Everything flows. Mindfulness is also known as “awareness meditation”. This technique helps people understand that thoughts, sensations and emotions are continuously floating, transitory. According to this perspective, even the physiologic activations of sorrow, anxiety or panic attack are not unchanging and permanent. “Panta rei”, to quote the greek philosopher Haraclitus, “Everything flows”. Mindfulness technique has its roots in Buddhist doctrine and, in particular, the vipassana practice (clear vision), whose purpose is to develop the highest consciousness on every sensorial and mental stimuli. Based on the principle of mindfulness, the Mindfull-based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) has gained widespread practice in the medical community and has many modern applications in health science. In fact it is proven to be associated to several consequences on a biological level (brain and immune system) significant for psycho-physic health:
strengthens the immune system.
helps in cancer therapy.
reduces the level of cholesterol.
lowers blood pressure.
increases tolerance to stress and physical pain.
improves cardiovascular problems.
improves lung diseases and respiratory diseases.
slows down the process of skin psychosomatic diseases, such as psoriasis.
helps in overcoming eating disorders.
helps to overcome sleep disorders.
slows the progression of HIV.
reduces intensity and frequency of episodes of headache.
it helps in overcoming panic attacks.
A surprising solution. But how can one single practice be recommended for so many different disorders and problems? A large quantity of problems get worse because of our attempts to get rid of them. For example, if I have backache, I start to say “ah, I don’t want it anymore, it’s unbearable, I can’t take it anymore!”. Then to our pain we add other thoughts that eventually increase the initial pain. Mindfulness offers us a surprising solution, helping us stay in a new way on our experience, included the pain of that moment. What is the definition of mindfulness given by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of the MBSR:
to bring attention to the present moment,
intentionally, without judging.
Opinions and ideas. So you might think that it is very easy to stay in the present moment. Not exactly. There come thoughts of all kinds, thoughts on things to do, about yesterday, about tomorrow. Many of these thoughts then lead to other thoughts and emotions. So, in less than no time we are carried to another place. Our mind is like that, it has two main skills: enunciate opinions or formulate ideas. As soon as we reach something that we longed for very long, we don’t stand still to enjoy the moment: we immediately think of the next step.
If we think about the future, there is anxiety; if we think of the past, there is depression. So it would be very useful to stay in the present time. It is a skill that is not so easy to learn. It sounds simple, but it’s not easy. The practice consists precisely to be present to this very moment, the “here and now”, accepting what is, including thoughts, pain, because our life is like that. As a psychologist, I’m very focused on the resolution of the problem: I have a problem, how can I fix it. But what do we do when there is one thing we cannot change? Mindfulness teaches us to just accept these things.
A sky of clouds. The thoughts get poured into a flow that takes over us without even realizing, especially in a state of anxiety. What we have to do, as soon as we notice the thought, is gently move our attention again on our breath. Same thing with your physical sensations: even itch will arrive, reach its climax and then weaken fading away. Experiencing mindfulness is like lying in the grass and watching a summer sky: every thought becomes a cloud which arrives and passes by.