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Why is mindfulness helpful?

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  • 1. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue Why is Mindfulness helpful? When one is mindful, “one does not direct attention inward upon the self, nor does he orshe attempt to evaluate, construct or elaborate upon mental representations of the self. Instead of,“perceiving through the self-focused lens, the aim is to prolong that “fleeting moment of pureawareness” (Gunaratana, 2002, p.138) where one observes the present as it is before projectinghis/her categorizations, conceptions, expectations, desires, and biases onto it (Baer, Smith &Allen, 2004; Bishop, Lau, Shapiro, Carlson, Anderson, Carmondy, et al., 2004; Brown et al.,2007a; Dimidjian & Linehan, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 1990; Lau, Bishop, Segal, Buis, Anderson,Carlson, et al., 2006; Teasdale, 1999)”. In a state of mindfulness, one does not set out or attemptto accomplish any goals aside from maintaining the clearest [possible] awareness of the presentmoment (Gunaratana, 2002). Thus, mindfulness is understood to foster an “unbiasedreceptivity,” (Brown et al., 2007a, p. 213), “nonelaborative awareness” (Bishop et al., 2004, p.234), or “egoless alertness” (Gunaratana, 2002, p. 152), resulting in a more empirical viewtowards the data of immediate experience (Brown et al., 2007a). Over time, the thoughts of a“mindful” person are less likely to be altered by personal beliefs and biases that are notsupported by objective evidence (Bishop et al., 2004; Brown et al., 2007a; Herndon, 2008;Martin, 1997; Ryan & Brown, 2003)”. (Goodman, 2007 p. 3-4) The mindfulness [that is] developed in meditation, the level of awareness developed byobserving and exploring the field of internal phenomena, brings the sense of self into sharperfocus. This can enhance one’s sense of self-esteem by providing a stronger sense of self-understanding, self-containment and self-direction (Eddy, 2008). William James “describes theself-concept as the collection of material, social and spiritual constituents, and associatedfeelings and actions (James 1948: 177; see especially the diagram in 1948; 195 and 1983: 313).Author Jon Dunnemann Page 1
  • 2. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue According to Ronald D. Siegel, PsyD, and author of “the mindfulness solution –Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems”, Various cultures have developed their own ways to cultivate mindfulness, each shaped by a particular philosophy or religious views. Despite differences in approach, all these practices evolved to deal with psychological difficulties similar to those we face today. In the East, mindfulness developed in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and other traditions as a component of yoga and meditation practices, designed to free the mind of unwholesome habits. In the West, mindfulness is an element in many Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Native American Practices designed for spiritual growth. Secular artists, athletes, writers, and others have also developed techniques involving mindfulness to “clear the mind” and facilitate their work. While some of these practices take exotic forms, others are very simple and practical (Siegel, 2010, p. 6). The relevance of mindfulness to “The Winds beneath Youth’s Wings: A MentoringProgram of Humility and Humanity”, is as a functional utility for perspective taking, deliberatepractice, optimal learning, and improved mental qualities such as empathy, compassion andselflessness. After recently completing an extensive survey of published material, my findingsare that mindfulness has practical benefit for people of all ages with strong and resilient“mechanisms of self-regulation”. A principle objective of our mentoring program is to contributeto children’s, adolescents and young adult’s understanding of mindfulness with the intention ofcultivating awareness of present experience and nonjudgmental acceptance of the perceptions,emotions and thoughts that arise while one is engaged in normal, everyday activities such aseating, walking, standing, sitting or engaged in recreational or athletic sports activities. Although different authors use varying terms to address the attitudinal dimension ofmindfulness, what remains clear is the central role attitude plays in the conceptualization andexperience of mindfulness. Shapiro and Schwartz (2000) present twelve “mindfulness qualities”,which serve as a useful and comprehensive guide to the “heart” qualities related to mindfulness.Included therein are the following seven qualities originally defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn (1990):Author Jon Dunnemann Page 2
