Mindfulness – Buddhism and Psychotherapy – III and IV

Part III
The discovery of mindfulness by the psi world.
Mindfulness in Psychotherapy

A basic definition of mindfulness is “moment-to-moment awareness”.

Applied to the psychotherapeutic field, the definition expands to include the non-judgmental dimension in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness: “The awareness that arises when one directs one’s attention on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of moment-to-moment experience moment by moment”.

The dimension of non-judgement when faced with a physical or emotional difficulty allows us to live the experience closer to what exactly is.

Acceptance is another goal of mindfulness that almost inevitably arises from non-judgement, adding a dimension of comfort (‘goodness or kindness’) to mindfulness.

From the perspective of mindfulness, acceptance refers to the conscious willingness or readiness to accept whatever is happening from moment to moment, to become aware of it and accept it, whether it brings pleasure or pain.

Acceptance does not encourage maladaptive behaviour.

Rather, acceptance precedes change.

The dimension of non-judgement and thus acceptance, which is contained in the pre-attitude with which the problematic experience is presently and consciously experienced, enables not only the confrontation with the problematic situation, but also the dismantling of any aversive conditioning and the replacement of aversive emotions by the dimension of acceptance.

In anxiety disorders, for example, very often one has learned for years to avoid the anxiety-provoking stimulus, and the prospect of facing the anxiety-provoking stimulus triggers an experience of anxiety itself.

The client is encouraged to develop a different and accepting relationship with anxiety, to try to experience it with curiosity and acceptance, knowing that it’s a defensive emotion designed to protect them from a particular painful experience.

The client is taught to see fear as a “friendly” and protective emotion that has lost proportion to its intensity and timeliness.

But, more than complicated cognitive restructuring, however, is teaching the client to experience fear with curiosity, without judgement, and with an accepting attitude towards the emotion and themselves.

This is more than a simple exposure, it’s an exposure with an experiential tone of intense acceptance and an attitude of self-care:

“- When the fear comes, and if it’s not too strong, recognise that there is an emotion that wants to protect you. In reality, your friend “fear” has lost track of when and how to show up. That’s why it shows up at the most unexpected moments and always screaming.

When it comes and still comes quietly, try to hear it, try to understand it. it always comes to protect you, to help you. Don’t be afraid of it. Try to understand it, even if it’s difficult for you. When fear arrives, hug it and stay with it for a while. Get to know it.

If you end up having a panic attack, don’t blame the fear, don’t blame yourself. Don’t add a painful emotion to another.

You begin to learn a new relationship with your fear, and that means you stop avoiding it.

It means accepting it. And for that, accepting yourself.”

This is just one example of the use of mindfulness in cognitive therapy, but mindfulness can be part of any psychotherapeutic orientation.

Part IV
The discovery of mindfulness by the psi world.
Final considerations

Mindfulness can thus be seen as a tool available to any psychotherapeutic orientation.

But in its purest sense, mindfulness is a goal to be achieved, not a means to an end.

In its ultimate sense, mindfulness is anything but therapy, for therapy treats the mind with the aim of adapting it as an instrument – adapting the mind so that with appropriate training – psychotherapy – it becomes a valuable and appropriate instrument for experiencing the world and oneself without unnecessary suffering or, if there is suffering, having acquired the psychological skills to experience it in an adaptive way.

Mindfulness - exemplo explicativo com humor

In the Buddhist sense, mindfulness is an instrument for detaching oneself from all experience, whether internal or external.

Thus Buddhist meditation – at the heart of which is mindfulness – serves to discover oneself and to overcome the identification of the being’s experiences with the external or internal world, for as long as the being lives in the conviction of the reality and substance of its ego, it identifies and deceives itself – in this ignorance of itself – lies all suffering.

One day a Zen master visited the monastery of another Zen master.

It was raining cats and dogs and when he arrived at the monastery he was greeted by his namesake with this question:

“- When you arrived at the monastery, was it raining a lot?”

“Yes, it rained a lot.”

“Did you pack your sandals and umbrella when you arrived?”

“-Yes, I packed them.”

“-And did you put the umbrella on the left or on the right side of the sandals?”

