An Application of Buddhist practice of Mindfulness in Contemporary Western Psychotherapy by Audrius Beinorius

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“With folded hands I pay reverence to those who are willing to guard the mind.
May you, with all your effort, preserve mindfulness (smrtim) and awareness (samprajanyam)!”

Shantideva Bodhicaryavatara (V.23)

Many spiritual paths offer guidelines for transition from egocentric motivation and self-absorption to an expanded empathic identification with all creatures as well as deepening level of self-awareness. This desire for wholeness of being is not an intellectual attainment, for it is no less present in people with learning disability, but lies in the essence of what it means to be human. Victor Frankl, the creator of Logotherapy, considered that man is primarily motivated by the search for meaning to his existence, by the striving to fulfil this meaning and thereby to actualize as many value potentialities as possible.[1] Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung came to believe that „psychoneurosis must be understood, ultimately, as the suffering of a soul, which has not discovered its meaning“[2], and such meaning is the realisation of the self and its destiny. According to contemporary North American psychologist Jeffrey B Rubin, “despiritualization of subjective reality” is the main reason of the people’s experiences of “ontological homelessness, psychological dislocation, chaos”, and a deep sense of personal alienation, so increasing during the recent decades in Western societies.[3]

The wish that spiritual practice could, by itself, prove a panacea for all psychic suffering is widespread. However, the spiritual delusions usually are getting power when the level of self-awareness lapses. Contemporary Western psychotherapy is dealing with some perils and pitfalls of spiritual path. Empirical evidences display that sometimes spiritual practice can be motivated in part by the secret, narcissistic wish to be special, if not superior; a stance of non-attachment can rationalize fears of closeness and the anxieties associated with intimacy: fear of feeling exposed, vulnerable, humiliated, shamed, hurt, rejected, or abandoned. Spiritual practice can be motivated by the rationalisation of the avoidance of responsibility and accountability; or by avoidance of the disturbing emotions and feelings; or by self-punitive guilt; or by the defensive avoidance of thinking to block self-understanding.[4] It involves the recognition that some of our motives for a given action will be conscious, and other will be unconscious – outside conscious awareness, but influencing volition, choice, affect, mood, and the meaning of our behaviour nonetheless.

Besides, our unconscious motives can be in conflict with our conscious ones – or even in conflict with other unconscious motivations and meanings. The habits of our mind are difficult to see, not only because they are like the air we breathe, but because we rely on them for self-protection – literally – to protect whatever self we are invested in at the moment. Spiritual seekers in trying to live up to high spiritual ideals and to be more impartial, unemotional, unselfish, and compassionate than they really are, often deny their real feelings, becoming cut off from their bodily vitality, the truth of their own experience, and their ability to find their own authentic direction. This makes their spirituality cold and solemn. Perhaps the most dangerous delusion is the belief that human beings are free of delusions.[5]

From the perspective of so called „contemplative sciences“, (B. Alan Wallace) our beliefs (religious, ideological, or scientific) shapes our sensations and distorts our perception of the reality. The quest for wholeness brings us face to face with our personal as well as the collective shadow that is reflected in the hypocrisy, greed, violence and other excesses of our culture. In the analytical psychology of Carl Jung, the shadow is defined as those repressed elements of the personality that are unacceptable to the ego, with which we do not be identified. The cultural shadow is constellated when a culture represses awareness of what it does not want to see in itself. An authentic spiritual life calls for bringing our personal and cultural shadows to light and discovering what they reveal. Authentic spirituality implies awareness of who we are as whole human beings – including body, emotions, mind, soul, and Spirit – existing in a web of interdependent relationships with the earth and the cosmos. I agree with C. G. Jung’s statement that we do not became enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. Jack Kornfield writes in A Path with Hearth, “Only a deep attention to the whole of our life can bring us the capacity to love well and live freely… If our spiritual practice does not enable us to function wisely, to love and work and connect with the whole of our life, then we must include forms of practice that heal our problems in other ways”[6]. Thus, mindfulness is the ground out of which the basic characteristics of spirituality – wisdom and compassion can grow.

