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Mindfulness and meditation
Think you are seeing the term “mindfulness” more often? You are. Last year, approximately 415 articles were published on the topic.
BeWell asked Mark Abramson, DDS, the founder and facilitator of Mindfulness-Meditation Based Stress Reduction programs at Stanford Hospital & Clinics and the Stanford School of Medicine, why the mindfulness concept is gaining worldwide attention.
What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction?
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction was originated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who applied the traditional meditation practice of mindfulness (defined here as non-judgmental awareness) to medical centers. He created an eight-week treatment program for medical illnesses as well as general stress issues. In his program, he used a combination of mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga to assist people with pain and a range of conditions and life issues. MBSR is now a common part of the treatment regimen in many hospital settings.
What is the reward of meditation?
We live much of our lives on automatic pilot and so do things unconsciously that are causing us distress. The reward of meditation is that it enables us to begin taking back our ability to choose the direction of our lives — which incorporates how we treat ourselves, our health and how we interact with others.
Meditation is a very important tool for dealing with what is going on within our own bodies, and it is also a great tool for coping with the mental/emotional stresses ever-present in our society.
Meditation looks easy, but can be quite difficult. What is the simplest way to get started?
There are two phenomena that make meditation difficult. The first is the expectation people have that they’re going to go into a mystical, magical place where the mind shuts off and they will be in a special state. This expectation has ruined people’s practice more than anything else. Mindfulness is really just observing yourself through your natural senses — such as your taste, hearing, smelling and feeling. Even the thoughts you have are observable experiences.
The second difficulty is the habitual tendency for our minds to go off on tangents. It is difficult to stay focused; we slip away and we come back. I try to see that as part of the practice.
Is mindfulness being rapidly adopted by the mainstream?
There is an absolute explosion throughout our society, and mindfulness is being adopted on all levels: in business, medicine, education and research. In fact, we just had a meeting at Stanford where we discussed the fact that physicians, nurses and medical practitioners are doing very stressful work, which is greatly impacting their lives in many ways. We are now putting together a plan to bring a mindfulness program to these hard-working medical professionals.
Is mindfulness an idea whose time has come or just the antidote for modern lives?
Both. Another factor driving the adoption of mindfulness is science. This is the age of great advances in understanding neuroscience, and meditation is a powerful way to make significant changes to what is going on inside our own brains. Meditation is also a great tool for improving the emotional stresses that we experience in our society. So several trends are coming together, and the groundwork has been laid. This is the right time, we have the information and we have the need.
Can a contemplative experience, like meditation, exist in a non-religious practice?
The tradition comes from Buddhism meditation practice, which is at least 2,500 years old. The core of meditation does not necessarily need to be applied in a religious manner.
Meditation is the basic use of one’s mind and one’s natural sensitivities to tune into ourselves through our own sensations, and to connect to ourselves in such a way that we start to notice both what we’re experiencing and our unconscious reactions to those experiences. Through that awareness comes the ability to understand what you are doing and to make more intelligent, skillful choices. This practice helps us live our lives in a better way — both emotionally and physically.
… any final thoughts?
Each of us, because of our own, separate experiences, has a unique opportunity to contribute to the growth of mindfulness and meditation. We hope this will become something that will create a better world to live in.
We have started with the Stanford community. We hope that, because of this work, Stanford will become known not just as the place where you can develop the highest level of academic skill, but also strong life skills. This is what I see as a complete education.
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