The Master who had just arrived did not know how to answer and tells the story that he spent another ten years learning from the Master who welcomed him and asked him that disconcerting question.

This is a Zen koan I first heard in a meditation course at the Buddhist Union in Lisbon, and the interpretation I came up with is how little we dwell in the here and now, how much we spend most of our waking hours with a limited awareness of our experiences in the present.

I often hear it said (and hear myself saying): “Time flies.” “Just yesterday I did (this or that happened 20 years ago)”; “It seems like it happened yesterday (10 or 20 years ago)”.

If it is true that the experience of time is tremendously relative, then it is also a fact that the sense of “waste” is all the more significant when we become aware we are living our lives far away from the Here and Now, because the further away from the Here and the Now  less intense and inhabited the human experience will be.

On the other hand, when living with intensity a certain experience, this notion of the absence of temporal experience can also happen. When we are absorbed in a particular show or sports game and intensely experience all the events, we sometimes have the impression that time “flies by.”

What would happen if we learned to live most of our lives intensely? Consciously inhabiting each tiny moment? To live every second with the eagerness of who will die tomorrow?

Would our story be the same?

What would we be willing to write?

The discovery of mindfulness by the psi world.
An update.

As I was browsing the various articles on mindfulness on Medscape today, I noticed that there is already clear evidence of the effectiveness of mindfulness practice for both depression and anxiety, in both adults and children (*).

Studies of efficacy in other affective disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder) and nonaffective disorders (e.g., schizophrenic psychosis, delusional disorder) have yet to be conducted, and I would not be surprised to see significant benefits in these disorders as well.

It is natural to question the mechanism of effectiveness of mindfulness, but the answer can only be simple in a practice whose foundation is also supremely simple and only one: to be attentive and awake in the present moment.

There are no other goals, and such a simple foundation cannot be dissected.

Probably for the same reason, mindfulness proves transversally effective in all pathologies and ages.

In fact, Mindfulness does not treat any specific pathology because it is not a treatment.

Mindfulness deepens self-awareness, the encounter with oneself, with the deepest Self, with the most hidden haven that each person carries within.

This encounter with the Self takes place in the silence of the mind, transcending the usual noise generated by the ego in the eternal manifestation of its endless dramas, its ceaseless victories and many other defeats.

The remaining conundrum is this: How can practicing mindfulness in the present moment have such dramatic effects on depression and anxiety?

Because in fact, Mindfulness does not consist of consciously working on dysfunctional beliefs, maladaptive emotional responses, re-education from hyper-control, rebuilding self-esteem, acquiring skills for healthier object relations, acquiring new and better-adapted relationship styles, and other specific goals of psychotherapy.

No. None of these things.

It remains for us to ask where this peace comes from that overcomes all conflict and imperceptibly dissolves human restlessness?

I wouldn’t be surprised if we never get an answer.

For we’re dealing with a phenomenological paradigm that cannot even be classified as a psychological phenomenon.

In fact, consciousness is the stage of all human psychological manifestations, it’s the background of all authors of human psychological life, it’s the living substrate in which all conscious experiences of phenomena take place.

Mindfulness doesn’t focus on phenomena, but only on the deepening awareness.

And consciousness is the only permanent and imperishable experience of the Being.

Everything else – thoughts, emotions and their more complex derivatives such as beliefs, emotional response patterns, relationship styles and others – are only ever fleeting expressions, shorter or longer, but always transient and (eventually) changeable through conscious work on the manifested valence one intends to change.

After 2600 years of the presence of Mindfulness in humanity – and it’s possible that it even appeared before Buddha – we discover that this method of spiritual deepening of consciousness is mysteriously effective.

For the first time, a method emerges from an ancient spiritual discipline that proves effective in alleviating human suffering and that focuses not on altering and reinterpreting psychological experience, but on simply deepening conscious experience.

Probably this secret will never be unraveled.

For secrets, like psychological phenomenology, belong in the realm of the mind and Mindfulness belongs to the realm of Being.

Dr. João Parente – Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist

Dr. João Parente - Médico Psiquiatra e Psicoterapeuta - Director Clínico da Psiworks | Lisboa
Dr. Joao Parente
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