A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

A Second Generation of Mindfulness-based Intervention

present moment 3

Clicca qui per l’Iataliano

In one of our research papers that was published this summer in the journal Mindfulness, we identified and discussed a recent development in mindfulness research and practice. Until a few years ago, mindfulness research within psychology has primarily focussed on what have been termed First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBIs refer to interventions such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) developed by Kabat-Zinn in the late 1970s and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) developed by Segal, Williams, and Teasdale in 2002. According to Professor Nirbhay Singh and colleagues, one of the primary purposes and achievements of FG-MBIs has been gaining acceptance of mindfulness within Western clinical and scientific domains.

However, due to the speed at which mindfulness has been integrated into western research and public healthcare settings, concerns have been raised by scientists and Buddhist teachers regarding the ‘authenticity’ of FG-MBIs and whether they actually teach mindfulness in a manner that still bears any resemblance to the traditional Buddhist model. These concerns do not detract from the fact that there is a growing evidence-base that supports the efficacy of FGMBIs as clinical and behavioural interventions, but they give rise to a number of questions that have important implications for mindfulness research and practice:

  1. If mindfulness is efficacious when it is taught in isolation of many of the practices and principles that are traditionally deemed to make it effective, then how much more effective will it be when taught in a manner that includes and embodies these supporting elements?
  2. Is it ethically correct to inform service users and members of the public that they are receiving training in a method that is grounded in Buddhist practice (a claim often made about FG-MBIs), when in fact this is not the case?
  3. Is it essential to “de-spiritualise” psychological interventions before they can be used in clinical contexts, or – based on a “what-works approach” – can interventions that are openly spiritual in nature be considered as viable and mainstream public healthcare treatments?

In an attempt to overcome some of the above issues concerning FG-MBIs, efforts have been made in recent years to formulate and empirically evaluate a second generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Second Generation Mindfulness-based Interventions (SG-MBIs) are still intended to be used in public healthcare contexts (i.e., they are still secular in nature)  but – as explained in the following quote from our recently published Mindfulness paper – they are openly spiritual in nature and are more traditional in the manner in which they construct and teach mindfulness:

Due to the suggestion that some individuals may prefer to be trained in a version of mindfulness that more closely resembles a traditional Buddhist approach, recent years have witnessed the development and early-stage evaluation of several Second Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (SG-MBIs) … Although SG-MBIs still follow a secular format that is suitable for delivery within Western applied settings, they are overtly spiritual in aspect and teach mindfulness within a practice infrastructure that integrates what would traditionally be deemed as prerequisites for effective spiritual and meditative development. At the most basic (but by no means the least profound) level, such prerequisites include each element of the Noble Eightfold Path. The Noble Eightfold Path comprises each of the three quintessential Buddhist teaching and practice principles of (i) wisdom (i.e., right view, right intention), (ii) ethical conduct (i.e., right speech, right action, right livelihood), and (iii) meditation (i.e., right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration). Each of these three fundamental elements (Sanskrit: trishiksha – the three trainings) must be present in any path of practice that claims to expound or be grounded in authentic Buddhadharma and they apply to (and form the basis of) the Fundamental or Theravada vehicle just as much as they do the Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist vehicles. Thus, for mindfulness practice to be effective, it must be taught as part of a rounded spiritual path and it must be taught by a spiritual guide that can transmit the teachings in an authentic manner.

The development and empirical evaluation of a second generation of mindfulness-based intervention appears to represent an emerging trend in mindfulness research. Outcomes from our own research work with the eight-week SG-MBI known as Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) suggest that SG-MBIs may have applications in the treatment of (i) workaholism, (ii) work-related stress, (iii) stress, (iv) anxiety, (v) depression, (vi) schizophrenia, and (vii) pathological gambling. Recent MAT studies that we have conducted have also demonstrated that SG-MBIs can help to improve work effectiveness, decision-making competency, and leadership/management skills more generally. SG-MBI studies by other researchers also indicate a range of clinical and non-clinical applications for SG-MBIs. For example, studies led by Professor Nirbhay Singh indicate that SG-MBIs may have utility as (i) a smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disabilities, (ii) an anger regulation method for individuals with schizophrenia, and (iii) a training and support program for parents in order to reduce the aggressive and disruptive behaviour of their children/adolescents. However, it needs to be remembered that research into SG-MBIs is still at a very early stage and so although the abovementioned outcomes are promising, further empirical investigation is obviously required. Furthermore, it is our view that rather than directly compete with FG-MBIs, SG-MBIs simply provide an alternative approach to practising mindfulness that – for some individuals – may be more appealing.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

 Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Una nuova generazione di interventi basati sulla Mindfulness

present moment 3

In uno dei nostri documenti di ricerca che è stata pubblicata questa estate sulla rivista academica Mindfulness, abbiamo identificato e discusso un recente sviluppo nella ricerca e nella pratica della mindfulness Fino a pochi anni fa, la ricerca di mindfulness all’interno della psicologia si è concentrata principalmente su ciò che sono stati definiti Interventi di Prima Generazione cioè First Generation Mindfulness-Based Interventions (FG-MBIs). FG-MBI si riferisce a interventi quali Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) sviluppato da Kabat-Zinn alla fine del 1970 e Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) sviluppato da Segal, Williams e Teasdale nel 2002. Secondo il professor Nirbhay Singh e colleghi, uno degli scopi e conquisti principali di FG-MBI è stato di ottenere l’accettazione della mindfulness all’interno dei domini clinici e scientifici occidentali.

Tuttavia, a causa della velocità alla quale la mindfulness è stato integrato nella ricerca occidentale e nelle strutture sanitarie pubbliche, le preoccupazioni sono state sollevate da scienziati e insegnanti buddisti per quanto riguarda il ‘autenticità’ di FG-MBI e se insegnano effettivamente mindfulness in un modo che ancora oggi porta qualsiasi somiglianza con il modello tradizionale buddista. Queste preoccupazioni non toglie il fatto che vi è una crescente evidenza empirica che sostiene l’efficacia di FGMBIs come interventi clinici e comportamentali, ma danno luogo a una serie di domande che hanno importanti implicazioni per la ricerca e la pratica della mindfulness:

  1. Se la mindfulness è efficace quando si è insegnato in isolamento di molte delle pratiche e principi che sono tradizionalmente considerati a renderla efficace, allora quanto più efficace ne sarà quando insegnato in un modo che include e incorpora questi elementi di supporto?
  2. È eticamente corretto a informare gli utenti del servizio e membri del pubblico che essi ricevono una formazione in un metodo che è radicato nella pratica buddista (un’affermazione spesso fatta dai FG-MBI), quando in realtà questo non è il caso?
  3. È necessaria che gli interventi psicologici vengono “de-spiritualizzate” prima di poter essere utilizzati in contesti clinici, o – basati su un approccio “ciò che funzione” – possono gli interventi che sono apertamente spirituali nella loro natura essere considerati come trattamenti sanitari pubblici attuabile, accettabile e affermati?

