Mindfulness, the power of being present in the present – 2nd part

Although the practice of Mindfulness is very old, because it has its origin in the Vipassana Buddhist tradition which is more than 2,500 years old, it became popular in the West as a scientific discipline back in the 80s, with Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts and the stress reduction program, known as MBSR, as a means to treat problems associated with stress and chronic pain.

Jon Kabat Zinn

Let’s do some history. It all started back in 1979 with an act of love, since Jon Kabat Zinn, who at the time was working with chronic pain patients in a department of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was concerned about alleviating the suffering of his patients. through the application of the contemplative techniques of the East that he himself had practiced since his youth through Zen discipline and Yoga.

So Jon proposed to the hospital management a pilot project for «pain relief and stress reduction» through relaxation techniques and imagine his delight when he received the approval to carry out experiments, beginning to refer patients to him so that he could perform the tests. We can not forget that in those years in the US, and especially in the field of clinical orthodoxy, everything that sounded Eastern, spirituality and contemplative techniques, had negative connotations related to the hippie movement and psychedelic substances. Hence, the approval of the project was a source of enthusiasm for the young Kabat-Zinn who often confesses to feeling in the hands of a destiny that was struggling to change the course of the Western world.

The truth is that the results were remarkably satisfactory in more than 50 patients studied,  demonstrating with reliable and verifiable scientific scales that the program was effective for the management of chronic pain, since the patients managed to «detach» from their pain, generating a series of processes that facilitated its improvement or cure. Data that was recorded in a first research article entitled «Ambulatory program of behavioral medicine for patients with chronic pain based on the practice of Mindfulness».

From that moment, numerous medical research works have been carried out in relation to the mind-body interaction and the applications of mindfulness in health, including more than 35 editions of the Congress for the study of spirituality and science that promotes the institute Mind and life, created by the Dalai Lama and other great researchers. It is worth noting the meetings held in the 90th year of the Dalai Lama with a group of young people, Jon Kabat-Zinn promoter of mindfulness in the West and Daniel Goleman, who popularised the concept of emotional intelligence and all the repercussions that have been introduced during the last 30 years . I cannot help wondering if those encounters between these men, referent models in our time, did not follow a well-designed strategy for the western world to accede to a thousand-year-old wisdom that bears enormous wisdom that could benefit the human being in any of its latitudes…

Dalai Lama

Today, the concept of meditation has been universalised, responding to the desire of the Dalai Lama himself, model of reference for the whole world to be an example of life, to make spirituality available to all and to access all human beings without exception. Men and women united by a wisdom that knows no borders or limits, no difference in race, creed, religion, social status or colour … I recognise that I am excited just thinking about it.

The truth is that it does not take a religious belief to experience mindfulness, just the desire to live better in the moment, seek a better quality of life, be more present and improve physical and psychological health. And although it is not complicated, all specialists recommend a learning and someone to facilitate this learning.

Currently, the applications of mindfulness extend to almost all fields: health, education, sports, business, food … It is curious to observe how culinary competitions are made with full attention in the search for selected palates who may be able to detect all the ingredients in a highly elaborated dish. We also find many universities and schools that offer their students mindfulness workshops, aware that in most cases, the distance that separates success or failure at school, lies not so much in the talent of the student but in their ability to concentrate, retention of concepts, relationship and analysis that allows the student to generate new thought structures.

In fact, all these advances have turned the world around. Studies are expanding every year, making this new paradigm, which we have been supporting since the beginning at the Fundación Sophia, is already unstoppable. There are hundreds of neuroscientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of mindfulness in many areas of life. Let’s see some:

In medicine. Thousands of hospitals are following mindfulness programs both globally for doctors, and at a particular level for certain groups of patients, generating numerous benefits in: anxiety, fibromyalgia, adhd (attention deficit disorder), cardiovascular diseases, eating disorders, Substance abuse, depression, psoriasis, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, brain injuries…

In education. With children, 10 minutes a day at the beginning of the day, in their corner of peace, are leading to great improvements in memory and concentration, in self-control, reduction of anxiety, improvement of self-control, empowerment of empathy and understanding towards others, development of skills in conflict resolution and greater health.

In prisons. In penitentiary centers in America and Europe, in recent years, great progress has been made in the social and occupational insertion of prisoners and in the overcoming of addictions.

In companies. Using the Stop model every so often to return to the present time and time again, has great benefits both at a human level and economic profitability.

The truth is that today, we are many thousands of people who try to bring «full presence» to our lives, with many considerable beneficial changes.

How is the Mindfulness technique?

Mindfulness ranges from the most orthodox practices within the tradition of Vipassana Buddhism or «clear vision», to a simple exercise of stopping a minute, breathing, observing your inner world and returning to the activity that you had from a more conscious mental posture … From the therapeutic practice of mindfulness in one of the many programs that have been developed in recent times (the MBS, mindfulness for stress reduction, MSF, mindfulness and self-compassion, or the MBCT, cognitive therapy based on mindfulness, and many others), even the simple fact of eating an apple focusing the mind with full attention…

The fundamental support of all meditation is undoubtedly breathing. However, in mindfulness, special importance has also been given to the body with its multiple sensations as a place of focalisation of attention. This favours the very effective process of being mindful towards the body and its sensations at the moment the mind focusses on that specific part of the body.  With this we achieve the first goal of mindfulness which is to quieten mental noise, calm the mind, create the necessary empty space between the observer and the observed in order to be able to respond from a free consciousness and awaken to the given stimulus, instead of reacting mechanically and instinctively.

