What Is Mindfulness?
It is “inherently a state of consciousness” which involves consciously attending to one’s moment-to-moment experience. Meditation practice is simply a “scaffolding” used to develop the state, or skill, of mindfulness.
This post summarises just one paper, which must be one of my favourites in this area of health and performance (the paper is: Shapiro et al., 2006, Mechanisms of Mindfulness).
The authors discuss how mindfulness contains three components:
In Buddhism, intention means “enlightenment and compassion for all beings”. 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….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”
This personal vision, or intention, is often dynamic and evolving. The authors provide an example of a highly stressed businessman who may start a mindfulness practice to reduce his high blood pressure, but as he practices, it may develop in to an additional intention of being a kinder husband.
In the context of mindfulness practice, paying attention involves observing the operations of one’s moment-to-moment, internal and external experience. This is what Husserl refers to as a “return to things themselves,” that is, suspending all the ways of interpreting experience and attending to experience itself, as it presents itself in the here and now. In this way, one learns to attend to the contents of consciousness, moment by moment.
“attention in and of itself is curative.”
Attention has been suggested in the field of psychology as critical to the healing process. For example, Gestalt therapy emphasises present moment awareness, and its founder, Fritz Perls claimed that, “attention in and of itself is curative.”
The qualities one brings to attention have been referred to as the “attitudinal foundations of mindfulness”. The attitude one brings to the attention is essential. 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”.
We 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.
Building A Theory
After introducing these three components of mindfulness, the authors go on to introduce a meta-mechanism of action, what they call “reperceiving”.
“intentionally attending with openness and non-judgmentalness leads to a significant shift in perspective, which we have termed reperceiving. We believe reperceiving is a meta-mechanism of action, which overarches additional direct mechanisms that lead to change and positive outcome.”
This shift in perspective they refer to as the ‘transformational effects of mindfulness’.
The additional direct mechanisms they highlight are:
- Values clarification
- Cognitive, emotional, and behavioral flexibility
This paper not only helps our own mindfulness practice – ensuring we enter our practice with intention, attention and the correct attitude – but how we live life. I’ll finish this article encouraging you to reflect on:
How might life change if we established our intention before every conversation or experience? (what do you intend to achieve from this conversation/meeting/experience?)
What might happen if we started paying 100% attention to our experiences, observing the operations of our moment-to-moment, internal and external experience?
What might change if we intentionally brought an attitude of affection, of compassion , a sense of openhearted, friendly presence and interest to all of our relationships?
Should this not be all of our new years resolutions?!
Click here for part 2 of this article where we discuss the four mechanisms.
Shapiro et al., 2006, Mechanisms of Mindfulness, Inc. J Clin Psychol 62: 373– 386