Nel tentativo di superare alcune delle questioni di cui sopra riguardanti FG-MBI, si sono compiuti degli sforzi negli ultimi anni per formulare e valutare empiricamente una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness. Interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) ancora sono destinati ad essere utilizzati in contesti sanitari pubblici (vale a dire, essi sono ancora secolari in natura) ma – come spiegato nel seguente citazione tratta dal nostro articolo recentemente pubblicato nella rivista academica Mindfulness -sono apertamente spirituale in natura e sono più tradizionali nel modo in cui costruiscono e insegnano la mindfulness:

Grazie al suggerimento che alcuni individui possono preferire di essere formati/addestrati in una versione della mindfulness che assomiglia più ad un approccio tradizionale buddista, negli ultimi anni si è assistito alla valutazione di sviluppo e le fasi iniziali di diversi interventi basati sulla mindfulness di seconda generazione (SG-MBI) … Sebbene SG-MBI seguono ancora un formato secolare che è adatto per essere insegnato in tutta una gamma di impostazioni psicologiche, sono apertamente spirituale in aspetto e insegnano la mindfulness dall’interno di un’infrastruttura di pratica che integra quello che è tradizionalmente considerata come prerequisiti per un effettivo sviluppo spirituale e meditativo. Al livello più basilare (ma non il meno profondo), tali prerequisiti includono ogni elemento del Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero. Il Nobile Ottuplice Sentiero comprende ciascuno dei tre quintessenziale principi delle pratiche e degli insegnamenti buddisti di (i) la saggezza (cioè la retta visione, la retta intenzione), (ii) il comportamento etico (cioè la retta parola, la retta azione, il retto sostentamento), e (iii) la meditazione (cioè, il retto sforzo, la retta mindfulness, la retta concentrazione). Ciascuno di questi tre elementi fondamentali (sanscrito: trishiksha – i tre addestramenti) devono essere presente in qualsiasi percorso di pratica che pretende di esporre o di essere radicati nella autentica Buddhadharma e sono applicabili a (e costituiscono la base del) veicolo fondamentale o Theravada tanto quanto sono applicabili ai (e costituiscono la base dei) veicoli Mahayana e Vajrayana buddista. Così, per la pratica più efficace della mindfulness, essa deve essere insegnato come parte di un percorso spirituale comprensivo e deve essere insegnato da una guida spirituale che può trasmettere gli insegnamenti in modo autentico.

Lo sviluppo e la valutazione empirica di una seconda generazione di interventi basati sulla mindfulness sembra rappresentare una tendenza emergente nella ricerca della mindfulness. I risultati dal nostro lavoro di ricerca con Meditation Awareness Training (MAT), un SG-MBI corso di otto settimane, indicano che SG-MBI possono avere applicazioni nel trattamento di (i) workaholism, (ii) stress legato al lavoro, (iii) stress, (iv) l’ansia, (v) la depressione, (vi) la schizofrenia, e (vii) il gioco d’azzardo patologico. Recenti studi MAT che abbiamo condotto hanno anche dimostrato che SG-MBI possono contribuire a migliorare l’efficacia al lavoro, competenza decisionale e capacità di leadership/gestione più in generale. Studi di SG-MBI da parte di altri ricercatori anche indicano una vasta gamma di applicazioni cliniche e non-clinici per SG-MBI. Ad esempio, studi guidati dal Professor Nirbhay Singh indicano che SG-MBI possono avere utilità come (i) un programma di cessazione di fumare per persone con disabilità intellettiva lieve, (ii) un metodo di regolazione ddella rabbia per gli individui con schizofrenia e (iii) un programma di formazione e sostegno per i genitori al fine di ridurre il comportamento aggressivo e dirompente di loro bambini/adolescenti. Tuttavia, è necessario ricordare che la ricerca di SG-MBI è ancora in una fase iniziale e quindi, anche se i risultati di cui sopra sono promettenti, ulteriori indagini empiriche sono ovviamente necessari. Inoltre, è nostra opinione che piuttosto che competere direttamente con FG-MBI, SG-MBI semplicemente forniscono un approccio alternativo alla pratica della mindfulness che – per alcuni individui – può essere più attraente.

Please note: This article provides a summary of, and is adapted from, a discussion that first appeared in a paper we published in the journal Mindfulness.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

Carrette, J., & King, R. (2005). Selling spirituality: The silent takeover of religion. New York: Routledge.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York: Hyperion.

McWilliams, S. A. (2014). Foundations of Mindfulness and Contemplation: Traditional and Contemporary Perspectives. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 116-128.

Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.

*Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014) Manager’s experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y. [Source Article].

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013a). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 1-4. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014c). The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A case study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, 10, 193-195.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T., Singh, N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014d). Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction,  DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014e). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for the treatment of co-occurring schizophrenia with pathological gambling: A case study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 181-196.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J. Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., & McAleavey, K. M. (2007). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31, 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazia, B. T., Singh, A. D. A., Singh, A. N. A., & Singh, J. (2013). A mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. Mindfulness, 4, 148-157.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S. W., Karazsia, B. T., & Singh, J. (2014a). Mindfulness-Based Positive Behavior Support (MBPBS) for mothers of adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: Effects on adolescents’ behavior and parental stress. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0321-3.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Myers, R. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., & Singh, J. (2014b). A randomized controlled trial of a mindfulness-based smoking cessation program for individuals with mild intellectual disability. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 153-168.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Karazsia, B. T., Winton, A. S. W., Singh, J., & Wahler, R. G. (2014c). Shenpa and compassionate abiding: Mindfulness-based practices for anger and aggression by individuals with schizophrenia. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 138-152.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014b). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, 5, 381-391.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 129-137.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths. In: Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Singh, N. N. (Eds). Buddhist Foundations of Mindfulness. New York: Springer.

A Guided Meditation on Mindful Working

A Guided Meditation on Mindful Working

work mind 4

A particular arm of our research work at the moment is concerned with evaluating the utility of an eight-week secular (i.e., non-religious) mindfulness intervention we developed called Meditation Awareness Training (MAT). Part of our empirical work with MAT involves exploring its potential applications in the workplace setting. The version of MAT that we use in work-related contexts is still based on the original intervention protocol (that was primarily developed for use in clinical settings), but it has undergone a number of modifications. These modifications mostly relate to making the intervention more appealing to organisations who are more likely to support the introduction of mindfulness to their employees where it can be demonstrated that any benefits to psychological wellbeing resulting from participation in MAT also somehow improve overall work effectiveness. Consequently, the majority of mindfulness exercises taught in MAT specifically focus on how to cultivate and practice mindfulness whilst engaging in everyday work situations (e.g., working at the computer, attending meetings, speaking on the telephone, undertaking manual work, etc.). Today’s post features part of a guided mindfulness meditation that is used in week one of the eight-week MAT program in order to help introduce employees to the basic principles of breath awareness and to idea of practising mindfulness ‘on the job’.

