“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust
What are the origins of Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditation. The concept of mindfulness takes us back to the Pali words sati, which closest meanings are awareness, attention, alertness and “to remember,” “to recollect,” “to bear in mind” Another term widely used in meditation is vipassana, which means the act of cultivating insight through the practice of meditation. Similarly, Tibetan Buddhism and the Japanese Zen meditation practise of zazen involves techniques that bring attention to the breath.
Some archaeologists date meditation back to as early as 5,000 BCE. Today, we find the influence of Mindfulness in mental health and medical practices. Moreover, Mindfulness became very popular among people who experienced trauma and grief and searched for spiritual and psychological growth.
Buddhist meditation first came to North America through Chinese immigrants in the 1840s and North Americans and Europeans who visited Asia and brought back Buddhist texts. Then, at the end of the 1800s, Buddhist concepts emerged among the authors and poets like Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Meditation started to surface for the seculars in America and Europe in the 1960s. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh gained popularity during the 1960s. By the mid-1970s, he started promoting Mindfulness and meditation with his first book, Miracle of Mindfulness. In 1976, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, and Sharon Salzberg founded the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts. They helped promote Mindfulness Meditation to a vast audience looking to develop a more conscious existence.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program launched a secular mindfulness meditation practice at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Since then, thousands of studies have documented the physical, psychological and mental health benefits of Mindfulness.
In the present, more than 600 studies are published annually on meditation and Mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a gentle and kind awareness of our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and surroundings. Mindfulness also involves allowing our thoughts and feelings to move through us without judging them.
The non-judgmental view means that there’s no “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad” way to think or feel in a given moment.
Acceptance of our thoughts, feelings and sensations does not imply passiveness. On the contrary, acceptance involves the practice of noticing, paying close attention to our mental formations, emotions and senses. This way we can make choices that are in harmony with our values. When we apply Mindfulness, we step into each situation with an attitude of no harming and deeper awareness. This attitude can potentially liberate us from our habitual and “automatic” responses.
The Mindfulness approach attempts to reduce suffering in ourselves and others by developing the capacity to see things more clearly. As a result, we are more aware of past conditionings and habitual patterns of reactivity. Mindfulness involves the courage to face the different manifestations of the self (and selves) and connects us with others and the world in a more authentic way.
What is Mindfulness-based therapy?
Mindfulness in the clinical setting of therapy and counselling helps us to identify the default mode of attention and non-attention and how we go through the daily activities (and life) “running on autopilot.”
Mindfulness as a clinical modality offers gentle exercises that allow us to shift our focus on our internal experiences in the present moment. Moreover, it helps us notice how often our behaviours respond to self-criticism, trauma-related beliefs, shame, or otherwise worrisome thoughts and emotions that we constantly attempt to suppress or avoid.
Research on mindfulness-based interventions for anxiety, trauma, and depression has increased exponentially in the past decade. Mindfulness-based interventions have demonstrated efficacy in reducing anxiety and depression symptom severity.
Grief and bereavement therapy.
Mindfulness interventions can help us uncover our inner wisdom during times of grief and bereavement. Mindfulness exercises are a gentle way to slow down the storm of thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness in grief and bereavement therapy helps us be more willing to mourn and in our pace to acknowledge, integrate, and accept the truth of our losses. Mindfulness focused interventions are a kinder way to process the pain and isolation associated with the loss. In addition, mindfulness intervention helps identify habitual patterns in our beliefs and behaviours related to old traumas and past complicated interpersonal relationships, especially those rooted in childhood and adolescence.
It can be scary to face the pain we carry when we grieve. Mindfulness interventions allow us to become more familiar with our human vulnerability, helplessness, and hopelessness and gradually soften the fears associated with losing our capacity to build resilience and move forward. Some of the tools we learn from this approach are to stay still amid our emotional storms and challenging thoughts. We develop the capacity to watch the storm pass rather than avoid it or reject it.
Mindfulness-based therapy and counselling offer the opportunity to develop a kinder way to grieve, transform, and honour our pain and sorrow. Some of the mindfulness techniques used in grief therapy motivate us to connect with the wisdom within us and softly open our hearts and mind.
Grief and bereavement therapy focused on Mindfulness involves breathing and guided meditation exercises that promote self-soothing, grounding, calming the mind and body, and most importantly, generating new perspectives and emotional shifts in how we respond to our grieving and bereavement.
Grief is an intrinsic part of life.
Grief doesn’t dissolve, disappear, shrink or end. Instead, it arises in waves. Sometimes we feel like we are drowning, and other times we realize we are riding the waves of grief. There is no “right” or “wrong”; there is noticing and learning to trust the process. Our timeless wisdom knows that all waves, no matter how big, thick and tall they are, return to the ocean.
In my personal opinion and based on many years of experience as a psychotherapist, grief is a natural process, and we can learn to trust in the heart’s capacity to renew itself over and over. Like when we go for walks and watch the trees, the creatures living in the forest, and plants adapting and changing through the different seasons and sun location.
“In English, the word “sad” comes from the same root as the word ‘sated’ and ‘satisfied.’ This means sadness may actually be a kind of fullness -a fullness of the heart. We feel sad when our heart is full, tender and alive, as opposed to the frozen state of depression that comes from pushing away our sadness rather than opening to it.” Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu