Mindfulness & Meditation
Mindfulness practices are increasingly finding a place in the lives of people seeking to optimise and improve their experience of life. While it is popular to associate mental distress with modern life, ancient practices have long held that where we are unable to self-regulate our attention we are more likely to engage in afflictive attachments that contribute to a state of distress and unhappiness.
Mindfulness practices can appear deceptively simple, they nevertheless allow for the development of attentional balance, which may be the key to greater wellbeing and happiness. Even greater gains may be available to us where such practices are undertaken with a willingness to contemplate the nature of mind, and the nature of consciousness.
Attentional balance refers to the ability to direct the attention without laxity, agitation or in dysfunctional ways (Wallace & Shapiro, 2006). Many structured mindfulness exercises aim to develop our ability to achieve and maintain relaxed focus on an object or subject of choice. The aim of this is to attain present moment awareness, free from the distraction of thoughts, memories, and/or projections.
The goals of attentional balance relate to being able to achieve physical and mental relaxation, attaining some stability of focus, and clarity of experience.
As an example of the process, a mindfulness meditation practice might direct us to first settle the body, then to rest our attention on the movement of the breath through the body, noticing and then releasing the thoughts that inevitably present themselves as we do this. The aim here is to begin to release habits of thought, and to give us the opportunity to attain some mental relaxation. One of the great things about this is that it in turn leads toward a greater stability of focus.
Achieving mental relaxation and improving stability of focus have many practical applications for modern people – it can lead to meaningful improvements in one’s ability to work and learn, to attend to and improve relationships, and to increase wellbeing.
The attainment of clarity or vividness is perhaps the ultimate aim of achieving attentional balance such as we describe here. This is conceptualised in diverse ways, according to different traditions, but perhaps easily described as a non-judgemental experience of life.
Maintaining mindfulness: what does this mean?
Within the context of attentional balance, we might understand the skill of mindfulness as the ability to rest our attention on the present moment through focus on something, such as the breath. Maintaining mindfulness means that as we attend to the object of focus, we acknowledges thoughts, sensations and emotions as they arise, but do not become distracted by them.
Maintaining mindfulness grants us the capacity to be present with our current experience, whether it be positive or negative in nature, without clinging or aversion.
Achieving present moment awareness through attentional (mind) balance – for however long or little time we may sustain this – may also go a long way towards relieving mental stress and distress, and it follows that this can allow for greater emotional intelligence. Greater range of emotional responses seem to become available to us when we have attentional balance. This is not a new concept, having origins in Buddhist traditions where “imbalances of the mind” are understood to be the cause of mental suffering (Wallace & Shapiro, 2006). Beyond this, it may be that the opportunity is there for a greater understanding of the workings of the mind, and perhaps even an understanding of the relationship of mind to consciousness. It all depends on how far you want to take your practice.
Mindfulness & Hypnosis
Our work using hypnosis requires that we lead our clients towards an “inward focus of attention” (Erickson & Rossi, 1978, p. 12), and oftentimes the way we do this is to ask people to focus on the sensation of their breath moving through their body, or some similar object of focus. This often results in a mental and physical quiet that may be equated with relaxation. This state is understood by many of us to be a healing state, by itself and without the need for (hypnotic) suggestion or intervention. Ainslie Meares MD, who was an early pioneer in the use and study of hypnosis, and meditation-as-medicine, spoke of the necessity of providing “suitable circumstances” so that we may use our mind to heal our anxieties, specifically outlining the importance of mental quiet and relaxation, which he termed “mental ataraxis” (Meares, 1978). This concept (and the research conducted by Meares himself) definitely informs our work.
That being said, we also acknowledge that a person may not be able to achieve a state of physical or mental relaxation, but they can nonetheless achieve focused attention. We speak here of a person in pain, or one who is in extreme emotional arousal – in such cases we may have someone focus instead on the pain, or similar, as they are likely already doing this to some extent. We may then assist them to redirect the attention toward something more neutral.
In some respects, there is a divergence in goals in hypnosis and meditation: ultimately in hypnosis we are seeking to have someone ‘let go’ of the need for directed conscious attention, whereas to some extent the converse is true in meditation practices. What we can say, though, is that both practices are beneficial, and compliment each other well.
Glenn Chandler has maintained a lifelong daily meditation practice, and enjoys teaching others techniques they can use to develop their own practice. Head over to our online booking to make yourself an appointment for this, or give us a call on 3354 4555.
References (and for further reading)
Erickson, M., & Rossi, E. (1979). Hypnotherapy – an exploratory casebook. Irvington.
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005). Wherever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life (10th ed.). Hachette Books.
Meares MD, A. (1978). The Wealth Within: self-help through a system of relaxing meditation. Hill of Content Publishing Company.
Ninivaggi, F. (2019). Learned Mindfulness. Psychology Today. Retrieved 27 November 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/envy/201907/learned-mindfulness.
Wallace, B. Alan. (2015). Genuine happiness: meditation as the path to fulfillment. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Wallace, B., & Shapiro, S. (2006). Mental balance and well-being: Building bridges between Buddhism and Western psychology. American Psychologist, 61(7), 690-701. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066x.61.7.690