Guided Mindfulness Meditation: Mindful Working

  1. Breathing in, when I am working, I remember that I am also breathing; breathing out, I remember to observe my breath as it enters and leaves the body.
  2. Breathing in, I notice whether my breath is deep or shallow, short or long; breathing out, I allow my breath to follow its natural course.
  3. Breathing in, I become fully aware of each individual moment of my breath; breathing out, I taste and experience the texture of breath.
  4. Breathing in, I am aware of my lungs as they rise and fall; breathing out, I am aware of my heart beat.
  5. Breathing in, when I am working, I am fully aware of my bodily posture and movements; breathing out, I remember to go calmly and gently.
  6. Breathing in, there is nowhere else I need to be; breathing out, I am already home.
  7. Breathing in, when I am working, I observe my feelings; breathing out, I cradle my feelings in awareness.
  8. Breathing in, when I am working, I observe the thoughts moving through my mind; breathing out, I allow my thoughts to come and go.
  9. Breathing in, I listen deeply to what others are saying and not saying; breathing out, I observe how these words influence my feelings and thoughts.
  10. Breathing in, I am here; breathing out, I am now.

 

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Chapman M. Mindfulness in the workplace: what is the fuss all about? Counselling at Work. 2011; 74 (Autumn):20-24.

Chapman M. Where are we now? Counselling at Work. 2013; 82 (Autumn):4-9.

Dane E, Brummel BJ. Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relations. 2014; 67:105-128.

Grégoire S, Lachance L. Evaluation of a brief mindfulness-based intervention to reduce psychological distress in the workplace. Mindfulness. 2014; DOI::10.1007/s12671-014-0328-9.

Malarkey WB, Jarjoura D, Klatt M. Workplace based mindfulness practice and inflammation: A randomized trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2013; 27:145-154.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W Managers’ experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness. 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, Dunn T, Singh N, Griffiths MD. Meditation Awareness Training for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomized controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2014; DOI 10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2.

Shonin E, Van Gordon W, Griffiths MD. The treatment of workaholism with Meditation Awareness Training: A Case Study. Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. 2014; 10: 193-195.

Van Gordon W, Shonin E, Zangeneh M, Griffiths MD. Work-related mental health and job performance: Can mindfulness help? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. 2014; 12:129-137.

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

Should Mindfulness be Taught to the Military?

military

A few months ago, we wrote a post on whether mindfulness should be used in military (and business) settings?  As we mentioned in our earlier post, the issue of using mindfulness in military settings is a reasonably hot topic at the moment because although some people – including ourselves – believe that there is no reason why mindfulness should not be taught to military or business personnel, others are of the view that because mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, it is inappropriate to teach mindfulness to the armed forces. Since writing the above post, we have received a few emails/comments from people disagreeing with or requesting additional clarification on some of the arguments that we made. Thus, in today’s post, we revisit this topic and provide five reasons why – in our opinion – teaching mindfulness to military personnel is in keeping with Buddhist values and ideals.

  1. The Dharma is for everybody: The Buddhist teachings (known as the Dharma) – which include teachings on mindfulness – are universal in their application. It does not matter if a person is rich or poor, good or bad, famous or obscure, young or old, male or female, or if they purport not to have an interest in matters of a spiritual nature – the Dharma is available for everybody to benefit from. Indeed, it is not for anybody – not even the Buddha – to decide which people should be denied the spiritual teachings and which people should receive them. Each person must make that choice on an individual basis and, really and truly, the only way they can make an informed decision about whether a particular form of spiritual practice is right for them, is if they have the opportunity to try it first. Therefore, introducing military personnel to the mindfulness teachings brings people working in military settings into contact with the Dharma and gives them the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether mindfulness is a practice they would like to integrate into their lives. This is a good thing.
  2. The Dharma is 100% effective for transforming suffering: The Buddhist teachings are 100% effective for uprooting the causes of suffering and for cultivating wisdom. Indeed, ithas been said by Buddhist teachers of the past that if just one word of the Buddha’s wisdom is correctly put into practice, then lasting benefit will ensue. In other words, if the Buddhist teachings – in whatever form they mayappear – are correctly taught and correctly practiced, then there is only one outcome for the practitioner – an increase in wisdom, compassion, and awareness. In the event that such qualities do not begin to manifest in theindividual, this means that either the teachings are not being taught correctly, or they are not being practiced in the right way.Thus, if a person is not being taught correctly or is not practising the Dharma properly, then no meaningful benefit will arise from their practice and they cannot be called authentic Dharma or authentic mindfulness practitioners. Therefore, as we discussed in our original post on mindfulness and the military, we don’t need to be worried about people potentially misusing the insight or abilities they accrue when practicing the Buddhist teachings – it simply can’t happen. Perhaps a better way of understanding this principle is to think of the Buddhist teachings – including the mindfulness teachings – as having a natural protection or defence mechanism. If a person comes into contact with the Dharma who is not ready to receive the teachings or who intends to use them for selfish or negative purposes, their wrong intention will prevent the teachings from taking root within their being. In fact, all that they will receive will be a theoretical and superficial account of the teachings – and even this won’t be properly understood. Of course, one might argue that with this newly-accumulated theoretical knowledge military personnel may play a part in passing on wrong information or a watered-down version of the Buddhist teachings from one person to another. However, given that there are a lot of (so-called) Buddhist and mindfulness teachers already doing this, then we don’t see why the military should be targeted for criticism over and above anybody else.
  3. Wise and compassionate military leaders are better than mindless ones: In one of the sets of feedback that we received on our original post on this subject, a person commented that “My take is that they [people in the military] should resign and renounce their military affiliations.” Although there is nothing greater we would like than to live in a world where there is no need for countries to have armed forces, unfortunately, this is not the world wecurrently live in. Indeed, if a country decided to disband its armed forces, then because of peoples’ greed and ignorance, thelikelyhood is that the country in question would be subject to invasion from other armed forces, attacks from terrorist groups, and/or a greater amount of civil unrest and rioting. Therefore, if we are going to teach the Dharma, then we have to do so in a way that is realistic, up-to-date, and relevant to the world that we live in. To propose that anybody in the military who wants to live an ethically and morally wholesome life (which in most countries probably includes the overwhelming majority of military personnel) simply resigns their post is not a realistic suggestion and would jeopardise the safety and wellbeing of countless people across the globe.Therefore, a much more pragmatic solution is to have soldiers and military leaders that practice spiritual development and who execute their role with wisdom and loving-kindness for all beings. In fact, if all military personnel who aspire to live a good life and to be good world citizens were to resign from the military, then we think there would be much more conflict and acts of military brutality than there already are. To explain this idea in a different way, we would like to share with you a discussion we had this morning with a young Sri Lankan man who has been assigned by the community we are staying with at the moment to use a sling shot to keep the crows away from washing and feeding in the clean water. We noticed the young man was looking very sad and so we decided to ask him what was upsetting him. He responded by saying that he was upset because the job he had been assigned meant that he could not uphold his Buddhist vows because he was constantly firing stones at the passing crows. We asked the young man how many crows he had actually hit since he took up his post. He said that to his knowledge, he hadn’t actually hit a single crow because he always aims for roof tops or for a branch of a tree so that the birds fly away when they hear the noise. We then asked the man if everybody assigned to do this task does the same thing as him or if some people actually try to hit the birds. The young man responded by explaining that there are some young men in the village who take great pleasure in hitting the crows and who even have competitions with each other to see who can hit or kill the most birds in one day. After hearing this we suggested to the young man that he was actually conducting his role with great compassion and wisdom because on the one hand, he was performing his job effectively by protecting the water from dirt and disease, but at the same time he was preventing other people from causing harm to sentient beings. On hearing this the young man gave the most beautiful smile and happiness returned to his face.In a world where there is lots of greed, negativity and extreme views, it seems that some kind of armed force is essential for acting as a deterrent and for maintaining a relative amount of peace and wellbeing. However, it is definitely possible for military leaders to apply wisdom and compassion in the way in which they conduct their roles and to do their best to find peaceful resolutions to conflicts. For such military leaders, the use of weaponry would be kept to an absolute minimum and weaponry would be used only after all other options had been exhausted. You see, it is all very well saying that under no circumstances must a person take another person’s life, but from time to time situations arise that mean such an approach is not realistic. One obvious example would be eliminating the threat caused by a terrorist who was about to set off a bomb in order to cause harm to hundreds of people. In our opinion, if there was no way to capture and disarm the terrorist without causing them harm, then in the interests of preserving life, it would be acceptable and in keeping with Buddhist values to take defensive action in order to eliminate the threat to many others. The difference is that the mindful or Buddhist practitioner would do so with the greatest amount of love and compassion for the terrorist and would understand that it is ignorance that has led them to such extremist behaviour.
  4. Military personnel often make good Dharma practitioners: Some of the most sincere mindfulness/Dharma practitioners that we have come across have been people with a military background. We are not 100% sure why some people with a military background take very well to the practice of mindfulness but we believe individuals that have completed military service in hostile areas seem to better understand just how harsh and unpredictable life can be. The process of having first-hand experience of death and suffering can sometimes jolt a person out of selfishness and of taking everything for granted. Indeed, here in the West, most people enjoy a privileged lifestyle and do not have to worry about finding food, shelter, or medicine. Despite this, many people in developed countries take their situation for granted and spend all of their time complaining about things or being bigoted and passing judgement on others. Depending on the person and on where they have completed active service, working in the armed forces can sometimes shake a person out of this selfish attitude and cause them to become disillusioned with the soap opera that a large number of civilians choose to adopt as their way of life.
  5. Research supports the use of mindfulness for military personnel: The use of mindfulness in military settings is supported by two different areas of mindfulness research (see further reading list below for examples of studies). The first area is research demonstrating that mindfulness actually helps people to become more compassionate (both for themselves and for others) and to grow in spiritual insight. The second area is research that has been specifically conducted with military personnel and demonstrates that mindfulness both prevents and helps individuals recover from psychological distress.