In the 1890s William James wrote nowadays often cited sentence: “The faculty of voluntary bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgement, character and will. No one is compos sui if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.”[7] Absent-mindedness is not a prerogative of the university professor, but is in fact the universal malaise of our complex and pressuring way of life. It comes as a shock, but it is also a very important and positive discovery for ordinary people to realize that the mind has a life of its own. I would say that, from the meditative perspective, the entire society suffers from attention deficit disorder.

The English words ‘‘mindful’’ and ‘‘mindfulness’’ have been around in a modest way for over 300 years, having traditional English meaning, the opposite to “mindlessness”, or “acting unthinkingly”. They could have played no serious part in the official discourse of these “human mind” disciplines until few decades ago, when Buddhist connotations appeared. During XX century this concept acquired a specified sense along with towards West entering Buddhist theory and practice. The term “mindfulness” today is often taken from Buddhist context and used in different approaches in psychology and psychotherapy.[8] Psychological "mindfulness" is broadly conceptualized, though it can be described as a kind of non-elaborative, non-judgmental, present-centred awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attention field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.

Mindfulness lies at the core of Buddhist meditative practices, yet its essence is universal. Buddhist Mahasattipathana sutta speaks of the four applications of mindfulness: the contemplation of the body, the contemplation of feelings, the contemplations of mind states (including thoughts and emotions), and the contemplation of mind objects (suffering, impermanence, emptiness).[9] It has to do with refining our capacities for paying attention, for sustained and penetrative awareness, and for emergent insight that is beyond thought but can be articulated through thought. On of the central aims of these four applications of mindfulness is to distinguish between the phenomena that are presented to our six modes of perception and the conceptual superimpositions that we often unconsciously and involuntary place upon them, including labels, categories, and thoughts aroused by emotional reactions. Mindfulness is not a technique or method, although there are many different methods and techniques for its cultivation. Rather, it is more aptly described as a way of being, or a way of seeing, one that involves „coming to one‘s senses“, in every meaning of that phrase. It certainly implies developing and refining a way of becoming more intimate with one‘s own experience through systematic self-observation (anupassati). This includes intentionally suspending the impulse to characterize, evaluate, and judge what one is experiencing. Whatever occurs is to be received with bare attention, with a mind that is receptive rather than reactive. Doing so affords multiple opportunities to move beyond the well-worn grooves of our highly conditioned and largely habitual and unexamined thought processes and emotional reactivity. Mindfulness strips experience of all accretions of memory, conceptualisation and habituated reactions; it deconstructs it into its components so we may better see their coming-into-being, ceasing, impermanence and interdependence. Such practice leads to a kind of objectivity, perceiving things to a greater extent as they are (yatha bhuta), prior to personal conceptual overlays, judgements, and evaluations.

Heidegger’s Gelassanheit, the “letting-be”, that allows for presence would seem, perhaps to be somewhat similar. As he says: “The first step… is the step back from the thinking that merely represents – that is, explains – to the thinking that merely responds and recalls.” This is in contrast to representational and calculative thinking, the thinking that is logical, conceptual, grasping and reifying, which perpetuates what he terms the “technological” outlook implicit in the activity of “framing”. Heidegger’s concept of Andenken or Besinnung (usually translated as meditative thinking or remembrance) for the “thinking that responds” perhaps relates most nearly to the non-dualistic, non-conceptual insight or wisdom that is the goal of meditative practice. Seeing in such a careful and receptive way breaks through stereotyped reactions, and gives rise to a deconstruction of mental functioning, fostering first awareness of, then release from, persistent and compulsive mental habits. From these observations emerge realisations about the nature of the mind, and mindfulness becomes insight, or in other terms, one can become aware of, and finally interrupt, the patterns of habituated conditioning.

