by Laura López Gámez
Jon Kabat Zinn is an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. After years of practice of mindfulness and meditation with Buddhist teachers, Jon Kabat Zinn became one of the main figures within the academic world to spread the knowledge of Mindfulness in the western world. His research and investigations on the benefits of Mindfulness has produced evidence-based studies that corroborate the positive effects of the practice in few weeks, increasing the overall state of well-being of the practitioner. (1)
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung
Jon Kabat Zinn works mainly refer to the “I AM” domain developed in our theoretical framework, as a self-aware state of mind that is always present in the core of our experiences.
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle and nurturing attention”.
Mindfulness also involves a kind acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them – without believing that there is a “right” or “wrong” way of thinking or feeling in a certain moment. When we practice this art of being present, our thoughts tune into what we are sensing in the present moment rather than going back to the past or imagining the future.
Studies from the University of Harvard (2) show that 47% of our time we are lost in automatic and useless thinking, wasting a lot of our energy in thoughts that are out of our control and that drive us into uneasy feelings. They conclude that a wandering mind is not a happy mind and reflect the importance of practicing a way of managing our minds and cultivating a state of well-being.
Core aspects of Mindfulness
- A Focused Kind Attention.
Our attention drives our minds and enables our capacity to be aware of who we are, what we are doing, how we are feeling and what we are thinking. Self-awareness is an essential step for creating well-being in our lives and promoting a high level of positive mental health. Developing the capacity to direct our attention in the present moment enables us to respond instead of reacting, gaining more freedom in our decisions, recovering our self-empowerment as we become more coherently, centred, based on our internal references rather than searching answers outside, in others.
In bringing our attention inside, we undertake a path of self-discovery, unfolding our talents, realizing our fears, our limitations, and our longings or desires. We give a moment each day to be fully with ourselves, gently sitting and breathing, perceiving the smells and sensing the warmth of the sun, embodying our walk in the street as we go to work. We meet ourselves and all the potential that is within.
- Attention in our body and senses.
The door to access this present moment is our body, through our five senses: earing, smelling, tasting, touching, and seeing. Through our senses, we perceive the external and internal world, and from that received information, emotions and thoughts arise in us interpreting our reality.
The body is always in the present moment, here and now. The mind, on the other hand, spends 47% of the time travelling from past to future events, wandering in thoughts that are away from what is actually happening in this moment.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
- A pause for conscious breathing.
Making pauses throughout or day and breaking that uncontrolled automatic mind patter that runs in us, is a tool that allows us to come back to the present moment. The fastest way to direct the mind to the present moment is to stop, and give our full attention, just for a couple of minutes, to our breathing. Conscious breathing allows us to make this direct connection, grounding the wandering mind in our body that is always in the present moment. Mindfulness guides us to focus a kind attention to our breathing, bringing us back to the aliveness of being present in this moment.
A state of Mindfulness is a natural state of being when our mind is calm and relaxed. Nowadays, with the stressful lives we lead, our minds are running in an automatic mode. Often, we are not conscious of the taste of what we are eating, or the sound of the birds while we are walking in the street. Day after day, we can find ourselves increasingly living in this automatic mental mode, missing the present moment and disconnected from the contact and awareness of our body and our senses.
The Witness Self, the observer.
The practice of Mindfulness helps us to get in touch with a profound state of the mind that is observing all that appears without judgment. It’s a Self that is witnessing (3) all that happens: thoughts that appear, emotions that arise and sensations perceived in our body and in our environment. An inner witness that observes all that is occurring, both inwardly and outwardly, without being caught by it, a timeless Self that is simple awareness.
Quoting Ken Wilber, “The Witness is that which is capable of observing the flow of what is – without interfering with it, commenting on it, or in any way manipulating it. The Witness simply observes the stream of events both inside and outside the mind-body in a creatively detached fashion, since, in fact, the Witness is not exclusively identified with either. In other words, when the individual realizes that his mind and his body can be perceived objectively, he spontaneously realizes that they cannot constitute a real subjective self. As Huang Po (4) put it, “Let me remind you, the perceived cannot perceive.”
This realization leads to experiences of transcendence and interconnectedness that unite us with our spiritual dimension, as we are able to let go and see things from a different perspective, a place that is beyond the influence of time and space, beyond our own personal history, beyond our emotions and thoughts. By becoming aware of this inner witness and staying in contact with it, we access a profound state of the Mind from which we can embrace and respond to challenging situations in our lives, situations where uncertainty and uneasy emotional states appear.
This spiritual domain is also related to purpose in life and affects the social, cultural and natural environment too. Supporting young people to develop this domain is crucial for creating the conditions for a more inclusive and involved being.
This contact with our inner witness, that we call in our theoretical framework the “I AM” domain, will directly nurture and promote PMH as we become more aware of our feelings, thoughts and ways of relating to others. Being in contact with this “I AM” that is at the core of who we are, will nurture all the other domains from the inside.
“As the witnessing presence of Awareness, we stand in the background of experience; as the light of pure Knowing, we stand at its heart.” – Rupert Spira.
Mindfulness and neuroscience
Neuroscience research done in the last decades shows the capacity of the brain to change its neurological connections, a capacity called neuroplasticity (5). Our brain can create new neurological paths that bring new learnings and change the configuration of the brain. This reflects the importance of daily practice, as it is through constant repetition that these changes occur in our brain connections. The daily practice of Mindfulness can change our brains, with new synaptic connections that are kinder, more attentive and harmonious. We can change, with time and with the awareness of our practice, the way we think, feel and act, as these three domains are closely interconnected.
Mindfulness practice brings our mind into the present moment and supports the cultivation of emotions of gratitude, kindness, compassion and peace that activate different parts of our brains, and increase hormone levels of serotonin, dopamine that reinforce our immune system.
The awareness of thoughts, body sensations and emotions, harmonise our internal world bringing back a sense of unity that increase our Positive Mental Health. This dynamic and coherent relationship between our sensations, emotions and thoughts is essential to cultivate a sense of peace and harmony, and to nurture our health and well-being.
“What you practice grows stronger”.
Practice gratitude, compassion, kindness and peace.
- Kabat Zinn, J. (2016). Mindfulness for beginners. Reclaiming the present moment and your life. Sounds true.
- Blofeld, John, trans. (1958). The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. New York: Grove Press.
- Tolle, E. (2004). The power of Now. Grijalbo.
- Naranjo, C. (1993). Gestalt therapy. The attitude and practice of an atheoretical experimentalism. Crown House Publishing
- Nhat Hanh, T. (1999). The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation: A Manual on Meditation. Beacon Press Boston.
- Wilber, K. (1993). The spectrum of consciousness. Quest books.
- Dispenza, J. (2008). Evolve your brain. The science of changing your mind. Palmyra.
- Shauna L. Shapiro & Carlson. L. E. (2009). The Art and Science of Mindfulness: Integrating Mindfulness into Psychology and the Helping Professions. American psychological Association.
1 J Kabat‐Zinn – Clinical psychology: Science and practice, 2003 – Wiley Online Library
2 ER Watkins – Psychological bulletin, 2008 – psycnet.apa.org
3 Psychologia Perennis:The Spectrum of Consciousness. Ken Wilber
4 Blofeld, John, trans. 1958. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. New York: Grove Press.
5 RJ Davidson, A Lutz – IEEE signal processing magazine, 2008 – ieeexplore.ieee.org
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