We hope the above helps to clarify why we cautiously advocate the responsible integration of mindfulness into military settings. However, we appreciate that this is quite a sensitive topic and that not everybody will share our view.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Le, T. N. (2014). Mindfulness-Based Adventure Camp for military youth. Journal of Extension, 52, Article No. 2FEA5.

Rice, V., Boykin, G., Jeter, A., Villarreal, J., Overby, C., & Alfred, P. (2013). The Relationship between mindfulness and resiliency among active duty service members and military veterans. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting, 57, 11387-1391.

Stanley, E.A., Schaldach, J. M., Kiyonaga, A., & Jha, A. P. (2011).  Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training: A case study of a high-stress predeployment military cohort. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 18, 566-576.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health, 53, 849-863.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2014). Managers’ experiences of Meditation Awareness Training. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0334-y.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation in psychotherapy. Thresholds: Quarterly Journal of the Association for Pastoral and Spiritual Care and Counselling (A Journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), Spring Issue, 9-12.

Trousselard, M., Steiler, D., Claverie, D., & Canini, F. (2012). Relationship between mindfulness and psychological adjustment in soldiers according to their confrontation with repeated deployments and stressors. Psychology, 3, 100-115.

Williams, M. J., McManus, F., Muse, K., & Williams, J. M. (2011). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for severe health anxiety (hypochondriasis): An interpretative phenomenological analysis of patients’ experiences. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 50, 379-97.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2015). The lineage of mindfulness. Mindfulness, 6, 141-145.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice, 63, 654.

Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., & Griffiths, M. (2015). Towards a second-generation of mindfulness-based interventions. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 49, 591-591.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Compare, A., Zangeneh, M., & Griffiths, M. D. (2015). Buddhist-derived loving-kindness and compassion meditation for the treatment of psychopathology: A systematic review. Mindfulness, 6, 1161-1180.

Shonin, E., & Van Gordon, W. (2013). Searching for the present moment, Mindfulness, 5, 105-107.

Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

Should Mindfulness be taught to Improve Military and Business Effectiveness?

military

During one of our recent talks on mindfulness, we were asked whether we feel it is ethically and morally correct for mindfulness to be taught for the purposes of improving military or business effectiveness. Given that mindfulness was originally taught as a means of fostering peace and spiritual awakening, some people are of the view that it is inappropriate for businesses and the military to teach mindfulness to their employees in order to give them a strategic advantage over the competition. This seems to be quite a hot topic at the moment – especially because projects investigating the applications of mindfulness in military and business settings are already underway. Consequently, we have decided to dedicate this entire post to providing our view on this issue.

In the Buddhist teachings, mindfulness occurs as just one aspect (the seventh aspect) of a fundamental teaching known as the Noble Eightfold Path. Although the Noble Eightfold Path (obviously) consists of eight different elements, these elements do not function as standalone entities. In other words, it is not the case that one starts at the first practice of the Noble Eightfold Path (known as ‘right view’) and concludes one’s training in this practice before moving onto the second practice (known as ‘right intention’.). Rather, although the Noble Eightfold Path has eight different elements, it is in fact just one path and just one practice. This means that whenever one aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path is present and functioning correctly, then all of the other aspects are also present and functioning correctly. For example, without, ‘right view’, ‘right intention’, ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’, ‘right effort’, and ‘right concentration’, there cannot be ‘right mindfulness’.

Thus, if a person in the military is taught mindfulness correctly, then they are also being directly or indirectly instructed in practices intended to cultivate ethical awareness (i.e., ‘right speech’, ‘right action’, ‘right livelihood’), a compassionate and spiritual outlook (i.e., ‘right intention’), and wisdom (i.e., ‘right view’). Accordingly, people in the military or in business that practice mindfulness correctly will also be learning how to become more responsible, wiser, and compassionate world citizens. Therefore, we don’t really need to worry about whether such people will “miss-use” the mindfulness teachings. In actual fact, many accomplished Buddhist practitioners believe that the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness are so potent and effective that anybody that practices them correctly can’t help but become a better human being.

Of course, there is a strong possibility that people in the military or in business could be taught to practice “mindfulness” outside of the above system of ethical and spiritual values. However, we also don’t particularly need to concern ourselves about this because in such situations it is no longer mindfulness that is being taught. In other words, one can’t really raise a grievance that an organisation is misusing mindfulness if in fact what they are teaching isn’t mindfulness.

Apologies if you were expecting a lengthier discourse but we don’t think there is much else to discuss on this topic.

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

Bodhi, B. (1994). The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society.

Dalai Lama. (2001). Stages of meditation: training the mind for wisdom. London: Rider.

Gampopa. (1998). The Jewel Ornament of Liberation: The wish-fulfilling gem of the noble teachings. (A. K. Trinlay Chodron, Ed., & K. Konchong Gyaltsen, Trans.) New York: Snow Lion Publications.