According to Francisco Varela (former Director of Research at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris): “By precise, disciplined mindfulness to every moment, one can interrupt the chain of automatic conditioning – one can not automatically go from craving to grasping and all the rest. Interruption of habitual patterns results in further mindfulness, eventually allowing the practitioner to relax into more open possibilities in awareness and to develop insight into the arising and sub siding of experienced phenomena”.[10] Not incidentally, in their groundbreaking book The Embodied Mind, Varela, Thompson and Rosh state that what they feel cognitive sciences and traditional psychoanalytic methods lack is the very mindfulness/awareness component.[11]

Mindfulness brings us into the present moment which, as Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, is „the only moment we can touch life“.[12] This can help to heal alienation from ourselves, our experience and our world, and can re-introduce lived meaning. Seeing and understanding bring about love and compassion. Thank to our mindful observation and insight into the roots of our anger, we can change this energy into the energy of love and compassion. In this way we may approach closer the mysterious concept of spirituality with its three key-words: acceptance, integration and wholeness. Without these, it is very possible to confuse prie- and trans-egoic states. Not by chance, meditation training traditionally begins on a firm basis of ethical behaviour and mental health.

In his great sixth-century compendium of classical Theravada Buddhist philosophy, psychology, and practice Visudhimagga, Buddhaghosa provides the detailed instructions as to objects of meditation, situation, and methods of meditation for different types of person. Detailed descriptions are also provided for the path, events and achievements of trance-like states. However, such achievements in Buddhist meditation are generally considered to be a by-product of attainment of concentration, not to be pursued for their own sake, but merely as part of the path toward controlling the mind and overcoming attachment.

Furthermore, though it may well be outside the personal experience of all but the most committed practitioner, there is another aspect of mindfulness and meditation practice of immense importance. Meditation is the path to non-dual awareness, and it is through such practice that one can realise in the truest sense of the word, the unconditioned. Non-dual awareness is free from the incompleteness of difference inevitably attached to any knowledge of content expressed linguistically or conceptually. Non-dual awareness is not concerned with capturing an object but with experiencing the presence of attention to the clarity and non-obstruction of mind itself. What is discovered is not a totality of knowledge but a presence of attention that holds and illuminates the connection between the subjective silence, the spaciousness of consciousness revealed through mindfulness and the objective absence that is Emptiness. It is beautifully described by Ann Klein: “The ocean of one’s focused attention remains a coherent dimension amid all its waves of deferred differences”[13].

What lessons are there for medical practices and psychotherapy?

It is with the practices of awareness and mind training that Buddhism provides the greatest specific tools for contemporary psychotherapy. Just as Shantideva over a thousand years ago, encouraged his students to guard their minds, so today we are similarly assured that happiness “does not depend on outside events, but rather, on how we interpret them”.[14] Already by early 1920s Shoma Morito developed in Japan the psychotherapy partly based on Buddhist meditative practices. This therapy had main reversed opposite to Western approach – instead of attacking symptoms, the patients were taught to accept symptoms with calm awareness (mindfulness). Much latter, in 1990s psychologist Margaret Donaldson turns to Buddhism for methods for methods of education in developmental modes underdeveloped and undervalued in current Western society; modes she terms “value sensing”, concerned with affect as opposed to intellect.[15] It would seem that there is within meditative cultivation a resource which has been largely ignored in the West. In the words of Frances Vaughan, one of the Transpersonal psychology school’s leading writer and practitioners, transpersonal psychology is “an open-ended endeavor to facilitate human growth and expand awareness beyond limits implied by most traditional Western models of mental health…in this the therapist may employ traditional therapeutic techniques as well as meditation and other awareness exercises derived from Eastern consciousness disciplines”.[16]

Thus, a chief objective of transpersonal theory is to integrate spiritual experience within the understanding of the human psyche. It attempts to achieve a synthesis of spiritual and psychological approaches to the psyche. For the past 30 years, transpersonal thinkers such as C. T. Tart, K. Wilber. F. Vaughan, R. Walsh and M. Washburn have made major contributions to our understanding of spirituality, demonstrating the relevance of the spiritual dimension to clinical theory and practice. It includes the study of world’s religious traditions and the integration of spiritual knowledge into psychological theory.