This, looked at coldly, seems quite difficult to achieve, but is achieved with constant practice. It is demonstrated by modern neurosciences, that eight weeks of daily practice, for 30 minutes are enough to create the neural synapses necessary to create a habit in our life. It is, like in a gym, able to develop a muscle, only in this case it’s the mental muscle of attention, of realising where the mind is to take it again and again to the object of our attention.  For this, the mind will be trained to focus on a single stimulus in an uninterrupted manner. It is obvious that the mind will move away from its object of concentration numerous times, however, as many times it moves away from its concentration, once again, we will return with a lot of patience, without judgment and with kindness to lead the mind towards the chosen focus of attention.

It is true that at the beginning of the practice, the focus of attention is constantly deviating, attracted by the numerous stimuli that hijack our attention and, on the other hand, it is also true that it takes a while to realise that our attention has been diverted . However, continued practice coupled with disinterested patience, that is, without waiting for results, gradually reverses the process. As the traditional Buddhist texts say: «Although the mind is unstable and difficult to master, perseverance and patience, together with firm determination, eventually dominate it.»

Thus, little by little, we can get our attention focused for a long time on the object of our attention, while the time it takes to realise that we have moved away from the focus is reduced. And while one would like to have achieved a perfect experience, just trying in itself is to cultivate a meditative state that generates in the practitioner unique moments of inner satisfaction for feeling fully alive; moments of deep understanding and mental lucidity so impressive and so beneficial to the soul which seeks and needs to understand the mystery of life, that I really have to tell you, that any effort is little compared to the benefits that it brings.

Mindfulness session

Why a Mindfulness program for a full and happy life?

As we have seen and we have revealed the empirical demonstrations of science, the technique of mindfulness enables us to manage with greater wisdom our stress, anxiety, chronic pain, illness, states of suffering and depression, etc … But we must also ask ourselves, how to use this millenary technique to live life with greater fullness and happiness, emphasising not only the harmful factors, but above all and fundamentally in the beneficial factors that increase and favor the development of our essential potential?

What is the basis of MVPF?

In recent times there have been numerous studies which demonstrate that if we could put all the troubles we have had throughout life, difficult situations, problems, illnesses, deaths of loved ones, pains, fears, fissure points, etc in a weighing scales dish .; in other words, everything «negative» and in the other dish of the scales we placed pleasant and happy experiences, joys, moments of joy and serenity, successes and victories obtained, etc … we would have to recognise with some dismay that the dish of the negative would have more weight.

According to Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and founder of one of the most important institutes of neuroscientific study and contemplative wisdom, he comments that our oldest brain, the reptilian, the one we used when we lived in the stone age (the one that governs the most primal instincts), is very quickly prepared to learn from bad experiences as a basic mechanism of survival in a world full of dangers, but not so much from the good ones. Its an ancient mechanism that trained the brain in a behavior pattern that Dr. Hanson describes as a «Velcro» for the negative and «Teflon» for the positive, thus developing a «negative trend» in our character. However it is true that at the time it helped us to stay alive and away from the dangers, which today no longer exist. Moreover, this «toxic» predisposition to take into account the difficult and dangerous aspects of existence, above those that are happy and healthy, is making us sick with discouragement, boycotting our hope and burdening our motivation, preventing us from accessing our best internal and exterior proposals.

According to Dr. Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and founder of one of the most important institutes of neuroscientific study and contemplative wisdom, he comments that our oldest brain, the reptilian, the one we used when we lived in the stone age (the one that governs the most primal instincts), is very quickly prepared to learn from bad experiences as a basic mechanism of survival in a world full of dangers, but not so much from the good ones. Its an ancient mechanism that trained the brain in a behavior pattern that Dr. Hanson describes as a «Velcro» for the negative and «Teflon» for the positive, thus developing a «negative trend» in our character. However it is true that at the time it helped us to stay alive and away from the dangers, which today no longer exist. Moreover, this «toxic» predisposition to take into account the difficult and dangerous aspects of existence, above those that are happy and healthy, is making us sick with discouragement, boycotting our hope and burdening our motivation, preventing us from accessing our best internal and exterior proposals.

Something I learned as a child is that wherever there is a problem there is a solution. Never does nature present an irresolvable dilemma. There is always a flaming sword with which to cut «the Gordian knot» … We just have to connect with our inner potential, accessible through our full attention and sharpen our creativity to find the ideal resource. But we repeat: what can we do? Because the truth is that neuroscientific and psychological studies also tell us that if we look closely at ourselves, we will observe that the strongest and most powerful of our «wants» is the conquest of happiness. So … how can we record positive experiences in our brain to gradually change the weight of the balance? In what way can we get those good experiences we need to heal old hurts, develop our potential and be able to enjoy more of the good things in life? How to modify our mental map and thus be able to transform our negative mental states into positive ones and from there take them on to become skillful tendencies so that they can finally be translated into a way of being and of looking at life in a full and happy way?

Let’s see some recommendations, also endorsed by the neurosciences and by all the contemplative traditions of humanity, to be able to fix in our deepest conscience those good moments of existence … because they are the bricks with which we build happiness, health and healthy relationships, that luminous palace where we can be happy with ourselves and with others in harmony and harmony with Life.

Herminia Gisbert