Khyentse D. (2007). The heart of compassion: the thirty-seven verses on the practice of a Bodhisattva. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). The emerging role of Buddhism in clinical psychology: Towards effective integration. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, DOI: 10.1037/a0035859.

An Alternative Approach to Defining Mindfulness

An Alternative Approach to Defining Mindfulness

lit flame

It seems that nearly every academic paper concerning mindfulness includes a statement to the effect that ‘there is currently a lack of consensus amongst Western psychologists in terms of how to define mindfulness’. However, we’re not sure whether disagreement amongst psychologists regarding an appropriate definition for mindfulness is as prevalent as the academic literature might suggest. In other words, perhaps people are of the opinion that there is a lot of disagreement about mindfulness amongst Western psychologists only because everybody keeps saying that there is. Indeed, it could be argued that since it is only during the last few decades that mindfulness has been introduced into Western psychological settings, a certain number of ‘teething’ issues are to be expected and that, in terms of what constitutes some of the basic attributes of mindfulness practice, there is actually a decent level of concordance amongst psychologists. Examples of some of the things that Western psychologists generally seem to agree on in relation to mindfulness practice are that mindfulness: (i) is fundamentally concerned with becoming more aware of the present moment, (ii) can be practiced during everyday activities and not just when seated in meditation, (iii) is cultivated more easily by using concentrative anchors such as observing the breath, (iv) is a practice that requires deliberate effort, and (v) is concerned with observing both sensory and mental processes.

Our personal view is that too much emphasis is placed by Western psychologists on areas where there is disagreement rather than working with the aspects of mindfulness practice that have already been theoretically or empirically established. We also believe that too much emphasis is placed by academicians on attempting to devise and disseminate an ‘absolute’ or ‘all-encompassing’ definition of mindfulness. That is not to say that there are certain aspects of Western psychological definitions of mindfulness that wouldn’t benefit from additional clarification, but this doesn’t need to be made into too big a deal or detract from the insights and progress that have already been made. In today’s post, we briefly outline some of the key aspects of mindfulness practice where there is currently disagreement amongst Western psychologists. Following this, we propose a definition of mindfulness that (in our view) embodies a traditional Buddhist perspective on mindfulness and that may help to inform the ongoing scientific debate amongst Western psychologists in terms of how best to define the mindfulness construct.

Key Areas of Confusion in Western Psychology

1. Non-judgemental awareness: Arguably, the most popular definition of mindfulness employed in the Western psychological literature is the one proposed by Jon Kabat-Zinn who defines mindfulness as the process of “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. In the context of this definition, some people believe that the use of the term ‘non-judgemental’ is appropriate because it implies that mindfulness involves the acceptance (i.e., rather than the rejecting or ignoring) of present-moment sensory and cognitive-affective experiences. However, others believe that the term ‘non-judgemental’ is unsatisfactory and/or too ambiguous because it could imply that the mindfulness practitioner is essentially indifferent and doesn’t seek to discern which cognitive, emotional, and behavioural responses are conducive to ethically wholesome conduct.

2. Insight generation: In the Western psychological literature, ‘vipassana meditation’ and ‘insight meditation’ are often regarded as being the same as ‘mindfulness meditation’. However, this portrayal of vipassana meditation (and insight meditation) is not consistent with the traditional Buddhist perspective. According to the classical Buddhist literature, vipassana meditation (which means ‘superior seeing’) involves the use of penetrative investigation in order to intuit (for example) the ‘non-self’, ‘non-dual’, and ‘empty’ nature of reality (please see our posts on ‘Do We Really Exist?’ and ‘Exactly What is the Present Moment?’). Thus, although mindfulness meditation is certainly insight-generating in the sense that it leads to an intimate awareness of the mind, ‘mindfulness meditation’ is not ‘insight meditation’ as per the traditional Buddhist understanding. Therefore, there is debate amongst psychologists as to the role of insight in mindfulness meditation.

3. Context for practice: Mindfulness is traditionally practiced in the context of spiritual development. Indeed, within Buddhism, mindfulness is practiced in conjunction with numerous other spiritual practices and is just one aspect (the seventh aspect) of a key Buddhist teaching known as the Noble Eightfold Path. As we discussed in our post on ‘Meditation: A Threefold Approach’, the successful establishment of mindfulness relies upon a deep-seated understanding of the three Buddhist root principles of: (i) wisdom, (ii) meditation, and (iii) ethics (collectively known as ‘the three trainings’ – Sanksrit: trishiksha). In Buddhist practice, these three elements interact to form a cohesive whole, and there isn’t a single Buddhist practice that is not encompassed by the trishiksha principle. Therefore, there is debate in the Western psychological literature relating to whether or not mindfulness needs to be practiced within the context of spiritual development.

 

Mindfulness: A Traditional Buddhist Perspective

Needless to say, within Buddhism, there are different views about what constitutes mindfulness practice. That said, and as inferred in our post ‘When Buddha and Christ met for Tea’, we personally believe that there is actually no contradiction in the teachings from any of the different cycles of Buddhist transmission (known as the various ‘Turnings of the Wheel of Dharma’). Accordingly, in terms of a traditional Buddhist depiction, we would define mindfulness as ‘the full, direct, and active awareness of experienced phenomena that is spiritual in aspect and that is maintained from one moment to the next’.

The intended meaning of each of the words in this definition is as follows:

  • Full awareness’ means that mindfulness is all-embracing – nothing is left out and everything is accepted. This is the passive aspect of mindfulness.
  • Direct awareness’ means that there is no gap or delay between the experienced phenomena and our awareness of it. This is the insight aspect of mindful awareness. However, this doesn’t mean that mindfulness is the same as (the traditional Buddhist depiction of) insight meditation or vipassana meditation. Insight can definitely arise during mindfulness meditation but we are not actively trying to induce it as with vipassana meditation practice. Depending on a person’s level of experience, ‘direct awareness’ means doing ones best during mindfulness practice to remember that there is ‘self in other’ and ‘other in self’, or, in the case of very experienced practitioners, it means directly perceiving that this is so.
  • Active awareness’ is discerning and means that the mindfulness practitioner should not only observe the present moment but should also participate in it. Active awareness allows us to determine how to act skilfully in a given situation as well as how to create and shape the present moment. It also allows us to discern the ‘nutritional value’ of our various experiences and which environmental stimuli should be allowed to penetrate and nurture our being (please see our recent post on ‘The Absorbing Mind’). Active awareness is (obviously) the active aspect of mindfulness.
  • Experienced phenomena’ means that we should be natural and not over-exert ourselves in our practice of mindfulness. It means that we take ‘experience now’ as the path. This includes both the ‘external’ phenomena and the ‘internal’ phenomena (sometimes called noumena) that enter our field of awareness. This is the effortless or spontaneous aspect of mindfulness.
  • Spiritual in aspect’ means that the primary intention for practicing mindfulness is to effect spiritual awakening in oneself and in others. This is the compassionate aspect of mindfulness.
  • Sustained from one moment to the next’ means that the practitioner tries to maintain an unbroken flow of awareness throughout the day (and even during sleep if they are experienced enough). This is the enduring aspect of mindfulness.

