Mindfulness: A More Technical View of
A more technical understanding of mindfulness, an understanding necessary for effective educational and clinical applications of such skills and practices, has been presented by S. A. Alper (2016). This view uses a pyramid as a symbolic metaphor for mindfulness applications. The details of this pyramid (the foundation, four sides, and a top) appear below. Before we go there, let’s do a quick review of what mindfulness is and is not.
Mindfulness is not simply relaxation (a by-product), trance state, empty mind, thinking, striving, nor is it only applied to meditation or yoga. Mindfulness is awareness in the present moment of experiencing – it is awareness of whatever comes into consciousness without trying to change it or judge it. Choiceness awareness changes over time; this is not a concentrative effort to narrow down what you pay attention to (that is concentration practice). You simply notice matter-of-factly what you are experiencing here, now. Given the dominance of various clinical conditions (depression, anxiety, trauma, substance misuse – self medicating behaviors),
mindfulness skills may be very helpful to students, clients, and patients. Over time, the practice of mindfulness reduces auto-pilot mind and body, instinctual and limbic reactivity, conditioned responses, unhelpful habits of being, unconscious/autonomic responses, and sometimes aggressiveness. Ultimately, a mindfully practiced person is a better emotionally self-regulated person – perhaps even a happier person. Self-compassion and compassionate understanding for others is part of this change process.
Now let’s get into the meaning of the pyramid, educational, and clinical practices.
- The secure foundation for such practices in education and psychotherapy requires that the provider of these services and skills practice mindfulness (meditation, yoga, etc.) on their own or under the supervision of a qualified teacher. This is essential for successful applications with others. This is formal practice. In this way the helper responds mindfully not reactively. Unconditional acceptance in the present moment of experience allows trust and open-heartedness to be part of the experience with others. The foundational skills of educators and helpers allow access to and expertise on the sides of the pyramid. The sides represent nurturing, educational, and therapeutic aspects of the relationship. Teaching and doing therapy are both included here. The “doing” by the educator or helper are in the practices on each side of the pyramid. The “being” is the actual practice, itself.
- One side includes the formal mindfulness meditation practices. There are many such approaches and methods used in education and psychotherapy. The best match is one that brings the provider’s experience and expertise to the recipient’s level of willingness and experience in practice. Basic breathing skills, awareness skills, basic meditation, yoga, walking meditation awareness, etc. are all helpful practices.
- Another side includes specific skills, capacities, attitudes and perspectives. Jon Kabat-Zinn called these “foundational attitudes” in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and Marsha Lineman proposed similar ways of being in Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Steven Hayes referred to these attributes as mainly willing acceptance. These practices can be applied in daily life to reduce stress reactivity. Skills include attention, mindful awareness, allowing, radical acceptance, emotional regulation, disidentification, discernment, and self-care. Capacities include distress and affect tolerance, equanimity, and cognitive flexibility. Attitudes include non-judging, non-striving, trust, and letting go. Perspectives include present moment awareness, impermanence, thoughts and emotions are not you and not always truths, suffering is part of life, and ways of being happier.
- Another side includes an inquiry way of knowing. This understanding is by experience only. It is not the outcome of cognitive study and executive processes. That said, one does need executive intention and motivation to initiate and continue regular self-practice. Such special inquiry, investigation, and modes of knowing are based on subjective experiences in practice. This important experience includes sensory information, the mind, emotions, and moods. Insights eventually develop that allow clear seeing and ways of being (reduced suffering, more happiness, etc.).
- Another side includes the development of a way of being that is highly related to practice experience. This implies changes in how we relate to personal experiences via practice. Radical acceptance, non-striving, non-judging
are all part of these changes. Reduced negativity and criticism are good changes.
- The top of the pyramid is all about how the student, client or patient is internalizing and using the specific mindfulness skills taught and practiced in the relationship with the educator or therapist. In the final
analysis, this is the most important part of the pyramid and the process. If the student, client or patient is unable to practice mindfulness skills on their own regularly, the benefits of these interventions will not be optimal. Practice! Practice! Practice! It is of utmost importance.
For more information refer to Alper, S. A. (2016). Mindfulness and Meditation In psychotherapy: An Integrative Model for Clinicians. Oakland, CA: Context Press/New Harbinger, pp. 1-50.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
Author of Mindful Happiness