Mindfulness does not have to be acquired. It is already dormant deep within us, buried under years of mindlessness practice, which has left us unaware, forgetful, living mechanically, and alienated from ourselves. All we really need to do is stop practicing mindlessness. This requires great rigor, patience, and commitment. Mindfulness can then flourish and be released as a resource that can be put in the service of learning, growing, and healing.
Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional. Pain is an inevitable part of life, but we don’t have to make it worse with a clouded mind that is riddled by reflexes and habitual ways of creating distorted realities we then mistake for facts. Not only do we not have to make pain worse than it already is, but we can make it tolerable; so tolerable in fact, that it ceases to make our lives miserable, and even contributes to our sense of being deeply alive. It is through mindfulness that we achieve that, and stopping mindless patterns requires us to learn and practice certain attentional training techniques that eventually allow us to live more peaceful and satisfying lives. Cultivating a non-judgmental attitude, we focus on developing our ability to concentrate and expand our awareness beyond customary day-to-day consciousness. Eventually, this allows us to extricate ourselves from being on automatic pilot, and develop a clear view of all aspects of experience as events in the field of awareness. When we realize that in spite of being real, our experiences are not facts, we gain unprecedented perspective, clarity of vision, and freedom of action. Deep relaxation, inner calmness, and serenity set in, paving the way for organismic regeneration and a reduction of suffering.
In the course of these programs we learn techniques of observation that allow us to gradually awaken to the intricacies of organismic processes. Through the gradual development of an expanded kind of awareness we are not accustomed to, we foster fundamental changes in the way we relate to our experiences and act in the world. Using a variety of formal meditation practices, we have to commit ourselves to practicing formal mindfulness meditation for about one hour a day, and let its spirit spill over into our daily lives through a range of informal practices. We visit all our senses one by one, deeply immersing ourselves into the flow of present moments as they inexorably unfold from previous moments, following an unknown destiny of change. Lying, standing, walking, moving, eating, sitting and breathing will be vehicles to enter deeply into the many layers of being as the mind/body organisms that we are. The formal practices thus include stopping, paying attention to the breath, mindful action, the body-scan, flowing movement meditation, sitting and walking meditations, as well as other awareness exercises. At the center of it, all will be awareness, that most elusive and yet powerful of human attributes, without which there would be no knowing, no healing, and no love as we know it.
We dive into the present moment, both conceptually and experientially, discovering how the verbal/emotional cascade of reactions and reflexes removes us from direct experience, and prevents us from being there where life happens, from being present during the only time we ever have, the present moment. We explore and train attention, following the scent of pure awareness; just sensing, just seeing, just hearing, just feeling, just knowing, without adornment, without the complication of self-reference, without an observer, without an object, just, just….being….here and now.
On this journey, we come to inquire into themes that are fundamental to understanding why and how habits of mind keep us largely unaware and in an automatic pilot mode. Beginners are predictably vulnerable to the habitual reflex of doubt, which surfaces as the question Why should I practice non-doing when I have better things to do? Or isn’t this a waste of my time? To know why we practice non-doing and be able to understand the rationale behind it is an important way of keeping the practice alive when we are assaulted by doubt and old habits.
Therefore, we interweave themes that highlight the background mechanisms that make our organism what it is, as well as cultural and philosophical issues, with the therapeutic practice of mindfulness. More so in the expanded MBSR program version than the original MBSR program, we emphasize the importance of understanding the connections between our subjective experiences, the techniques and practices of mindfulness, and the way the brain and body are constructed and work. In our programs, we explore the full spectrum of mindfulness applications: How human consciousness is a double-edged sword that simultaneously follows habitual reflex patterns and yet contains the seed for its own transformation. We delve into the seven fundamental attitudinal foundations of mindfulness and explore such themes as doing versus being; the automatic pilot mode; learning to deal with obstacles; being present; the wandering mind and bare attention; allowing and letting be; thoughts are not facts, and acting in self-care. Since we cannot escape the reality of being story-telling animals, we explore the interface between mindfulness meditation and narratives by contemplating psychological development and the narrative mind in intimacy and conflict resolution.
Through the examination of stress, we come to understand the mechanisms, by which mindlessness leads to illness. Learning to appreciate mindfulness within a medical context opens the way to taking charge of one’s life and health and developing the notion of participatory medicine. Because mindfulness touches upon deep existential issues that cannot be ignored, the theme of mindfulness and spirituality is an important part of what rounds up this program.
We put particular emphasis on one of the problems that most frequently arise in the course of practice: The sense of failure to practice. There is no growth without respectful and caring attention to the hindrances we are bound to encounter along the way, without learning to live alongside the damaged aspects of ourselves, without responding to our own fragility in ever more gentle and caring ways, including dealing with the apparent failure of practice.