A Different Approach to Defining Mindfulness

Our hope from introducing the above definition, is to try and give a small amount of ‘food for thought’ to certain aspects of the ongoing debate amongst academicians regarding the formulation of a suitable definition for mindfulness. If you like this definition then please don’t get too worked-up about it. Equally, if you think it is an unsatisfactory definition then please try not to become too upset. It’s just a definition and it would be far better if you practiced and experienced what mindfulness is for yourself. That way, it wouldn’t really matter how other people defined it. In fact, we believe that it’s unlikely that an ‘absolute’ definition of mindfulness will ever be developed because as a spiritual phenomenon, certain dimensions of the mindfulness construct will always be difficult to express in words and can only be fully understood by those individuals who can tap into them on the experiential rather than the academic level. Furthermore, it should also be kept in mind that people will have different understandings depending upon why they are interested in mindfulness and on their level of meditative experience. In this sense, we believe that one of the most insightful and pragmatic approaches to reconciling aspects of the ‘mindfulness definition debate’ is the one taken by Professor Nirbhay Singh (a leading mindfulness expert) and his team. According to Professor Singh and colleagues, “the definition of mindfulness will vary depending on whether one is interested in mindfulness from a social psychological, clinical, or spiritual context, or from the perspective of a researcher, clinician, or a practitioner, and their various combinations”.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

Further Reading

 

  1. Bodhi, B. (Ed.). (2009). Majjhima Nikaya: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha (4th ed.). (Bhikkhu Bodhi, & Bhikkhu Nanamoli, Trans.) Massachusetts: Wisdom Publications. (see the satipattana sutra [sutra no. 10] and the anapanasati sutra [sutra no. 118])
  2. Chah, A. (2011). The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah. Northumberland: Aruna Publications.
  3. Dalai Lama, & Berzin, A. (1997). The Gelug/Kagyu Tradition of Mahamudra. New York: Snow Lion Publications.
  4. Dorjee, D. (2010). Kinds and dimensions of mindfulness: Why it is important to distinguish them. Mindfulness, 1, 152-160.
  5. Gethin, R. (2011). On some definitions of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12, 263-279.
  6. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hyperion.
  7. Kang, C., & Whittingham, K. (2010). Mindfulness: A dialogue between Buddhism and clinical psychology. Mindfulness, 1, 161-173.
  8. Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books.
  9. Rosch, E. (2007). More than mindfulness: when you have a tiger by the tail, let it eat you. Psychological Inquiry, 18, 258-264.
  10. Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Wahler, R. G., Winton, A. S., & Singh, J. (2008). Mindfulness approaches in cognitive behavior therapy. Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36, 1-8.
  11. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013d). Mindfulness-based interventions: Towards mindful clinical integration. Frontiers in Psychology, 4, 194, DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00194.
  12. Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness, DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.

The Absorbing Mind

The Absorbing Mind

mind 2

“Meditation has helped to open my eyes, to open my ears, and to open my heart. When I find myself listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, or to Johann Christian Bach’s Symphony for Double Orchestra, now I can really feel what the composers were trying to say. I can experience what they were feeling. I can hear their thoughts. The music is alive and I am alive with it. Each note rings clear. I can truly taste [their] brilliance.” (Quote from the interview transcript of a senior manager who participated in a recent randomized controlled trial that we conducted examining the effects of meditation on work-related wellbeing and job performance.)

 

More and more countries are making it a legal requirement for cigarette packets to display a health warning. The warnings usually contain words to the effect that “Smoking can seriously damage your health”. People are becoming increasingly aware that our health is directly influenced by the types of food and non-food substances that we inhale or ingest. The idea behind placing warnings on cigarette packets, and behind including detailed nutritional information on the labels of food packaging, is to help consumers make a health-informed decision about what products they buy. If there is reliable evidence that certain products can have a beneficial or adverse effect on a person’s health, then without taking things too far, it makes sense that people should be able to access this information at the point of sale.

Interestingly, however, similar types of warnings and/or “nutritional information” are not currently displayed on the vast majority of magazines, newspapers, books, television shows, films, and computer games that are readily available for purchase from big-name supermarkets, high street stores, and online retailers. We would argue that when (for example) people read a magazine, watch a television show, or play a computer game, they are effectively “ingesting” these products into their system. When we mentally consume such products, and subject to how much intelligence we apply when so doing, we are basically allowing the newspaper journalist or the film maker to pour a part of their mind into ours. Depending upon that writer’s intentions and on their levels of spiritual awareness, this may or may not be a good thing.

When guiding a specific form of meditation, we sometimes ask people to visualize themselves as a body made of rainbow light, and to then see themselves seated at the centre of all universes. As the meditation progresses, we invite people to visualize and experience this rainbow body as being connected by golden threads to all sentient beings. One of the reasons for suggesting that people make this practice, is to try and help them appreciate just how connected we are with all other sentient beings, and how each and every one of our thoughts, words, and actions influences those beings. It might be difficult to comprehend or accept that every single one of our thoughts, words, and deeds directly touches every single life form and phenomenon throughout the entire ‘multidimensional multiverse’. However, even if this is difficult to accept, most people don’t have any difficulty in understanding that the words they utter can directly affect the behaviour and wellbeing of others. For example, in our post entitled ‘Forgive them Father’, we discussed how just a few venomous whispers by some of the high priests was all it took for the people to work themselves into a state of anger and rage and consent to the public crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

As each second goes by, an unimaginable variety of stimuli and phenomena, including the thoughts, words, and intentions of others, are constantly bombarding and being absorbed by our minds. Given the extent to which these “ingestible products” can influence our wellbeing, we wonder how people in (for example) the newspaper industry would react if it became a legal requirement for certain newspapers to print the following statement on their front page: “Warning: Reading this can Seriously Damage your Health”. Perhaps then, people might be more selective about the type of materials they read, and perhaps the newspapers would take greater care not to use words that water the seeds of fear, hatred, and ignorance in people’s hearts and minds.

It seems fairly obvious that other peoples’ written and spoken words can directly affect our mood and wellbeing, and there is plenty of evidence from clinical and neuroimaging studies that supports this view. However, there is also evidence indicating that our state of wellbeing is also influenced by more subtle factors such as the passive ambient rhythm or energy of the environment in which we find ourselves. A good example of this relates to a research project that our team is currently planning where we will be exploring the relationship between meditation and nature (we are joined in this project by Professor Carol Morris of Nottingham University who is a Human Geographer and an expert in how human beings interact with their physical environment). Research conducted in this study area (generally referred to as the study of Ecopsychology), indicates that certain “natural” and/or man-made environments are much more conducive to wellbeing than others. This accords well with the Buddhist view that the mind has the capacity to absorb its external physical and social environment. Although we personally feel that psychology still has a lot of progress to make in order to fully appreciate the strength of the connection between mind and environment, it seems that a growing number of psychologists would agree that our general levels of wellbeing are heavily influenced not only by psychosocial factors, but also by the physical environment that we are exposed to.

