Mindfulness Background

In the fabled Sixties, one of the hottest books was Be Here Now, by Ram Dass, the spiritual leader who is still visited by seekers today. His teachings have spread to such places as the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, whose page describes the reactions of several professionals to a well-attended webinar.

Jack Kornfield, a student of Ram Dass, has said that mindfulness is…

[…] an innate human capacity to deliberately pay full attention to where we are, to our actual experience, and to learn from it.

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been taught for years in the realms of business, education, and healthcare. The program’s creator, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is quoted in a book titled Teaching Mindfulness: A Practical Guide for Clinicians and Educators. These are his words:

Mindfulness meditation is a consciousness discipline revolving around a particular way of paying attention in one’s life. It can be most simply described as the intentional cultivation of nonjudgmental moment-to-moment awareness.

Another definition is quoted, from Nyanaponika Thera:

Attention or mindfulness is kept to a bare registering of the facts observed, without reacting to them by deed, speech or by mental comment which may be one of self-reference (like, dislike, etc.), judgment or reflection.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), mindfulness is not a trait, but a state. Some practices or activities, like meditation, of course promote mindfulness, but the state of mindfulness is not confined to any one of them. The description of a continuing education class says:

[…] most of the literature has focused on mindfulness that is developed through mindfulness meditation — those self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calmness, clarity and concentration.

How does this all translate to a clinical setting? For one thing, therapists and trainees are said to benefit as much as patients, in quality-of-life terms, making MBSR a definite win-win situation.

Among the benefits, the APA lists reduced rumination, stress reduction, boosts to working memory, focus, less emotional reactivity, more cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, and more. The mention of “less emotional reactivity” is promising, because so much food-oriented and eating-related grief stems from the inability to cope with emotions.

An upset person has a negative emotional reaction and soothes the discomfort by eating. The world is jam-packed with things that can upset people. Events that cause emotional distress hide around every corner and wait to pounce.

We call them triggers, and patients who are obese because of emotional problems have a million triggers. Nobody has time to lie on a Freudian couch for years, tracking down and extirpating them one by one. We need tools to handle any trigger, the moment it rears its ugly head.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation: Ram Dass on Cultivating Loving Awareness,” NICABM.com, undated
Source: “Teaching Mindfulness,” Google Books, undated
Source: “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” APA.org, July/August 2012
Photo credit: Wendy Longo photography via Visual Hunt/CC BY-ND

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