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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2011 44 that’s a really profound realization for someone to come to. it’s very healing to realize, if only for a moment here and a moment there, that you can be in a wiser relationship with your interior experience than just being driven by liking it or hating it. We say to our patients who come to Mindfulness-Based Stress Re- duction that there’s more right with them than wrong with them, no matter what their diagnosis is. We’re going to pour energy into what’s right with them, and see what happens. it’s a great adventure and it’s very satisfying to be able to see people light up as they experience the knowledge that it’s okay to be where they are as they are. DAniEL SiEGEL: to help people be with their pain, or with knowledge of their metastasis, or of their mortality, it’s so valu- able for them to discover a spaciousness of mind where they re- alize they’re part of a universal flow of things—people get ill, people do die, and they’re part of that big picture. Within that spaciousness, there is a great clarity that isn’t the same as relax- ation. it’s not just hanging loose. You get beyond your internal dialogue of “i want to be better now.” You can be in the midst of great difficulties and yet find immense composure and clarity. SuSAn BAuER-Wu: it’s so very important for people who have cancer or any other serious illness to be in tune with what they’re experiencing, rather than shut off from it, which can so often be the case. One of the most important benefits of mindfulness is attentiveness to what is happening in your body, your mind, and your environment—being present for what’s happening to you, with you, and around you at a particular moment in time. Mindfulness becomes a foundation to help patients make good decisions and navigate all they have to go through. Another benefit of mindfulness is having less emotional reactiv- ity and more stability of mind. not overreacting emotionally brings greater mental clarity, which is healthy in and of itself. having stability of mind makes you better able to cope with the experience of illness and all it involves. that is a very significant and positive outcome. JOn KABAt-Zinn: Actually, we don’t yet have a language for describing what mindfulness is. that’s one of the exciting parts of all the mindfulness research that’s happening. With so many different perspectives coming to bear on it, including neurosci- ence and clinical medicine, we will be able to describe it more richly. i’m fine with calling it a practice, but we have to distin- guish it from many other kinds of practice. it’s not exactly like practicing the piano, for example. it does involve discipline in that way, but you’re not trying to become a virtuoso. i prefer to call mindfulness a way of being. that gives people much more latitude in what they’re actually experiencing, be- cause it’s not about trying to be in a special state, and if you’re not in that state, then you’re doing something wrong. it’s rather that you can bring awareness to any state you happen to be in. there’s nothing wrong with being caught up in difficult, stress- ful, agitated, or confusing moments. that’s why characterizing mindfulness as a mind state can be problematic. if we’re talking about transforming health care or transforming any individual’s relationship to their own body— especially if they’re in pain or suffering with cancer or another life-threatening illness—the idea that mindfulness is a particular mind state can be misleading. When we’re experiencing these conditions, the mind might be very agitated and disturbed. there will be emotional reactions, as Susan mentioned. therefore, the idea that there is a sought-after mind state, and that if you were really good enough you would find it and everything would be great for the rest of your life, would be a misapprehension of what mindfulness really is. DAniEL SiEGEL: in neuroscience, we do talk about a momen- tary set of brain firing patterns that we would call a brain state. if you want to jump from brain to mind, some people would call it a state of mind. You could make the argument that there is something we could call “awareness,” and within that general term there are many different ways of being aware. for example, if i’m really angry, and i have a gun in my hand, i’m aware that the gun is in my hand. if i shoot someone, you could say i’m perfectly aware that i committed this act. But when we discuss what we might call “mindful awareness,” something more is going on. if i am mindfully aware, i will be imbued with all sorts of discernment about whether the action i’m about to take is a good action for the person in front of me and for me. i would have a broader sense than just being aware of the gun in my hand. i would have a larger picture of the moment-to-moment unfold- ing, not just the sensation. So i might put the gun down. As the Buddhist teacher Joan halifax pointed out in a recent re- treat i took part in, there is a difference between being aware and being aware with wisdom. When you look at the neuroscience, being aware with wisdom likely involves a whole set of what we would call the middle structures of the prefrontal area. One possible view is this: When we talk about the focus of attention, we often are referring to the dorsolateral, or side, areas. Wisdom, compassion, empathy, mindfulness helps you to take wise and discerning action, which is vitally important if you want to participate in your own healing process. — Jon kaBat-Zinn i see three overarching areas where mindfulness aids in prevention: stress reduction, early diagnosis, and making healthy lifestyle choices. — susan Bauer-Wu