Nowadays mindfulness techniques are increasingly being employed in Western psychotherapy to help alleviate a variety of mental (conative, attentional, cognitive, affective) imbalances and physical conditions. The attentional practices of mindfulness meditation and intentions behind them facilitate a deepening of self-knowledge and self-acceptance and have the profound short- and long-term effects on health and well-being, as suggested by contemporary clinical and research findings. Two increasingly popular therapeutic practices using Buddhist mindfulness techniques are Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Marsha M. Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Other prominent therapies that use mindfulness include Steven C. Hayes' Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and, based on MBSR, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Such medical healing systems unite what commonly thought of as Buddhist meditative practices and perspectives with Western psychological epistemologies and therapeutic practices in a new and seamless synthesis. Kabat-Zinn for instance writes: “Because I practice and teach mindfulness, I have the recurring experience that people frequently make the assumption that I am a Buddhist. When asked, I usually respond that I am not a Buddhist but I am a student of Buddhist meditation, and a devoted one, not because I am devoted to Buddhism per se, but because I have found its teachings and its practices to be so profound and so universally applicable, revealing and healing”[17].

The Gestalt therapy founded by Fritz Perls in 1951[18] also shows clear influence of Buddhist practice of mindfulness even if this influence is often marginalized. This is a method of awareness, by which perceiving, feeling, and acting are understood to be separate from interpreting, explaining and judging using old attitudes. This distinction between direct experience and indirect or secondary interpretation is developed in the process of therapy. The client learns to become aware of what they are doing psychologically and how they can change it. By becoming aware of and transforming their process they develop self acceptance and the ability to experience more in the “here and now” without so much interference from baggage of the past. The objective of Gestalt therapy, in addition to helping the client overcome symptoms, is to enable him or her to become more fully and creatively alive and to be free from the blocks and unfinished issues that may diminish optimum satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth. In Gestalt counseling literature is possible to find definitions that awareness process in Gestalt is “very similar to the Zen practice of “mindfulness” <…> to start verbalizing without exception to every experience “Now I am aware”.[19] C.Naranjo also states “the cultivation of here-and-now awareness in Gestalt therapy goes hand in hand with another issue underlined by traditional psychologies, Buddhism particular”. Besides, being in the “here and now” is central to person-centered gestalt counseling.

Another Western approach to mondfulness is found in the Focusing technique of Eugene Gendlin.[20] A pioneer in existential therapy, he maintains that practising midfulness can open us up to the „felt sense“, a non cognitive experience that is not purely unconscious or beyond awareness, but of which without practice we are unaware. He likens this to an animal‘s ability to respond and act from a sense of the whole situation, both the external circumstances and stimuli, and its own structured set of physiological and behavioural processes. The aim of this technique of focusing is to develop this body-based awareness and openess to experience on an intuitive and somatic level that is the body‘s pre-cognitive response to both internal and external stimuli, of which we are rarely consciously aware. Bringing this into consiouscness may in itself bring about change and transformation.

Another Western attempt to explore meditative states is that of Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi, who since the 1970s has been attempting to reformulate methods of controlling cosnciousness, and mind training according to the contemporary Western cultural climate. He see his work as an exploration of states of „optimal experience“, he terms „flow“. A state which he claims occurs when the information comig into consciousness is congruent with its goals, and rewards are intrinsic within the action. One of the chief factors of the flow experience is the merging of action and awareness, so that, while there is no loss of self or of consciousness, what is lost during this state if optimal experience is any consciousness of the concept of self. According to Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi, the fulfilled and self-regulating self is one of that can transform potentially chaotic experience into flow.[21] He suggests that there are four states necessary to achievement of this: setting goals, becoming immersed in the activity, paying attention to what is happening and learning to enjoy or letting go. Results of such achived experiences of flow show many of the qualities often connected with meditation. He points out that in recent history vast advances have been made in the differentiation of consciousness and individual separation, and suggests that future complexity may consist in development of the skills of meditative integration. This is again the theme of the step beyond egocentricity, much repeated in contemporary psychological discourse and centra lto Buddhism.

