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Mindfulness is a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It plays a central role in Buddhism, with Right Mindfulness being the seventh element of Noble Eightfold Path, the practice of which is considered a prerequisite for developing insight and wisdom. In a secular context, mindfulness is attracting increasing interest among western psychiatrists as a non-pharmacological means of dealing with anxiety and depressive mood states.
Examples from meditation and daily life
Right mindfulness (often also termed Right Meditation) comes in a variety of forms. One example of mindfulness is to mentally give a verbal label to each inbreath and outbreath during sitting meditation. So, each time one breathes in, one thinks "rising", and each time one breathes out, one thinks "falling". In this type of meditation, the breath serves as a tether that the practitioner uses to bring his or her awareness back to the present moment. By residing more frequently in the present moment, practitioners begin to see both the inner and outer aspects of reality. Inner reality may unfold as one sees that the mind is continually chattering with commentary or judgment. By noticing that the mind is continually making commentary, one has the ability to carefully notice those thoughts - and decide if those thoughts have value. Most often, mindful people realize that "thoughts are just thoughts" - the thoughts themselves have no weight. People are free to release a thought ("let it go") when they realize that the thought is not concrete reality. They are free to observe life without getting caught in the commentary.
As one more closely observes inner reality, one finds that happiness is not a quality brought about by a change in outer circumstances, but rather by realizing happiness starts with releasing attachment to thoughts; thereby releasing "automatic" reactions toward pleasant and unpleasant situations or feelings.
However, mindfulness does not have to be constrained to a formal meditation session. Mindfulness is an activity that can be done at any time; it does not require sitting, or even focusing on the breath, but rather is done by bringing the mind to focus on what is happening in the present moment, while simply noticing the mind's usual "commentary". One can be mindful of the sensations in one's feet while walking, of the sound of the wind in the trees, or the feeling of soapy water while doing dishes. One can also be mindful of the mind's commentary: "I wish I didn't have to walk any further, I like the sound of the leaves rustling, I wish washing dishes wasn't so boring and the soap wasn't drying out my skin", etc. Once we have noticed the mind's running commentary, we have the freedom to release those judgments: "washing dishes: boring" may become "washing dishes: washing dishes". In this example, one may see that washing does not have to be judged "boring"; washing dishes is only a process of coordinating dishes with soap and water. Any activity done mindfully is a form of meditation, and mindfulness is possible practically all the time.
Continuous mindfulness practice
In addition to various forms of meditation based around specific sessions, there are mindfulness training exercises that develop awareness throughout the day using designated environmental cues. The aim is to make mindfulness essentially continuous. Examples of such cues are the hourly chimes of clocks, red lights at traffic junctions and crossing the threshold of doors. The mindfulness itself can take the form of nothing more than focusing on three successive breaths . This approach is particularly helpful when it is difficult to establish a regular meditation practice.
Research and writing
Largely associated with Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness is also advocated by such people as medical researcher and author Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBSR is a form of complementary medicine offered in over 200 U.S. hospitals and is currently the focus of a number of research studies funded by The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Mindfulness in clinical practice
There are a number of therapeutic approaches that include mindfulness and acceptance as an element. these would include:
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy[ACT]
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy [DBT]
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy [MBCT]:
Core mindfulness skills in dialectical behaviour therapy
Mindfullness therapy and particular mental conditions
Application of mindfulness in medical conditions
Recent research points to a useful therapeutic role for mindfulness in a number of medical and psychiatric conditions, notably chronic pain  and stress  In fact, recent research suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be used to prevent suicidal behavior from recurring in cases of severe mental illness (Journ. Clin. Psych. 62(2) 2006).
- Buddhism > Buddhism and psychology
- Buddhism > Buddhist meditation > Satipatthana, Sampajanna
- Jon Kabat-Zinn
- S.N. Goenka
- Thich Nhat Hanh
- Eckhart Tolle
- Mindfulness Meditation Therapy
References & Bibliography
Key texts – Books
- Baer, R. E., 2005, Mindfulness-Based Treatment Approaches, First Edition: Clinician's Guide to Evidence Base and Applications (Practical Resources for the Mental Health Professional); Academic Press.
- Blacker, M. (1999) "Meditation" in Holistic Health and Healing, Mary Anne Bright (Ed) F.A. Davis Pub, Philadelphia 2002 Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine Random House/Bell Tower,
- Germer,C.K., Siegel,R.D., Fulton,P.R.,2005, Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. New York: Guildford. 2005
- Hayes S, Follette V, Linehan M. (Ed), 2004, Mindfulness and Acceptance: Expanding the cognitive behavioural tradition. Guildford Press
- Hayes S, Strosahl KD, (Ed) 2005, A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Guildford Press
- Hick, S. & Bien, T. (2009). Mindfulness and the therapeutic relationship. Guildford Press.
- Langer, E.J.(1989).Mindfulness. Addison Wesley Publishing Company
- Kabat-Zinn, J. Coming to Our Senses , 2005,: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990) Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, Delacorte, NY
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Hyperion, New York, Jan.
- Rosenbaum, E.(2005)Here for Now: Living Well with Cancer through Mindfulness, Satya House Publications,
- Santorelli, S, 1999, Heal Thyself: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, Bell. Tower.
Additional material – Books
Reviews of the area
Key texts – Papers
Additional material – Papers
- Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana   
- The Art of Living
- How to do Mindfulness Meditation
- Mindfulness as Therapy: Your Personal GPS
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