The western world is relatively new to the practice of mindfulness, which derives from ancient ideas most notably linked to the Buddha some 25 centuries ago. The suggestion is that we create our own suffering because of our expectations that we will get what we want and that it will remain. Unfortunately, unwanted things happen frequently in our lives and wanted things, when they do arise, soon change. Also, we change, so how we perceive ourselves and our lives also changes. We quickly become used to what we have, and are soon dissatisfied again. Mindfulness involves awareness of these simple, but far reaching universal realities (everything changes and nothing is satisfying forever), in a way that can free us of the suffering associated with our constant desire for things to be a different way, and our disappointment when our satisfaction wanes.

Mindfulness approaches are now formally being integrated into a range of traditional therapies, and are used to treat a wide array of human suffering from physical pain, health recovery and stress, to many psychiatric disorders. Mindfulness practice is also used to enhance everyday life and develop genuine lovingkindness towards oneself and others.

The practice of mindfulness has been defined as “paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally”. Usually this is done in a meditation in a seated position and attention is focused on the sensations within the body, with a gentle removal of all evaluations of those sensations. Practicing this way helps to train us to be less judgemental, and less engaged with the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

In our lives, a negative event may occur. We may become upset and may focus on the idea that we have been wronged in some way, building up miserable feelings as we become trapped in our thoughts. Our own reactions, full of judgements and recriminations and emotional pain, hold us in a habit of ‘attaching’ to this method of problem-solving which frequently leaves us with unresolved pain. Alternatively, when we suffer unexpected loss or trauma, we may remain stuck in processing the emotion and avoiding situations linked to the trauma. In effect, we have trouble integrating the different aspects of experience (thoughts, emotions and body sensation) and gaining perspective.

Mindfulness suggests that thoughts and physical sensations have the same characteristics of arising and passing away – as if they are the ripples on the surface of the ocean. When we take the stance of a scientific observer of ourselves, we are better able to perceive our thoughts and judgements as ripples, accepting that they will pass, and therefore developing mastery over our reactions and our lives. The practice of mindfulness develops the capacity to “see with wisdom” – without judgement, evaluation, or prejudice.

Research evidence suggests that when we engage in evaluations – negative or positive – stress responses are activated and the body experiences sensations. The body’s sensations also arise from external environmental sources and exist at all times throughout the body above and below our level of awareness. Our unhelpful behaviours are maintained by our reactions to these sensations. If we are to adequately process stressful information, we require the pathways to be strengthened between the brain’s deep emotional centres and the more controlling areas of the brain, thereby preventing the brain’s emotional centres ‘hijacking’ all of our attention. Regular mindfulness practice, by strengthening these pathways, enhances mental and behavioral flexibility and resilience. You can learn more about Mindfulness at these websites www.aboutmindfulness.com and; www.mindfulness.net.au.

Prue Fanselow-Brown is a registered clinical psychologist working at the Child and Family Psychology Centre. Visit www.christchurchpsychology.co.nz to learn more about Prue and her work.


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