Meditation, in its many forms, is part of the human heritage. lt appears in different forms in human culture going back thousands of years.
With the interest in mindfulness in recent years, meditation has become more widespread and accepted in our culture.
It can be a very skilful way to cultivate wonderful qualities of heart and mind that lead to wellbeing and flourishing.
There is something very simple and direct about mindfulness. When we tap into this awareness experientially, we access something that is directly knowing and discerning.
With training we can develop our ability to be more aware of what is happening for us in any given moment. We learn to intentionally give attention to what we value and what nourishes us, and be clearer about what a situation needs.
By integrating this awareness with our capacity to think and take action we support our ability to respond skilfully and be less reactive. This can be particularly powerful when we bring mindfulness to the inevitable difficulties that show up in life.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an intentional, clear and steady, moment-to-moment awareness. It occurs naturally, but undeveloped it is usually quite brief. It is possible to cultivate and refine, typically through the practice of bringing our attention again and again to our present moment experience of the body and the mind, with an attitude of curiosity, friendliness, openness and acceptance, and a motivation to learn more about how to meet whatever life brings with balance and care. With mindfulness we learn to respond skilfully rather than reactively, to recall, connect with, and be guided by what is important to us, and to heal, to grow, and to flourish.
As such, mindfulness has many different nuances. It is paying attention, but much more than just that. Mindful awareness is informed by mindful intentions and recollections, it is shaped and guided by mindful attitudes, which in turn guide mindful speech and behaviour. It is not a singular psychological state or mental function - mindfulness is a process and an activity that is multilayered, responsive and contextual. It is more like a chord than a note; many aspects come together to create a rich and resonant skilfulness of heart and mind.
Mindfulness practice involves meeting your experience with an attitude of curiosity, friendly discernment, openness, and trust. Not judging or striving to fix or change, but allowing and letting be.
You remember your intentions and motivations. In your practice you notice when you are distracted, and recall your intended focus, or recollect something that offers inspiration. In daily life you recall your wisdom - your life's learning - to guide effective action.
We bring mindful awareness to how we speak, how we behave, to our urges and choices, even to how we think.
What we learn in our meditation practice we can bring into how we are in the world, both privately and publicly.
Mindful attention is deliberate - you intend what to attend to and how to attend to it.
Your intentions direct your attention to be steady, clear, and connected to skilful attitudes. There is an overarching intention to respond skilfully to suffering.
Ancient wisdom, modern science
Interest in mindfulness has boomed in recent years, and it is likely that most people will have heard of it in some way by now. Mindfulness has its roots in ancient contemplative traditions, and much of what we know about mindfulness meditation today comes from practices preserved in Buddhist teachings which can be traced back some 2600 years to ancient India.
The few recent decades of research and practice which led to the 8-week programmes that are popular now is quite a brief period in comparison. However, in this relatively short period, the research into secular mindfulness has had an important impact and transformed the ways we understand human health, psychology and flourishing.
A brief history of secular mindfulness
Contemporary mindfulness-based approaches began in the late 1970s with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme, which was found to be helpful for people with stress and chronic medical conditions.
In the early 1990s, Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale were developing a model for preventing depressive relapse and came across Kabat-Zinn's work. Inspired by MBSR participants' reported changes in how they related to difficult experience and negative thoughts, Segal and colleagues developed a programme which drew extensively from the mindfulness training in MBSR and combined it with elements of cognitive therapy, thereby creating Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for Depression, as a skills training programme to help people who suffer from recurrent depression to help prevent relapse.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) now recommends MBCT for relapse prevention in depression for patients with 3 or more episodes. Since the emergence of MBCT, interest in mindfulness-based approaches has grown exponentially with a growing body of research into mindfulness for many different problems.
The application of mindfulness has now reached beyond the clinic into areas as diverse as as childbirth and parenting, mindfulness in the corporate setting and workplace, in education, prisons, politics, environmental issues, and the military; Mindfulness has shown to be helpful in reducing suffering, and now it is being used to support flourishing and growth.
The MBCT for health and wellbeing programmes offered at Mindfulness Therapies closely follow the Segal et al. (2013) protocol. Some adaptations have been made, in line with good practice, to make material more applicable to general public groups.
Feedback from previous course participants
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"A real joy to be part of a group on this journey, learning from one another. Acceptance and generosity to myself are key things I'll take away with me. The day-long practice was amazing, and will stay with me for a long time, a real treat!" Martha.