A form of therapy that takes a similar approach to all aspects of bodily and mental experiences of mindfulness is Core Process psychotherapy founded by L. Donington, also having a Theravadin Buddhist influence.[22] Seeing things as they really are, or as close as is possible to an approximation of this, is basically what the phenomenological process is about and is central to existential psychotherapy.[23]

But perhaps the chief value of mindfulness practices for psychotherapy lies in its use in the training of therapists. Whatever cognitive theory and practical techniques are necessary in the training of psychotherapists, a prime requirement is that the therapist has done his own work with his own experience, and has explored and familiarized himself with his own mind states to the point where he is comfortable with them. Meditation is a supreme method for becoming aware of and understanding the number, quality, impermanence and change of mental states and of building up the necessary balance to enable one to ride one’s experience without being imprisoned in uncontrolled reaction. Having become comfortable and relatively unshockable in their own mental world, psychotherapists are enabled to extend that same ease to their clients. The basic task of psychotherapy is to enlarge a person’s living space; to expand their sense of self by integrating the parts that are hidden or defended against, or seen as alien. To do this, first these alien areas must be brought to awareness, and then made friends with and accepted. Thus the charge they carry, of fear or anger or whatever, is defused and the energy released.

Therapist John Welwood sees the major point of overlap between meditation and psychotherapy in the practice of developing this sense of maitri or unconditional friendliness towards our own experience or whatever arises in our minds. In mindfulness we can learn to be with our experience, to make space for it in a non-reactive way, seeing and watching what arises and neither suppressing not indulging and exaggerating it. It is away of learning to be with whatever comes up, of learning to be with the unknown, and to be comfortable, yet not knowing, which is at first not at all comfortable, yet is of inestimable use in the therapeutic encounter. As John Welwood days, “Meditation is a direct experience of how change is more dependent on how we be with ourselves than anything we do to try to improve ourselves.”[24] Learning to focus attention and still the chatter of conceptualization allows us to contact experience once again in its direct immediacy, and to respond to our experience from a more inclusive level of consciousness which can observe cognitive operations without being caught up in them. “The transformation that happens between two people in therapy is similar to what may take place inside a single person in meditation. In mindfulness practice, as painful thoughts and emotions arise, we note them, bow to them, acknowledge them, then let them go and come back to the breath, which is a concrete manifestation of open space. This process of going into and out of form in meditation is what allows transformation to take place… the great challenge of working on oneself is in bringing our larger open awareness to bear on our frozen karmic structures. Our large awareness usually gets buried or stuck in problems, emotions, reactions, or else it may try to detach and fly away into the sky. But a third alternative is to stay with our frozen structures and transform them. That is the core of practice in both psychotherapy and meditation”[25]. Again, to achieve this level of openness and receptivity requires discipline and the ability to transcend one’s usual egocentric concerns.

Some recent experiments carried out in Italy with EEG (electroencephalogram) tests has shown that in altered, meditative states the brain waves of different individuals become remarkably synchronised.[26] This research, carried out using a device designed to measure levels of synchronisation in EEG patterns between the left and right brain hemispheres in one person, as well as synchronisation between different persons, indicates that in states of deep meditation there is significant increase in the syncronisation of the left and right hemispheres, and when two people meditate together their respective EEG patterns also become synchronised. The research, for example by Amishi Jha and Stephen Kosslyn, explores how meditation influences cognitive functioning in both advanced and beginning meditators. Jha’s Lab at the University of Pennsylvania is doing cutting-edge research on the cognitive impact of contemplative practices.[27] Such research would support the experiential supposition that a joint mindful or meditative state is one in which deep communication, healing and insight are most likely to occur.

An enourmous amount of research into meditation has been carried out in the last few decades. It is beyond the scope of this paper to review it here. Broadly speaking the results have been very varied and inconclusive because of the differences in meditative techniques, the aims and expectations of the meditators themselves, and the emphasis on short-term outcomes and inexperienced meditators. I personally, do not believe that psychotherapy should be confused with teaching formal meditation practice, thus confusing the roles of therapist and teacher. However experientally, mindfulness meditation has been found to be of great value in the training of pscyhotherapists, allowing them to gain a familiarity with and flexible control of their own mind states.

