Mindfulness is found to contribute to more consistent attentional focus, enhanced sensory processing, and reflective awareness of sensory experience. (Oxford
Combining ancient wisdom and 21st century science, Mindfulness is proving to be a powerful tool to help prevent relapse in depression and the after effects of trauma. Here I attempt to describe the essential nature of mindfulness and how it came about.
So what is mindfulness?
The word mindfulness means compassionate and lucid awareness, a sense of knowing what is happening in the external and internal world as it is happening. Most of us are more used to its opposite: mindlessness – times when we are not really conscious of what is going on, when we are most liable to make mistakes. Mindfulness means waking up and checking in to what’s happening so we can make wise choices.
In its more common usage in recent clinical literature, it has come to mean the awareness that emerges as a by-product of cultivating three related skills: (a) intentionally paying attention to moment-by moment events as they unfold in the internal and external world, (b) noticing habitual reactions to such events, often characterized by aversion or attachment (commonly resulting in over-thinking), and (c) cultivating the ability to respond to events, and to reactions to them, with an attitude of open curiosity and compassion.
Mindfulness is traditionally cultivated by the practice of meditation in which people learn to pay attention in each moment with full intentionality and with friendly interest. Meditation is not about clearing the mind, but rather coming to see the mind’s patterns. Daily meditation practice allows people to see the way in which certain patterns of mind lead to escalation of emotions, despite our best efforts to control them. It also allows us to see more clearly what sorts of actions lead to more wholesome outcomes in everyday life.
When people practice mindfulness meditation for any length of time, a number of qualities of their experience change. People say they feel more aware or awake, feel calmer and are more able to see clearly and gain freedom from their own emotional patterns and habits. They feel freer to be more compassionate to themselves and to others. The early research trials conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues had shown that this approach could be highly effective for patients who suffered long-term physical health conditions that had been destroying the quality of their lives (Kabat-Zinn, 2013).
The MBCT programme
Designed specifically to help people who suffer repeated bouts of depression to help prevent the depression from coming back, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale and based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme.