This article includes large unedited extracts from the original published paper that can be found here, authored by Shapiro SL, Carlson LE, Astin JA, and Freedman B
What Is Mindfulness
Mindfulness is “inherently a state of consciousness” which involves consciously attending to one’s moment-to-moment experience.
Or “mindfulness—the process of intentionally attending moment by moment with openness and non-judgmentalness”. It goes hand in hand with self-compassion!
How does mindfulness work?
The authors posit three components of mindfulness:
- Intention (done on purpose)
- Attitude (mindfulness qualities)
They then introduce a meta-mechanism of action, “reperceiving”.
As Kabat- Zinn writes, “Your intentions set the stage for what is possible. They remind you from moment to moment of why you are practicing in the first place” (p. 32). He continues, “I used to think that meditation practice was so powerful . . . that as long as you did it at all, you would see growth and change. But time has taught me that some kind of personal vision is also necessary” (p. 46, 1990). This personal vision, or intention, is often dynamic and evolving (Freedman, 2005). For example, a highly stressed businessman may begin a mindfulness practice to reduce hypertension. As his mindfulness practice continues, he may develop an additional intention of relating more kindly to his wife. Our definition of intention views them as dynamic and evolving, which allows them to change and develop with deepening practice, awareness, and insight.
The inclusion of intention (i.e., why one is practicing) as a central component of mindfulness is crucial to understanding the process as a whole, and often overlooked in other contemporary definitions.
A second fundamental component of mindfulness is attention. In the context of mindfulness practice, paying attention involves observing the operations of one’s moment-to-moment, internal and external experience. The attitude one brings to the attention is essential.
Attention has been suggested in the field of psychology as critical to the healing process. For example, Gestalt therapy emphasizes present moment awareness, and its founder, Fritz Perls claimed that, “attention in and of itself is curative.”
Often, mindfulness is associated with bare awareness, but the quality of this awareness is not explicitly addressed. However, the qualities one brings to the act of paying attention is crucial. For example, attention can have a cold, critical quality, or it can include an “an affectionate, compassionate quality . . . a sense of openhearted, friendly presence and interest”
The authors posit that persons can learn to attend to their own internal and external experiences, without evaluation or interpretation, and practice acceptance, kindness and openness even when what is occurring in the field of experience is contrary to deeply held wishes or expectations.
However, it is essential to make the attitudinal quality of attention explicit. It is important for the practitioner to consciously commit, e.g. “may I bring kindness, curiosity, and openness to my awareness, may I infuse my awareness with . . .”
With intentional training, one becomes increasingly able to take interest in each experience as it arises and also allow what is being experienced to pass away (i.e., not be held on to).
Through intentionally bringing the attitudes of patience, compassion and non-striving to the attentional practice, one develops the capacity not to continually strive for pleasant experiences, or to push aversive experiences away.
Reperceiving can be described as a rotation in consciousness in which what was previously “subject” becomes “object.”
Building on these behaviours, the authors propose a model of the potential mechanisms of mindfulness, which suggests that intentionally (I) attending (A) with openness and non-judgementalness (A) leads to a significant shift in perspective, which they have termed reperceiving. They believe reperceiving is a meta-mechanism of action, which overarches additional direct mechanisms that lead to change and positive outcome.
The authors highlight four of these additional mechanisms:
- values clarification
- cognitive, emotional behavioural flexibility
Through the process of mindfulness, one is able to disidentify from the contents of consciousness (i.e., one’s thoughts) and view his or her moment-by-moment experience with greater clarity and objectivity. We term this process reperceiving as it involves a fundamental shift in perspective. Rather than being immersed in the drama of our personal narrative or life story, we are able to stand back and simply witness it. As Goleman suggests, “The first realisation in “meditation” is that the phenomena contemplated are distinct from the mind contemplating them”.
Reperceiving is akin to the western psychological concepts of decentering. Safran and Segal define decentering as the ability to “step outside of one’s immediate experience, thereby changing the very nature of that experience.”
Reperceiving simply allows one to deeply experience each event of the mind and body without identifying with or clinging to it, allowing for “a deep, penetrative non-conceptual seeing into the nature of mind and world” (Kabat-Zinn, 146, 2003). Through this process we are actually able to connect more intimately with our moment-to-moment experience, allowing it to rise and fall naturally with a sense of non-attachment. Therefore, reperceiving, in this hypothesised model, does not create apathy or indifference, but instead allows one to experience greater richness, texture, and depth, moment by moment, what Peters refers to as “intimate detachment”.
Reperceiving interrupts automatic maladaptive habits. We become less controlled by particular emotions and thoughts that arise, and in turn are less likely to automatically follow them with habitual reactive patterns.
When we are able to separate from (observe) our values and reflect upon them with greater objectivity, we have the opportunity to rediscover and choose values that may be truer for us. In other words, we become able to reflectively choose what has been previously reflexively adopted or conditioned.
The “self” starts to be seen through or deconstructed—i.e., it is realized to be a psychological construction, an ever-changing system of concepts, images, sensations and beliefs. These aggregates, or constructs, that were once thought to comprise the stable self, are eventually seen to be impermanent and fleeting. Through reperceiving, not only do we learn to stand back from and observe our inner commentary about life and the experiences encountered, we also begin to stand back from (witness) our “story” about who and what we ultimately are.
Self-regulation is the process whereby systems maintain stability of functioning and adaptability to change.
By developing the capacity to stand back and witness emotional states such as anxiety, we increase our “degrees of freedom” in response to such states, effectively freeing ourselves from automatic behavioural patterns. Through reperceiving, we are no longer controlled by states such as anxiety or fear but are instead able to use them as information.
We are able to attend to the emotion, and choose to self-regulate in ways that foster greater health and well-being.
Through consciously (intention) bringing awareness (attention) and acceptance (attitude) to experience in the present moment, we will be better able to use a wider, more adaptive range of coping skills. Preliminary support for this hypothesis can be found in a study by Brown and Ryan in which they demonstrated that people who scored higher on a valid and reliable measure of mindfulness reported significantly greater self-regulated emotion and behaviour.
Reperceiving may also help people recognize what is meaningful for them and what they truly value. Often values have been conditioned by family, culture, and society, so that we may not realize whose values actually drive our choices in life. We become the value, instead of the one who observes the value. Frequently, we are pushed and pulled by what we believe (based on cultural or familial conditioning) is most important, but fail to reflect upon whether it is truly important in the context of our own lives. However, when we are able to separate from (observe) our values and reflect upon them with greater objectivity, we have the opportunity to rediscover and choose values that may be truer for us. In other words, we become able to reflectively choose what has been previously reflexively adopted or conditioned.
Cognitive, Emotional and Behavioral Flexibility
Reperceiving may also facilitate more adaptive, flexible responding to the environment in contrast to the more rigid, reflexive patterns of reactivity that result from being overly identified with one’s current experience. If we are able to see a situation and our own internal reactions to it with greater clarity, we will be able to respond with greater freedom of choice (i.e., in less conditioned, automatic ways). As Borkovec points out, research from cognitive and social psychology demonstrates, “existing expectations or beliefs can distort the processing of newly available information.”
Reperceiving enables the development of this capacity to observe our ever-changing inner experience and thereby see more clearly our mental-emotional content, which in turn fosters greater cognitive-behavioral flexibility and less automaticity or reactivity.
This article includes large extracts from the original published paper that can be found here, authored by Shapiro SL, Carlson LE, Astin JA, and Freedman B.
There is a great App called Insight Timer that has hundreds of guided meditations to choose from.
There is also a great website that can be accessed here providing meditations.