Certainly, we may speak about the Buddhization of Western psychology that is inseparable from another aspect – the psychologization of Buddhism itself. The strong emphasis of focusing on the mind, on psychological healing and on the practice of meditation leaves out, to a varying extent, the collective as well as the ritual, philosophical and devotional dimensions of Buddhism. But that is already another topic.

Despite pretending to be objective and value-neutral, scholars of religion and human cognition have their own subjective biases that are deeply enmeshed in their cultural presuppositions about the nature of religion and in their own personal experience of it. Professor Harold D. Roth, a Daoism specialist and professor of religion at Brown University, is the founder a new MA program in Contemplative Studies, which aims to restore balance to the study of religion. In his recent paper Against Cognitive Imperialism: A Call for a Non-Ethnocentric Approach to Cognitive Science and Religious Studies[28], the author argues that unreflective theocentic and ethnocentric perspective based in the Abrahamic traditions persists in biasing the study contemplative traditions. And the subjective (first-hand) data of mystical experience are only infrequently the subject of serious study in academic departments of religion, which tend to favor the work of theologians, sociologists and historians.[29]

There is a newly emerging movement in cognitive science that has broken free of Western epistemological biases and that asserts that human experience is fundamentally both embodied and intersubjective. Pioneered by the late cognitive neuroscientist Francisco Varela and his colleagues Eleanor Rosch and Evan Thompson, this approach describes an “enactive” approach to cognition, asserting that human cognition is fundamentally grounded in the subjective experience of our minds within a physical body and is hence both simultaneously subjective and objective. The systematic training of consciousness through contemplative disciplines is a prerequisite for truly understanding and experiencing the role of the subjective in this intersubjective world. What Evan Thompson says about cognitive science is equally true of the study of contemplative experience in the major wisdom traditions of the world: „I believe that a mature science of mind would have to include disciplined first-person methods of investigating subjective experience in actine partnership with the third-person bio-behavioral science. “First-person methods” are practices that increase an individual’s sensitivity to his or her own experience through the systematic training of attention and self-regulation of emotion. This ability to attend reflexively to experience itself—to attend not simply to what one experiences (the object) but to how one experiences it (the act)—seems to be a uniquely human ability and mode of experience we do not share with other animals. First-person methods for cultivating this ability are found primarily in the contemplative wisdom traditions of human experience, especially Buddhism. Throughout history religion has provided the main home for contemplative experience and its theoretical articulation in philosophy and psychology… Thus [religion is] a repository of first person methods that can play an active and creative role in scientific investigation itself“[30].

For Thompson and Wallace, this systematic training of the mind to investigate itself has been developed in the pan-Buddhist practices of śamathā and vipaśyanā, stopping and seeing, mental concentration and focused insight. Both Thompson and Wallace imply that these practices can be taken out of an exclusively monastic setting and used to develop what the latter calls a genuine “Contemplative Science.”[31]

B. Alan Wallace in his response to H. Roth, points out that if we are to regard religious entities and spiritual experiences as “supernatural” and imaginary on the grounds that they cannot be measured and described objectively, then we must regard all our experience of the world as equally supernatural and subjective, since all we have is the subjective experience of the data of our senses.[32]

A new field of academic endeavor devoted to the critical study of contemplative states of experience is developing in North America. Since 1975, the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, has been offering a Master of Arts degree in what has come to be called „Contemplative psychotherapy“. The foundation of it ist he sitting practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation. A new MA program in Contemplative Studies at Brown University focuses on the many ways human beings have found, across cultures and across time, to concentrate, broaden and deepen conscious awareness. Contemplative studies is the rubric under which this research and teaching can be organized.

