By Clive Lindley-Jones | November 1, 2013 9:00 am
Mindfulness means, Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
This month I would like to write about the very latest thing…. that is as old as time; Mindfulness.
The other day when talking with a patient it was clear that his life was reaching a kind of melt down and he could not see the wood for the trees. Eventually I suggested that after he left the practice he might consider exploring the benefits of Mindfulness. We talked some more and he went off to try some suggestions I had made to explore this area for himself.
I have been around long enough to have seen the huge shift in attitudes to meditation over the last 50 years. Back in the 60’s it was still treated with fear and suspicion by the prevailing western culture, while some of us younger generation were fascinated and curious. The idea that there were limits to rational thought and that sometimes one might wish to change modes of operation from doing to being was alien to most but exciting to the counter culture. However we really did not know what to do or how to do it. Hence the enormous, often naive and very ungrounded, interest and hunger.
Decades later even such conservative, establishment institutions as The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, NICE, now recognise the scientifically verifiable mental and physical benefits of regularly changing your state from doing to being mode. Mindfulness has gone from underground to establishment. But of course in reality it was always there, is not a new discovery and permeates, in some form, all the great wisdom traditions of the world. It is just undergoing a coming out experience. What is new is our power, through wonderful new tools like fMRI, to be able to see into the workings of the brain in real time and watch it change and grow or shrink. Never before have we had such power to objectify what wise men and women have observed and noted throughout history.
Mindfulness is a convenient word to describe that state that we all get into when we purposely pay attention to what is happening in our mind and body, at this moment, with no judgement and with no particular outcome in mind. Better known as meditation, a term that comes for some, loaded with baggage. So today lets unpack this a little and without going in great depth, and without any particular religious focus. I would like to explore with you Doing and Being using the ideas that originally comes from the work of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who has done much work at the University of Massachusetts in using Mindfulness as an effective stress reduction tool. This is expanded on in this months book of the month below. Many people worry that they don’t have any time for such things, but there is a good argument to be made that Mindfulness practice actually frees up more time than it takes to practice!
‘Doing' And ‘Being'
"Doing is not an enemy to be defeated, but is often an ally. It only becomes a 'problem' when it volunteers for a task that it cannot do, such as 'solving' a troubling emotion".
Let us then explore seven characteristics of ‘doing’ and ‘being’ modes of minds remembering all the while that both states have their place and neither is better than the other, only, for our purposes here, that often, especially in our busy modern lives, we can get a bit out of balance and especially as doing often gets more outer rewards than being, we can get out of balance. Just as we need to breath in and breath out, so too we need to move in life between these two modes.
1. Automaticity pilot v. Conscious choice.
Our automatic mind is brilliant at driving the car or tying shoelaces, but less good when we cede too much control to the autopilot. That way we can easily sleep walk through our life, almost unaware of it. This was recently nicely illustrated in Richard Curtis’s new film, 'About Time'. If we choose to be more aware of all the simple actions and events of our life, that glimpse of pink cloud as you drive home from work, that smiling child who briefly looks at you so openly in the train. These small moments. You become more fully alive and aware again.
2. Analysing v. Sensing
Our doing mode needs to think and we can if we are not careful get so caught up with all the thinking and analysis we need to employ in our lives it can take over all of our thinking so that we loose touch of our senses and so loose a vital ability to relate to the world afresh. This is about waking up to what is happening inside and outside us, moment by moment and engaging the world again with all our senses. A different way of knowing the world.
3. Striving v. Acceptance
By sometimes dropping preconceptions, and temporarily suspending judgments, instead just allowing ourselves to observe compassionately rather than attack, argue or judge, in this radical acceptance of life we can begin to stop some of the spiral of negative thought that can sweep us up into a state of tumult. This does not mean we have to just resign to our fate, but rather it acknowledges things as they are and works with that. In that way we can better deal with problems with the most effective tool.
4. Seeing thoughts as solid and real v. Treating them as mental events
In doing mode we use our mind to create thoughts and images, these can become prematurely real, and we mistake them for reality! Thoughts are JUST THOUGHTS, events in the mind, often valuable but not you or reality.
5. Avoidance v. Approaching
It is good to know where I wanted to go on any journey and where I do not want to go. But avoidance can have its down sides, we can burn ourselves out trying to avoid states we don't want and make ourselves worse. Being mode encourages you to approach the very things we avoid. By turning compassionately towards these feelings we can often dissipate their negative power.
6. Mental time travel v. Remaining in the present moment
We have a wonderful mind that can take us back or forward in time or travel the world in our imagination. All superb tools at times, when used in the right mode, but sometimes with overload we can re-live events too often to our detriment or in our anxiety we can suffer pre-living events that in all probability may never even happen. With meditation we train the mind to ‘see’ our own thoughts and recognise them as thoughts and so live our lives as they unfold. Memory and planning become just what they are, so avoiding the extra pain of re- and pre-living.