When we visit a Buddhist monastery or a meditation practice centre, it is really easy to tell how diligently people are practicing. If people are practicing well, then almost immediately upon entering and before even meeting anybody, one is engulfed by an air of awareness, deep calm, and gentleness. However, where monasteries or practice centres exist just for making money or where they have forgotten about the Buddhadharma, then all you encounter is a stale smell of mindlessness and selfishness. Have you ever wondered what type of atmosphere and subtle ambient rhythm is present in your own home? Is it an environment that is conducive to spiritual growth? Are people considerate and are they gentle with one another? Do the people who live there think before they speak? Do they avoid petty bickering and forcing their opinions onto each other? Do they move through the house with joy and awareness? Are things sensibly orderly and is there a good level of basic cleanliness? Have you created a living environment where you can be happy?

Fortunately, although we are continuously exposed to other people’s minds, and to the background “energy” of any given environment, there are strategies that we can use to help buffer and regulate how these stimuli affect us. One of the best strategies that we know of is to cultivate mindfulness. We definitely shouldn’t become complacent and have the view that because we are mindfulness practitioners, it doesn’t matter what type of materials we read, who we spend our time with, or that we are above having to keep our home environment clean and tidy. However, cultivating mindfulness means that we become increasingly more aware of the various different “products” that we are continuously mentally (and physically) ingesting. Although we can’t (and shouldn’t try to) block certain stimuli from entering our field of awareness, what we can do is make an assessment of their “nutritional value”. By being fully aware of what we consume with our minds, we essentially empower ourselves to make a choice as to which words and products we allow to penetrate and nourish our being, and which stimuli should be allowed to simply pass us by. As we discussed in our post titled ‘Do we really exist?’, this means that relative to the normal person who does not practice awareness, the meditation practitioner is somebody who is fully in control of their spiritual development and the ‘self’ that they are creating.

From the meditation practitioner’s perspective, it’s not just with respect to incoming words and stimuli where we need to apply awareness, but also with respect to the type of products and stimuli that we send in other peoples’ direction.  Indeed, given the extent to which our thoughts, words, and actions can influence other peoples’ minds and wellbeing, it is important that we ensure our speech, writing, and general behaviour is infused with wisdom and awareness. In this respect, it is useful to remember that the human being is a creator. The difference between the everyday person and the realized being is that the latter is fully aware of their inherent creative potency. The realized being is like a master artist who uses the tools of insight, compassion, and skilful means to create a dynamic masterpiece of interwoven mind and matter upon the canvas of all-pervasive emptiness.

Each of our thoughts, words, and actions dictate who we are now and who we will be in the future. Those same thoughts, words, and deeds also influence who others will be in the future. Therefore, the next time you write something or create a product for other peoples’ minds, perhaps you might like to consider how your “mental food” will affect the wellbeing of the consumers. It should be reasonably easy to tell where somebody is writing with awareness because their words should be easily absorbed and should be alive with wisdom. Such words should effortlessly fly off the page and talk to you directly. Reading mindful words should leave us feeling spiritually nourished, calmer, and with a clearer perspective. Mindful words should help us to stop and be, to let go a little, and to feel bathed and refreshed by that person’s compassion and awareness. Mindful words should help us to remember that we were born, that we are currently living, but that in the future we will die. Upon reading words written in awareness, we should, if we really want to, be able to just unwind, take a few conscious breaths in and out, and start to allow the mind to relax into its natural state. Perhaps we could say that words written with mindfulness provide us with all five of our ‘spiritual five a day’.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Howell, A.J., Dopko, R.L, Passmore, H., & Buro, K. (2011). Nature connectedness: associations with well-being and mindfulness. Personality and Individual differences, 51, 166-171.

Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books.

Ross, C.A. (Ed.). (2012). Words for Wellbeing. Penrith, UK: Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

Segal, S. (Ed). 2003. Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings. New York: State University of New York Press.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for Spiritual Growth? Thresholds. Summer Issue, 14-18.

Voigt, C., Brown, G., & Howat, G. (2011). Wellness tourists: in search of transformation. Tourism Review, 66, 16-30.

Wolsko, C., & Lindberg, K. (2013). Experiencing connection with nature: The matrix of psychological well-being, mindfulness, and outdoor recreation. Ecopsychology, 5, 80-91.

Acknowledgment: This post was used as a platform for developing themes, insights, and elucidations to be included in an expanded article written for the Mindfulness in Practice section of the journal Mindfulness.

Tips for using Mindfulness in Psychotherapy Contexts

Tips for using Mindfulness in Psychotherapy Contexts

psychotherapy 2

Recently, we were joined by our friend and academic colleague Professor Mark Griffiths in writing a paper on ‘Meditation as Medication: Are Attitudes Changing?’ (the paper is currently in press with the British Journal of General Practice).1 The paper discusses how, amongst both patients and clinicians, the prospect of using mindfulness and meditation as a mainstream medical intervention is becoming increasingly acceptable. Over the last 12 months or so, in addition to mainstream research journals such as the above, we have also published (or had accepted for publication) a series of articles in more practitioner-based and/or professional journals where we offer suggestions on how best to use and teach mindfulness (and other meditative techniques) within medical and/or mental health settings. Examples are articles published in Corrections Today (a journal of the American Correctional Association),2 Thresholds (a journal of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), 3 Addiction Today (a practitioner-focused journal focusing on addiction recovery), 4 Education Today (the nationwide journal of the School and Student Health Education Unit), 5 and the quarterly publication of the National Council on Problem Gambling.6

Based on a synthesis of the recommendations outlined in the abovementioned professional/practitioner journals, and based on insights from our own and others’ research and practice of meditation, today’s post outlines what we consider to be helpful strategies for the effective use of mindfulness techniques within client-therapist settings:

1. Therapist-led practice: Findings from our own empirical research into Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) indicate that clients and patients place tremendous importance on the extent to which the therapist’s own thoughts, words, and actions are infused with mindful awareness.7 A therapist who is ‘well-soaked’ in meditation naturally exerts a reassuring presence that helps clients to relax and connect with their own capacity for spiritual awareness. As we discussed in our posts on ‘Teaching Mindfulness to Children and ‘Predicting your Enlightenment, if a meditation teacher (or a therapist) is going to instruct others on how to practise mindfulness correctly, then it is essential that they do so from an experiential standpoint. Furthermore, clinicians and psychotherapists are particularly at-risk for compassion fatigue – a type of secondary traumatic stress caused by working with clients who have an illness of a distressing nature or who have directly experienced a traumatic event.3 Therapist mindfulness practice has been shown to exert a protective influence over compassion fatigue and therefore helps to improve the therapeutic experience for client and therapist alike.8

2. Insight-led practice: This point is closely related to the above point on therapist-led practice and refers to the importance of psychotherapists appreciating that there are many ‘activating agents’ that are essential for the development of ‘right mindfulness’. As outlined in our most recent post on ‘Exactly what is the Present Moment?’, an example of such an activating agent is cultivating insight into the ‘impermanent’, ‘non-self’, and ‘empty’ nature of reality. A firmly embedded understanding by therapists of the principles that underlie effective mindfulness practice (i.e., non-self, emptiness, impermanence, etc.) is likely to enhance therapeutic outcomes in the long term. Indeed, according to psychotherapists Maura Sills and Judy Lown, greater therapeutic connection and transformation can take place as client and therapist begin to acquaint themselves with the non-self construct and work in an “open and empty ground state”.9 Similarly, as Professor Seth Segall of Yale University School of Medicine acknowledges a firm understanding of non-self can improve therapeutic core conditions because “the more the therapist understands anatta [non-self], the less likelihood that the therapy will be about the selfhood of the therapist”.10