Central to this approach is the understanding that contemplative experiences are not confined exclusively to religion. While various methods to attain contemplative states of consciousness can most certainly be found in religious practices, such states can also be found in a wide mariety of nonreligious practices, such as making or listening to music, dancing, acting, writing poetry or prose, painting, sculpting and even the intent observation of the natural world. Following the pioneering research on the state of optimal experience called “flow” by Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi and his colleagues,[33] contemplative studies seeks to discover the complete range of experiences of attention, focus, tranquility and insight and to demonstrate that even the most profound of these experiences—those deliberately cultivated in the world’s great contemplative traditions—are not of a fundamentally different kind than the most shallow. All occur on a continuous spectrum of experience that can be rationally identified, scientifically researched and subjectively experienced.

Mind is the relationship with the world that, in its open form expresses resonance with the whole, which is described by H. Gunther as „spirituality“.[34] Guy Claxton also suggests that spirituality lies in a correct understanding of „world-body-brain-mind“, and the illegitimacy of separating them.[35] According to the idea of intrinsic health espoused by contemporary Humanistic psychology, unhealthy mind states unsettle the mind, setting up reactive patterns of grasping desire and aversion, adversely affecting the equanimity that leads to the realisation that heals suffering.[36] It is through mindfulness and awareness, both that the consequences of unhealthiness are noted, and that the mind is subsequently to be controlled. Through ongoing practice, the meditator becomes more intimately aware of the nature of his/her mind on all levels – habitual thought patterns, subverbal textures of implicit feeling, and the open ground underlying it all. The true mindfulness practice is when life itself – eating, standing, walking, routine activities, lecturing - becomes the practice. Meditation opens up a larger dimension of awareness that reveals the deep integrity of human existence. Compassion has been always the hallmark of authentic spirituality the common core of which is found at the inner phenomenological level. Authentic spirituality contributes to a sense of freedom and inner peace and to love, service and responsibility in the world. Mindfulness has an enormous number of dimensions that can profoundly affect the lives of individuals and institutions.

Thus, through mindfulness or the „Ecology of Mind“[37] we can arrive at a more lived awareness of our embodiment, our language and the horizons of belief within which we live. It seems to me, that to arrive to such awareness, the cultivation of healthy mind states means to become a spiritual in a true sense of this word.