7. Depleting v. Nourishing activities
When locked into ‘doing’ mode we can sometimes get so committed to demanding roles and projects we loose the ability to, in the words of Steven Covey, "sharpen the saw”. Like a lumberjack sawing furiously away at a tree with a blunted saw we feel we have no choice but to carry on frenetically even though, if we were to stop and sharpen the saw, we would eventually finish the job much faster and easier. Life can demand so much of us we get like that saw, blunt and ineffective but we loose the ability to nourish ourselves. Mindfulness meditation can give us back some of that ability to nourish ourself rapidly. With these regular recharges of our battery we are more able to function, even under stress.
So here are a few options to keep opening up to in life. Meditation as a therapy or treatment is just a starting point. It is at its more profound, a royal road to self knowledge. Of course in the end doing and being come together in one thing. Just as 13.7 billion years ago there was nothingness or emptiness and then with the Big Bang came everything, came form, so that nothingness did not go away, but remains integral within all the stuff, the form of the universe, so being is doing, and doing ultimately is being. However as this is a health related blog, it is interesting and encouraging to learn what science is discovering about some of the health benefits along the way.
Some of the known Health benefits of Mindfulness
Over the last forty years the number of physiological and psychological benefits that have long been observed from mindfulness meditation have been more scientifically measured from adopting such simple practices. At one time it was thought that we all have a fixed 'emotional set point' but in recent years Dr’s Davidson, (Univ. Wisconsin), & Kabat-Zinn (Univ. Massachusetts), showed Mindfulness allowed people to reset their emotional set point. It appears that we can alter our underlying level of happiness. Practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to lead to changes to the brain centres eventually seeing physical brain changes leading to increased;
- Less sadness,
- More living with ease,
- Less anger and aggressiveness
- More energy
- Less fatigue
- Less listlessness.
- More feelings of loving kindness
- Positive mood
- better immune support
- FMRI shows the part of the brain called the insula becomes energised through meditation. This is the part of the brain that is integral to our sense of human connectedness.
- Empathy. Meditation increases and grows the 'empathy centres' of the brain.
OK, so how long does this take, a lifetime in the Himalayan cave? No, but of course as with all Practices the longer the better, but even 8 weeks daily practice will show changes in ways in which this critical area of the brain functions.
Research into the Physical health benefits of meditation conducted by the USA National Institute of Health, 2005, who studied people who had been meditating for an average of 19 years and found;
- 23% decrease in mortality
- 30% decrease in rates of heart disease
- 49% decrease in rate of mortality from cancer.
Of course what you cannot disentangle are the likelihood that those who meditate also make other sensible lifestyle changes, but presumably they tried to work that into the study too.
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, (MBCT).
Research by Oxford Prof. of Clincal Psychology, Mark Williams, shows 40-50% less likelihood of relapse with patients who have suffered from three or more previous episodes of depression after 8 weeks of a MBCT course.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Holzel et al. writing in Psychiatry Research in 2011 report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program.
Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals.
Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.
There are, of course, thousands of books on mindfulness and meditation.
The one I suggested you might like to look at if you are new to the whole area is this months...
Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
By Mark Williams & Danny Penman 2011. £13.99
This clear, practical and clinically based book sets down the facts and guides the reader through the field in the most helpful way. It also has a useful 8 week simple and easy to apply course with a CD of it, included, a helpful way to start if you are interested.
What Williams and Penman have done is simplify and demystify Mindfulness in an easy to follow manner, making it accessable for anyone, of any religion, or none, where all is needed is a pragmatic approach to try for yourself. The authors make it extemely accessable without pretending other than the benefits only acrue to those who actually practice. No amount of reading about the sea will ever replace the experience of jumping into the sea and tasting it for the first time. So why not have a go?
While mindfulness is as old as time the groundbreaking work of pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre in the US is often credited with the early clinical use of mindfulness and research into its value in stress reduction. You can read his many books, one of which is;
Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation
If you use apps a good one for free is;
This has a simple user friendly, ten minutes a day, ten-day, starter mindfulness course you can do from your phone. What could be easier, it would have been great to have all these things back in the day!
If you get keen you can track your progress and your sessions with the useful Insight Timer app.
Fianally, if it is still available, The BBC World service documentary on Isolation, had a interesting final quater on the role of yoga and mindfulness in prison came into the programme in an interesting way at the end, you can find it at;
Welcome to Sara Barker
This Autum Helix House is happy to welcome experienced Osteopath and Acupuncturist Sara Barker to the team. Sara has been working with families in Oxford and London since 1999. She works by combining her skills to ensure the best possible outcomes. This means whatever is needed by the individual that day.
Some of what Sara is offering:
- Osteopathy Cranial Osteopathy and Acupuncture
- Treatments for fertility transfer, assisted fertility and for fertility
- Pre-labour treatments
- Induction for labour
- Optimal foetal positioning treatments (breech to back etc.)
- Post natal revival treatments