  • 3. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogueacceptance, non-judging, openness, trust, patience, non-striving and letting go. Shapiro andSchwartz (2000) identify an additional five qualities as gratitude, gentleness, generosity,empathy and loving-kindness. Shapiro and Schwartz (2000) maintain that mindfulnessnecessitates an intention to incorporate these qualities into one’s practice, and to evoke them inone’s conscious attention and awareness. Intention therefore is included as part of the attitudinaldimension of mindfulness (Dellbridge, 2009 p. 25). At The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue, our program directors are required toparticipate in a 10-session course from beginning to end on Mindfulness for Children,Adolescents and Adults developed and taught by Dr. Amy Saltzman. Dr. Saltzman trained inInternal Medicine, is a founding diplomat of the American Board of Holistic Medicine, founderand director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, and a founding member of theNorthern California Advisory Committee on Mindfulness. She served on the Board of Trusteesof the American Holistic Medical Association for eight years, and was the first medical directorof the integrative Health and Healing Clinic, at California Pacific Medical Center in SanFrancisco. In 2002, Dr. Saltzman established a private practice in Menlo Park, CA, where sheprovides holistic medical care and individual mindfulness instruction to children and adults. Shealso offers presentations and courses for young children, teens, parents, educators, and healthcare professionals. Dr. Amy Saltzman is a holistic physician, mindfulness teacher, scientist, wife, mother,and devoted student of transformation. Her passion is supporting people of all ages in enhancingtheir well being, and discovering the ‘Still Quiet Place’ within. Dr. Saltzman is a visionary and apioneer in the fields of holistic medicine and mindfulness in K-12 education.Author Jon Dunnemann Page 3
  • 4. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue She has conducted two research studies evaluating the benefits of teaching mindfulness tochild-parent pairs, and to children in low-income elementary schools; these research projectswere conducted along with Dr. Philippe Goldin in the Clinically Applied Affective NeuroscienceLab, through the Department of Psychology at Stanford University in California. Dr. Saltzman’s ongoing research seeks to answer the following questions: • Do children benefit when they learn the life skills of mindfulness and remain familiar with the “Still Quiet Place” within? • If children learn to observe their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, are they less vulnerable to the unhealthy effects of stress? • If children are able to access their natural sense of peace and to trust in their own inner wisdom, are they less susceptible to harmful peer influences and less likely to look for relief in potentially risky behaviors? • Can practicing mindfulness enhance children’s natural emotional intelligence, and encourage respectful communication and compassionate action? Mindfulness can also help us to expand our ability to handle things, or to bare ourexperience while becoming less overwhelmed thereby contributing to the following positiveoutcomes: a. Greater insight. By taking a mindful perspective, we observe our experience, yet not being in it. Mindfulness helps us get greater clarity on what is happening in our minds, and in our lives;Author Jon Dunnemann Page 4
  • 5. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue b. Improved problem solving. By slowing down and investigating our thoughts, feelings and experiences more carefully, we create space for coming up with wise responses to the difficulties in our lives. We create space between the urge to react and our actions themselves, and we can make considered and creative decisions about how to behave; c. Better attention. We can concentrate better on tasks, maintain our focus and reach goals. We are less distracted. Experience can become fresher, lighter, clearer, richer and more vivid; d. Less selfishness. We are non-immersed in our own thoughts and feelings and so have greater ability to consider others. We can be more considerate, empathic, compassionate, sensitive and flexible in our relationships; e. Less neurosis. We experience the world in an open way, not weighed down by unhelpful psychological patterns. We are better attuned to ourselves, to others, and to the world, and able to act more skillfully, based on present need, rather than past conditioning; f. More acceptance. Through Mindfulness, we see that events, thoughts and feelings always change, and we can learn to bear experiences more lightly, and let them go. We are more able to enjoy well-being that does not depend on things going “right”; g. Greater enjoyment of life. We can become more aware of pleasant experiences that were previously unnoticed because of our mental focus on the past and the future;Author Jon Dunnemann Page 5
  • 6. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue h. Less “beating ourselves up”. Mindfulness reduces our identification with negative thinking patterns – we stop thinking we are our thoughts, and we can be kind to ourselves when we have negative thoughts about ourselves; and i. Better mind–body integration. Many of us have a tendency to live “in our heads” and ignore what is happening in our bodies. Mindfulness makes us more aware of what is happening both in our bodies and in our minds, so we can experience and take into account the full range of our thoughts as well as our feelings. The most meaningful testing of mindfulness is to determine if children, adolescents andadults are able to relate to Mindfulness as a tool well worth using in their lives. Our goal at TheCenter for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue