Saturday, October 12, 2013

What is Mindfulness? Is it religious? What is MBSR? And how does meditation fit in?

---- a blog by Gena Bean in response to MBSR class discussion on Oct 6 2013 ----

Mindfulness is a human capacity for non-judgemental awareness that can be developed and strengthened. Other human capacities include: compassion, unconditional love, wisdom, knowledge,... etc.  These human capacities do not belong to any religion, yet most religions value them.

MBSR is a nine-session training program that includes meditation practices that are designed to enhance and strengthen the MBSR student’s innate capacity for mindfulness.  

The other human capacities are honored in MBSR class, yet the emphasis in this training program is on developing mindfulness skills specifically.  There is also an intention towards reducing stress.

Traditionally, the altruistic human capacities (that include mindfulness) were taught predominantly in religious settings.  People who wanted personal growth and healing traditionally went to religious centers to learn how to enhance them.  Our culture has now reached a point where secular forms of mindfulness are being developed for personal growth and healing. Many people nowadays are choosing to learn and heal outside of religious centers.   It is interesting to note that throughout time, there have been individuals who developed mindfulness skills on their own without being trained at all.  

The MBSR format for learning is relatively new compared to the religious forms of mindfulness trainings.  MBSR was developed in 1979 at the UMass Medical Center. It was designed from the start to be a secular training. The medical research being done on MBSR is making it stand out in the media and pop culture.

* MBSR students are encouraged to develop their own relationship to the broader realm of mindfulness-developing practices, as well as to mindfulness itself.  Though, within class, there is a specific MBSR format that is non-religious.
* MBSR is usually outside of a traditional religious practice, but many people are now choosing to include MBSR practices in their religious lives.
* Most traditional religions have always included forms of mindfulness practice.  Some resources are:

~Jewish mindfulness in Boston: Nishmat Hayyim, the Temple Beth Zion meditation project

~Christianity: The Method of Centering Prayer by Thomas Keating. For info, contact the national office of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. in Butler NJ.

 ~Buddhist mindfulness in Boston: both the Shambhala Center and the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC) offer classes on mindfulness.  

Meditation is a broad term that can mean a number of different things.  
Meditation is not necessarily mindfulness meditation.  

If during a meditation session you choose to use your imagination to create a picture of something, that is usually termed “Creative Visualization” meditation.  Examples: Imagining that you are at a peaceful location, or imagining that healing light is surrounding your body.

If during a meditation session you choose to tense and release your muscles, that is usually termed “Progressive Relaxation” meditation.

If during a yoga-class meditation session you choose to scan through your body in order to deepen the Shavasana Pose, that is usually termed “Yoga Nidra” meditation.

Creative Visualization, Progressive Relaxation, and Yoga Nidra are just three examples of different forms of mediation.  There are many more.  In general, all forms of mediation can be used for healing and wellness. Each individual chooses the form of meditation that they want to practice, and many factors can inform their choice of practice.  Because of media reports on medical research results from MBSR training, many people are choosing to join MBSR programs in order to experience physical health benefits.

In MBSR class, the meditations offered are “Mindfulness Meditations.”
MBSR mindfulness meditations can be distinct from other forms of meditation (or not) because of an emphasis on:
1)The simple direct experience of the present moment of reality as it is.
2)The refraining from imagining past, future, or other states.
3)The refraining from fixing, enhancing, or in other ways changing the present moment experience, even if the present moment experience happens to be painful or otherwise intense.