Mindfulness Training: From Ancient Times to the Modern Day

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Origins

Mindfulness training involves developing the specific skills necessary to Buddhism teaches that mindfulness occupies an integral position
in one’s life. It constitutes one aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path explained by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. This idea is nearly 2500 years old, yet retains its importance and usefulness in our modern times. The longevity of interest in mindfulness is a testament to its engaging and truthful nature.
Clinical research shows Buddhist mindfulness t...

 Modern Uses

Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra) Loc...

For the past 35 years, psychologists and psychiatrists have used the idea of mindfulness in order to develop curative techniques that directly address a number of psychological conditions. Clinical studies have supported such work, declaring mindfulness therapy to be useful in decreasing instances of depression, anxiety and stress in patients. Once a rather controversial practice, mindfulness has steadily grown in acceptance and subsequently in popularity. Modern psychologists alongside other practitioners are often well-versed in the central ideas of mindfulness and have seen, first hand the way in which such techniques have had positive effects on patients.

Central Ideas

Psychologists have organized mindfulness training around a number of central concepts:

  1. The act of focusing one’s awareness by limiting all thoughts outside of the immediate present. Individuals are encouraged to be acutely aware of what is occurring at a specific moment in time without allowing the mind to digress into considerations of the past or future. Each moment is to be taken in “stride;” independent of the moments with proceed and follow it.
  2. Affecting the way in which an individual perceives the present moment, by imposing a specific thought or pattern of thoughts. These thoughts are generally tolerant, calming, and are without prejudice of any kind.
  3. The act of practicing acceptance of each thought as it arises in the awareness of the individual. By fully accepting this thought, the individual practices non-judgemental behavior while acknowledging the realities of thought processes. The objective is to admit to the realities of thoughts as they arise in the mind of the individual.

How Do These Ideas Help?

Thought Bubbles

Thought Bubbles (Photo credit: Michael Taggart Photography)

By regulating one’s attention through consciousness, the individual is very receptive towards their own emotions and thoughts. This receptiveness allows the individual to “train” their minds, which reinforces the skill of concentration. This skill will prove invaluable for the subsequent stages of mindfulness training.

Once this concentration is mastered, the individual may use this skill in order to “navigate” through their thoughts and feelings. They may, without prejudice, examine and respond to what they themselves are thinking and feeling. By doing this, the individual may develop alternative methods with which to analyze and interpret thoughts. Previously negative associates may begin to take on positive connotations. Recurring thoughts that were once the source of stress, anxiety and depression, may then be seen in a new and positive light.

 When Would I Use it?

English: Mindfulness Activities

English: Mindfulness Activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mind often returns to familiar thoughts. These thoughts can be troubling having originated during particularly traumatic parts of one’s life. If individuals find themselves over-thinking certain situations or continuously “re-living” saddening events, then through the practices of mindfulness training, these patterns can be identified and fully considered. Such careful and purposeful consideration can lead individuals to offer new and positive responses to previously upsetting thought patters.

Isn’t This Just Meditation?

Although there are key similarities, the ultimate objective is different. The central objective of meditation is the ability to perform a prescribed mental exercise (like a mantra or specified breathing technique). Spiritual enlightenment is frequently the desired outcome. Mindfulness training on the other hand, focuses on awareness on one’s own thoughts and having the ability to recognize and confront them without prejudice.  

 The Future of Mind Training

As Western Psychology adopts the practices of Mindfulness, much is being done to perform comprehensive studies, establish “levels” or benchmarks of mindfulness, and to scientifically define terms such as “awareness” and “attention.”

As it grows  in popularity, its ideas will occupy a more central position in modern day psychology.

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