is to provide a comfortable and safe setting where individualscan explore whether mindfulness “makes sense” in their specific developmental context, andwhether or not they could possibly embrace it as a workable technique. We envision training ourvolunteer Spiritual Mentors as group “facilitators” in Mindfulness so that they can return to theirlocal communities and serve as highly competent practitioners who are deeply committed tocompassionately assisting others.The origins of Mindfulness Mindfulness has its roots in meditative traditions that are thousands of years old. Inmany of these traditions, Mindfulness is a quality developed through practices such asmeditation. However, Mindfulness and meditation is not the same thing. “Mindfulness” is aAuthor Jon Dunnemann Page 6
  • 7. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialoguequality that we all possess to some degree or another – how much depends on our ability to payattention to our experience. “Mindfulness meditation” usually refers to a set of specific, very simple practicesdesigned to cultivate the ability to be mindful. The word “meditation” can refer to a wide range of disciplines, some of which requiredifferent, or more elaborate, techniques to those involved in Mindfulness meditation, althoughthey usually involve an ability to pay attention and develop insight in some way. For example,there are meditation practices that seek actively to harness the mind’s powers of concentration,contemplation or visualization, not simply its capacity for observing thoughts, feelings andevents. In recent decades, clinicians and researchers working in psychological services havedeveloped programs based on Mindfulness meditation practices, with the aim to help peoplecope with health problems. They have also begun to investigate the factors that make somepeople more or less mindful than others, and to conduct neuro-scientific research to determinehow Mindfulness disciplines affect the brain. Mindfulness-based therapies and courses whenformally evaluated result in an increasingly robust and comprehensive evidence base for theirapplication. Since there may be a tendency to associate mindfulness exclusively with passive innerexperience, it is also important to look more closely at its constituent features in order to displaythe specifically educational implications. Kabat-Zinn offers a clear characterization in terms ofseven-key aspects:Author Jon Dunnemann Page 7
  • 8. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue 1) Non-judgmental – involves the assumption of an impartial witness of our own experience. When we begin paying close attention to the activity of our own mind, it soon becomes apparent that almost all thoughts and images accompany a process of categorizing and labeling in the form of noting some things as bad and some things as good. Instead of this constant judging – and the attendant favoring/disfavoring of certain patterns – we are to let go of such mechanical reactions and just be with the experience of thinking itself. 2) Patience – is an executive virtue in almost any context, in mindfulness work and it means the wisdom not to strive or worry too much about external ends or goals so that such constant planning and deliberating does not overwhelm our perception of the present moment. It is this unbidden mental restlessness that Schopenhauer described as the blind striving of the will and, interestingly. He also turned to Eastern spiritual practices to look for solutions (Hyland, 1985). 3) Beginner’s mind – is a concept wherein we are not to let our experience and knowledge get in the way of our present thoughts and perceptions. The idea is to cultivate an attitude of seeing things as if for the first time to be alive to unforeseen or previously unacknowledged possibilities in experience. 4) Trust – calls for us to develop a basic trust in the importance and value of our own thoughts, feelings and experiences. This does not mean neglecting external forms of knowledge and authority but, rather, always, balancing these against our own authentic vision of the world (as perhaps we may do anyway, often very un-mindedly).Author Jon Dunnemann Page 8
  • 9. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue 5) Non-striving – allows us to practice mindfulness through forms of meditation it has no goals beyond itself thus it is not as susceptible to constant criticism and revision. We are simply paying attention to anything that is happening and this is the only end. When we apply mindfulness to other activities – whether practical ones like driving a car or theoretical ones such as solving a problem or making a decision, the ends of goals are inherent in these activities. Mindfulness simply assists in their achievement by directing attention only to the basic features. 6) Acceptance – involves a willingness to see things as the really are, not as we would like them to be. We do not need to resign ourselves to tolerating present conditions but – by accepting the full reality of the present – allowing for change and development. Whether it involves our personal or our professional lives, acceptance leads to a facing up to rather than an avoidance of what we uniquely experience and perceive. 7) Letting go – takes place by attending to inner experience that soon reveals a range of thoughts and images that we want to either avoid or hold on too. The tendency toward aversion or desire in terms of automatic unreflective selection of states of mind – occurs just as with the past or plans for the future – in mindfulness practice one resists it. The idea is simply to watch thoughts and ideas appear and disappear without necessarily wanting to hold on to anything. Such letting go is perhaps the most difficult part of a practice that seems on first inspection to be so incredibly almost naively simple (see Kabat-Zinn, 1990, p. 33-38). The immense potential of paying close attention to our thought processes should not beunder-estimated. In its normal state, the mind is often in flux as it fixes on one object afterAuthor Jon Dunnemann Page 9