<references / >
  1. V. Frankl. Psychotherapy and Existenialism. London: Penquin Books Press. 1967. P.74.
  2. C.G. Jung. Collected Works. Vol.11. Psychology and Religion: East and West. London: Routledge. 1958. para. 497.
  3. Jeffrey B Rubin. Psychotherapy and Buddhism, Toward an Integration. New York: Plenum Press, 1996, P.21.
  4. Jack Engler. “Promises and Perils of the Spiritual Path”, in Buddhism and Psychotherapy: Across Cultures. Ed. by Mark Unno. Boston: Wisdom Publication. 2006. P.25-27.
  5. See: F. Vaughan. Shadow of the Sacred: Seeing Through Spiritual Illusions. Wheaton: Quest Books. 1995; also E. Tylor. Shadow culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America. Washington DC: Counterpoint. 1999.
  6. Jack Kornfield. A Path with Hearth. New York. Bantam Books. 1993. pp.249-50.
  7. W. James. The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. 1981. P.401. Blaise Pacal in his Pensées, said: „ All of man‘s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself“.
  8. Dryden, Windy, “Historical aspects of mindfulness and self-acceptance in psychotherapy”, Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Vol. 24, No. 1, Spring, 2006.
  9. For different types and functions of mindfulness (simple awareness, protective awareness, introspective awareness, etc.) in early Buddhism, see: Tse-fu Kuan. Mindfulness in Early Buddhism: New approaches through psychology and textual of Pali, Chinese and Sanskrit sources. London and New York: Routledge. 2008.
  10. F. Varela, E. Thompson, E. Rosch. The Embodied Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 1991. P 115.
  11. From the position of cultural psychology, the processes of consciousness are not uniform across cultures. For example, D. Goleman points out that Western culture describes our inner experience primarily in psychopathological terms, whereas traditional Asian cultures have equally intricate vocabularies for describing altered states of consciousness and spiritual experiences. Furthermore, Western psychology equates reality with the world as perceived in the ordinary waking state, denying credibility to realities perceived in other types of awareness. Eastern perspectives, on the other hand, dismiss the physical world as illusion and see reality as something that cannot be grasped in ordinary waking awareness. D. Goleman.” Psychology, reality, and consciousness”, in Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology. Ed by R. Walsh and F.Vaughan, Los Angeles: Tarcher. 1980. pp.13-17.
  12. Thich Nhat Hanh. Transformation and Healing, Berkeley: Parallaz press. 1990. P.40. William James similarly declares, “for the moment, what we attend to is reality”. W. James. The Principles of Psychology. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. 1981. P.322.
  13. A.C. Klein. Meeting the Great Bliss Queen. Boston: Beacon Press. 1995. P.86.
  14. M. Csikzentmihalyi. Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper. 1990. P.2.
  15. M. Donaldson. Human Minds. London: Allen Lane. 1992. Chapter 13.
  16. F. Vaughan. “Transpersonal Psychotherapy: Context, Content, and Process”, in Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology. Ed by R. Walsh and F.Vaughan, Los Angeles: Tarcher. 1980. P.182.
  17. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Hyperion. 2005. P. 26.
  18. F. Perls, R. Hefferline, & P. Goodman. Gestalt therapy: Excitement and growth in the human personality. New York, NY: Julian. 1951.
  19. Petruska Clarkson. Gestalt Counseling in Action, London: Sage. 2004. P.92 Worth of being mentioned in this context is F. Perls’ practical encounter with Zen Buddhism in Japan. In academic field some few attempts were made to discuss the relation between Gestalt therapy and Buddhism by organizing workshops: in 2008 the conference of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt therapy “Gestalt therapy and Buddhism: sources of inspiration and common ground” in Manchester, England or by launching conference in Eastern Washington University - “Buddhist Psychology and Gestalt Therapy: Bringing Mindfulness to Psychotherapy Practice”.
  20. E. Gendlin. Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy. New York: The Guildford Press. 1996.
  21. M. Csikzentmihalyi. Flow. The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper. 1990.
  22. L. Donington. “Core Process Psychotherapy”, in Innovative Therapy. Ed by D. Jones. Buckingham: Open University Press. 1994.
  23. E. van Deurzen-Smith. Existential Counselling in Practice. London: Sage. 1988.
  24. Awakening the Heart. East/West Approaches to Psychotherapy and the Healing Relationship. Ed by J. Welwood. Boston: Shambhala. 1983. P.XIII.
  25. John Welwood. “Principles of Inner Work: Psychological and Spiritual” in Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Vol.16, No 1. 1984. P.71.
  26. Reposted originally in Cyber, 40 Milan (November 1992), quoted by E. Laszlo. The Creative Cosmos. Edinburgh: Floris Books. 1994. P.186.
  27. See, for example, her article A. P. Jha, J. Krompinger and M. J. Baime, “Mindfulness Training Modifies Subsystems of Attention,” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 7 (2007), 109–19.
  28. Religion East and West, 8 (October 2008), 1-27.
  30. E. Thompson, “Empathy and Human Experience,” in Science, Religion andthe Human Experience, Edited by James D. Proctor, Oxford University Press. 2005. P. 261–2.
  31. See: B. Alan Wallace. Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
  32. Religion East and West, 8 (October 2008), 28-33.
  33. Mihalyi Csíkszentmihályi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (New York: Harper and Row, 1990. Other pioneering works in these areas are Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (New York: Delta, 1990) and Herbert Benson, The Relaxation Response (New York: Harper, 1975). See also Ruth A. Baer, “Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: Conceptual Review,” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 10:2 (Summer 2003),125–43 and Scott Bishop, et al., “Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition” Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 11: 3 (Fall 2004), 230–41.
  34. H.Guenther. The Creative Vision. Novato, Ca: Lotsawa. 1987. P.XIV.
  35. Guy Claxton. Noises from the Darkroom. London: Aquarian. 1994. P.12.
  36. Gay Watson. The Resonance of Emptiness: A Buddhist Inspiration for a Contemporary Pychotherapy. Dlehi: Motilal Banarsidass. 2001. P.245.
  37. See: Gregory Bateson. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. London: Granada. 1973.