated meditation for monks and nuns, not for lay people, and also that it was generally a practice which was located in a community for ethical purposes, not something that people did by themselves to make them feel better. She, like many Buddhist scholars, questions the cherry-picking approach to ancient traditions, locating it in the history of colonialism. In addition to such criticisms, some of the main leaders to bring their ideas to western audiences have emphasised aspects other than mindful meditation. For example Hickey writes that the Dalai Lama advocates other forms of meditation, or sound sleep, over mindfulness. And Thich Nhat Hanh writes a lot about community work and about practising mindfully in everyday life.
Make it the practice
It is this kind of everyday mindfulness which I have been thinking about a great deal as I write my own book on mindful counselling and psychotherapy. I felt that I should really commit to regular meditation if I was advocating it to other people, so I have been meditating for around ten minutes every night. Whilst there is a lot that I’ve found useful about this practice, for all the reasons mentioned, I’ve also noticed that it is easy to separate it off from the rest of my life: for meditation to be the only point in the day when I’m being attentive in that way.
On my continued journey in exploring the meaning of mindfulness I’ve been re-reading several of the articles in the Contemporary Buddhism special issue on the topic from last year. As I reference these I’m adding them to a new section of the references on this website called ‘mindfulness‘.
It’s taken a while for me to get my head around it, but I’m now understanding that the popular definition (by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others) which includes the idea of attending non-judgementally to the present moment is problematic because it just represents one form of mindfulness.
It is useful to cultivate the ability to observe the here-and-now in a way that doesn’t evaluate (trying to keep ‘positive’ thoughts and feelings and avoid ‘negative’ ones, for example).
However, we can also be mindful of things that are not present. Given that mindfulness is something that we try to cultivate in everything, we would also try to engage with our memories and future plans mindfully. And there are specific mindfulness meditations which are not present-focused (for example when we bring to mind other people to cultivate loving-kindness, or when we meditate on the fact of our death).
Also, we can evaluate in a mindful way, for example when we try to determine the ethical thing to do, or when we notice unhelpful habits of mind and attempt to change these.
I’m currently writing the first chapter of my book on mindfulness. I wanted to get an idea of what words are most associated with mindfulness at the moment. I copied the information that came up in the first three pages of google hits when I typed in ‘what is mindfulness?’ I pasted that information into wordle and it gave me the following word cloud.
In this post, Meg Barker considers the possibilities for mindfulness in everyday life.
I’ve been interested in mindfulness for several years now and will be writing a book about it in the next year or so, building on the chapter that I wrote for the OU counselling module.
Mindfulness is the big idea in counselling and psychology at the moment. The ‘gold standard’ of counselling – cognitive-behavioural therapy – is turning to mindfulness as its ‘third wave’. If you go to a mental health services it is likely that they will offer some kind of mindfulness training. Self help books for depression and anxiety are increasingly mindfulness focused.
One conclusion that I have come to is that there is no such thing as an inherently mindful or non-mindful activity. People (including myself at times) often have the idea that only certain activities could be mindful: like meditating, walking in the countryside, perhaps painting or other such tranquil pursuits. There is definitely a notion that certain activities are anti-mindful, including things like watching TV, commuting or social-networking. As with the idea that you are doing meditation wrong if you don’t have a completely ’empty mind’ I think this is a misconception which isn’t helpful and which often leads people to beating themselves up that they aren’t doing mindfulness properly (which really defeats the purpose!) Just as you can sit in meditation without being mindful at all, I think you can also be mindful as you are texting or surfing the internet.
Here I want to say what I think mindfulness is and why it is all about the way you approach activities, not the activity itself.