  • 10. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogueanother in a random and dissipated manner. By ‘cultivating mindfulness’, the Dalai Lamareminds us, ‘we learn first to become aware of this process of dissipation, so that we cangently fine-tune the mind to follow a more directed path towards the objects on which wewish to focus’ (Dalai Lama, 2005, p. 160). It is important to note that such attraction has ‘adeliberate intention’ that helps us to select a specific aspect or a characteristic of an object.Training in attention becomes a link with learning how to control our mental processes (p. 161).This control – which can be an end in itself in the therapeutic uses of mindfulness – is a [link] tothe central Buddhist enterprise in the process of elimination of unhelpful and misleadingconceptions of the self. There is of course, a similar critical tradition in relation to the concept ofselfhood in Western philosophy stemming from Hume’s famous observation in his Treatise that‘I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything butthe perception (Hume, 1964, p.239). Within the Buddhist tradition, the notion of ‘non-self’ isremarkably similar to both Hume and the social constructionist perspectives of more recenttimes.Adolescence and the transition to “Young Adulthood” “Adolescence” comes from the Latin verb adolescere, which means “to grow up” or “togrow to adulthood” (Thom, 1991:377). Thom (1991) explains that due to individual and culturaldifferences, the age at which adolescence [begins] varies from 11 to 13 and the age at which itends from 17 to 21. Western psychologists further distinguish the developmental phase ofadolescence into two stages: early adolescence (age 10 to 15) and late adolescence (age 16 to 22)(Thom, 1991).Author Jon Dunnemann Page 10
  • 11. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue Youth currently advancing through these age groups are bound to face many challengesand difficulties as students with interpersonal and academic goals, formulating a sense ofpersonal identity, determining what they are good at and care most deeply about as they learn tomake and keep their commitments to family, friends and employers. When youth encounterobstacles ideally, they should be prepared to deal wisely with conflict, confrontation, andsetbacks and able to draw upon learned and well mastered coping skills. “Youth “participants inmeditation can use the insights and psychological skills developed during meditation to practicein many situations and life domains” (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek and Finkel, 2008). At The Winds beneath Youth’s Wings: A Mentoring Program of Humility and Humanityour volunteer Spiritual Mentors are available to teach, model and praise youth for their interest inlearning how to respond to their environment with emotions that are openhearted, sociallyacceptable and consist of content that is most appropriate for any given situation. Collectivelywe are striving to broaden and build the prosocial competency and overall life-skills of our targetaudience through purposeful and selective actions: 1) We serve as educators of human spiritual nature in directing all activities and lessons for participating youth of different age groups. 2) We utilize mindfulness meditation as the key to opening the door to the “inner self”. 3) We provide a safe and comfortable place for the emotional experience of divine love. 4) We facilitate integrated moral, emotional, physical, and intellectual development of children, adolescents and young adults.Author Jon Dunnemann Page 11
  • 12. The Center for Inter-Spiritual Dialogue 5) We share valuable standards to live by; honesty, courage, patience, tolerance, compassion, kindness, generosity, joy, and hope and love. 6) We labor at creating a learning and supportive environment that lays the foundation for a humanity of higher values (and attitude of mind) of a cooperative vision for what is just, peaceful and unites humanity around the world. 7) We “walk the talk” by demonstrating spiritual love to those with emotional problems and behavioral difficulties in an effort to constructively mobilize and motivate every person towards self-monitoring, self-regulation and self-correction. 8) We develop and implement intentional conditions of acceptance, empathy, congruence, hope, unconditional positive regard and respect. 9) We honor each individual by helping them to experience a trustworthy source of guidance, valuing of others and action.Author Jon Dunnemann Page 12