3. Deep listening: As with all psychotherapy modalities, the therapist’s ability to listen deeply to what the client is saying, as well as to what they are not saying, is a vital part of the therapeutic process. However, in the context of mindfulness-based therapy, the practice of deep listening takes on a slightly different meaning compared with the more conventional therapeutic modes. When the mindfulness practitioner (or therapist) listens deeply to another person, believe it or not, the emphasis is actually placed more on listening to oneself rather than the client. Let’s clarify what is meant by this statement. Normally, any kind of discussion with another person triggers various kinds of emotional and cognitive responses. The way we interpret the words of others, and the types of thoughts and feelings that are engendered by those words, is heavily influenced by our own conditioning and beliefs. In other words, it is through the lens of the conditioned mind that we experience ourselves and others. So as meditation practitioners, the reason why we make an effort to listen to our own mental chatter during dialogue with others, is to try to limit the extent to which our own conditioning might colour our interpretation of what the other person is actually saying. As we referred to in a short vajragiti (a type of spontaneous spiritual song or poem) called Simply Being with Nothing to Be, the best way to listen deeply to ourselves in this manner is by being fully present with ourselves. When we are fully present with ourselves and are perfectly content with where and who we are, when we are happy to simply experience the present moment without trying to modify it, the pain that has built up inside the other person begins to talk to us. This happens naturally and without us having to look too hard. We can see all of the person’s suffering, we can smile gently at it, and that person’s pain knows that it now has a friend and is no longer alone. Their suffering has exposed itself to us, and because we are not lost or caught-up in our own thoughts or ego-attachments, a true communion of compassion and loving-kindness can now occur.

4. Life integration: Although it is undoubtedly beneficial for a client to meet with the therapist once or twice a week, it goes without saying that emphasis should be placed on empowering the client to introduce mindfulness into all aspects of their lives. Many clients find a CD of guided meditations and written resources about mindfulness practice to be useful props in this respect. Another factor that can make a big difference to the success of the therapy is working with the client to establish a routine of mindfulness practice. Our personal preference is to do this on a case by case basis (i.e., rather than prescribing a blanket-amount of formal meditation practice time for all people). When working with patients or meditation practitioners as part of our research or monastic work, we generally encourage people to try to adopt a dynamic meditation routine. In this manner, people are dissuaded from drawing divisions between meditation during formal sitting settings and meditation during everyday activities.11 As referred to in our post on ‘The Top Ten Mistakes made by Meditation Practitioners’, the purpose of this is to reduce the likelihood of dependency on the need for formal meditation sessions.

5. Meditative anchors: Integral to effective mindfulness training, particularly at the beginning stages, is the use of meditative anchors.3 A good example of a meditative anchor is observing the breath. Full-awareness of the in-breath and out-breath helps clients ‘tie their mind’ to the present moment and to subdue ruminating thought processes. Where clients have noticeably low levels of concentration, then teaching them to count their breath can be quite helpful. However, when using breath awareness as a meditative anchor, it is important to discourage clients or patients from forcing their breathing. In other words, the breath should be allowed to follow its natural course and to calm and deepen of its own accord (i.e., as a regular consequence of it being mindfully observed).3

6. Mindfulness reminders: In addition to meditative anchors, the maintenance of mindfulness during everyday activities appears to be facilitated by the use of mindfulness reminders. An example of a mindfulness reminder is an hour chime (e.g., from a wrist-watch or wall clock), which, upon sounding, can be used as a trigger by the client to gently return their awareness to the present moment and to the natural flow of the in-breath and out-breath (and to the space and time between each in-breath and out-breath).3 Some clients seem to prefer a less sensory reminder such as a simple acronym. For example, in the aforementioned eight-week Meditation Awareness Training program, clients are taught to use the following SOS technique to facilitate recovery of meditative concentration by ‘sending out an SOS’ at the point when intrusive thoughts arise:

 

The three-step SOS technique3,4

 1. Stop

2. Observe the breath

3. Step back and watch the mind

 

7. Meditative posture: Although the focus of mindfulness practice should be directed towards its maintenance during everyday activities, formal daily seated-meditation sessions are an essential aspect of mindfulness training. As part of seated meditation practice, a good physical posture helps to facilitate the cultivation of a good mental posture. The most important aspect of the meditation posture is stability which can be achieved whether sitting up-right on a chair or on a meditation cushion. The analogy used in Meditation Awareness Training for the appropriate meditation posture is that of a mountain. A mountain has a definite presence, it is upright and stable yet at the same time it is without tension and does not have to strain to maintain its posture – it is relaxed, content, and deeply-rooted in the earth.3

8. Psychoeducation: In most psychotherapeutic approaches, a degree of psychoeducation regarding the mechanisms of action and projected hurdles to recovery is generally regarded as a means of augmenting client-therapist trust and therapeutic alliance. Mindfulness-based therapy is no exception to this, and clients generally welcome advance notice of the difficulties they are likely to encounter as their meditative training progresses. One such difficulty, particularly in the beginning stages, is the feeling by patients or clients that their mind is becoming more discursive than before. However, rather than an actual reduction in levels of mindfulness, our own research into meditation has shown that such feelings generally result from a greater awareness by clients of the “wild” nature of their cognitive and emotional processes that had hitherto remained unnoticed.7 Particularly within the context of mindfulness-based therapy, psychoeducation should be regarded as a two-way process. In other words, in working with the client to discuss and explore different dimensions of their mindfulness practice, a co-produced form of understanding or wisdom often emerges. This is something that both the client and therapist can benefit from and is consistent with the Buddhist technique known as ‘Dharma sharing’.

Although the above points are not exhaustive, we believe that when they are implemented as part of a therapeutic relationship based on trust, patience, loving-kindness, and compassion, they will help to add authenticity to the transmission that takes place between client and therapist.

 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

 

References

  1. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation as medication: Are attitudes changing? British Journal of General Practice. In Press.
  2. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness meditation in American correctional facilities: A ‘what-works’ approach to reducing reoffending. Corrections Today, In Press.
  3. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based therapy: A tool for Spiritual Growth? Thresholds. Summer Issue, 14-18.
  4. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation for the treatment of addictive behaviours: Sending out an SOS. Addiction Today, March, 18-19.
  5. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents. Education and Health, 30, 94-97.
  6. Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Mindfulness-based interventions for the treatment of problem gambling. Journal of the National Council on Problem Gambling, 16, 17-18.
  7. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Journal of Religion and Health. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.
  8. Christoper, J.C., & Maris, J.A. (2010). Integrating mindfulness as self-care into counselling and psychotherapy training. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 10, 144-125.
  9. Sills, M., & Lown, J. (2008). The field of subliminal mind and the nature of being. European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling, 10, 10: 71-80.

10. Segall, S.R. (2003). Psychotherapy practice as Buddhist practice. In S. R. Segall (Ed.), Encountering Buddhism: Western Psychology and Buddhist Teachings (pp. 165-178). New York: State University of New York Press.

11. Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.