The Toronto Hypnotherapist

Hypnosis and Toronto Hypnotherapy with Allan Clews.

Mindfulness: An Ancient Practice for Modern Times

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What is Mindfulness? Short Answer

Mindfulness is the deliberate and intentional focusing of our attention on something that is occurring now in this moment and here in this unique point in space. We can focus our attention on what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch; we can focus our attention on our physical body and our sensations; and we can focus our attention on our thoughts and feelings.


So as you read this, maybe you can become Mindful of the black shape of these letters or any sounds you can hear; perhaps the sound of your computer or any background or ambient noises. You could even become aware of any scents or odours in the air, and maybe even notice the taste in your mouth. You can also become Mindful of your breath and the flow of air past the back of your mouth, throat and vocal cords. You might even become aware of your entire body. Sensing your head, neck and torso, your arms and legs, hands and fingers.

What is Mindfulness? Long Answer

In the last forty years there has been an explosion of interest in what has come to be referred to as Mindfulness. Academics and therapists have debated what it is in an attempt to refine their definition. Something quite entertaining because it is as if they had rediscovered breathing and were attempting to define a breath.


Mindfulness is a translation of the Buddhist term 'sati.' Academics like to complicate things with big words and 'sati' could just as easily be translated as 'awareness' or 'attention.' So it is really the natural human power of awareness and attention. Whenever we become consciously aware of something we are being Mindful.


Wikipedia provides a number of different academic definitions of Mindfulness. Here are two of them.


1) Mindfulness is: "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally"; and


2) Mindfulness is: "a kind of non-elaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is".


And while these are good definitions, they are incomplete because as one of George Gurdjieff’s aphorisms said: “Remember Yourself Always and Everywhere.” And this short phrase contains the missing element.


The conventional definitions of Mindfulness all focus on the fact that any act of Mindfulness pulls us into the present moment and it grounds us in the now. Or the “always” in this aphorism.

However, these definitions fail to recognize that Mindfulness is more than just an awareness of something happening now. And that not only does any act of Mindfulness ground us in this present moment, it also ground us in the ‘here’. Or the “everywhere” in this aphorism.


So any act of Mindfulness grounds us both now, in this present moment, and also here, in this unique location - something we should strive to do ‘always and everywhere’.


We would also quibble with the above definitions inclusion of the word “nonjudgmental”. This is because it is impossible to engage in an act of Mindfulness and be judgmental - with one exception - because it is possible, though far from easy, to become Mindful of our judgmental thoughts and feelings (of course, this is something most people would rather not be aware of, because they would rather believe another person is being mean, instead of being Mindful that this is a judgment they are projecting onto that person’s actions).

The Toronto Hypnotherapist's Definition of Mindfulness:

“Mindfulness is the deliberate and intentional focusing of our attention on something that is occurring now in this moment and here in this unique point in space. We can focus our attention on what we see, hear, smell, taste or touch; we can focus our attention on our physical body and our sensations; on our thoughts; and on our feelings.”

Now to develop an even deeper understanding of this process, we must also realize we can never become Mindful of the redness of an apple, or the sound of our biting into an apple, or the scent and taste of an apple. At least not as objective events.


Light-waves hit the photoreceptors in our eyes and are converted into electrical signals. So when we see red, we are not really seeing red, as anyone who is colourblind can attest. We are merely perceiving the electrical signals which arise from the light-waves that our eyes are able to receive and our brains are capable of interpreting.


This is why a fly, with different eyes, will see a different world than we will.


So we can never really become Mindful of the world, but only as it has been filtered through our organs of perception. We can only perceive the world through the limitations of our eyes, ears, nose, mouth and our ability to touch and sense objects.


And while we can become Mindful of the moon rising and someone thousands of miles away can also become Mindful of the same moon rising, we are doing so through our eyes ‘here’ and they doing so through their eyes ‘there’.

Why is Mindfulness Such a Powerful Therapeutic Tool?

Mindfulness has all sorts of therapeutic applications. It has been proven to help reduce anxiety, depression and grief. It has also been proven to help reduce pain and lead to a greater contentment and enjoyment in life because it leads to detachment and disidentification.


There are people with abnormal brains who feel and experience pain. Though once the pain ends they forget all about it. So unlike the rest of us, they don’t cringe when they reach for the door handle that previously zapped them with static electricity. They don’t shy away from relationships because their last love broke their heart. They don’t dwell on pain and re-animate the memory of painful experiences over and over. Nor do they suffer from anxiety, depression or despair.


This shows that pain is not the problem. It is the emotions and memories, the suffering that has become associated with and attached to the pain. This is why the Buddha said that the solution lay in detachment. And detachment is inherent in the act of Mindfulness.

To become Mindful of my hand requires some part of me to inwardly step back and separate from my hand in order to become Mindful of it.


So to become Mindful of 'my' suffering requires me to inwardly separate my awareness from my suffering. It requires me to inwardly take a step back from it, in much the same way that I do with my fingers.


So just take a moment and become aware of your fingers. There are more sensory nerve endings in your fingers then anywhere else in your body. So really sense them. Really become Mindful of your fingers. Sense the skin and tips of your fingers. Even sense the flesh and bones within your fingers. And realize that the only way you can become Mindful of your fingers is to inwardly separate from them. To step back so you can observe them. And another word for this inward separation is detachment.

Do I have to become a Buddhist to practice Mindfulness?

Mindfulness, at least the version popularized by psychologists and mental health care workers in the western world is an offshoot of Buddhism. This practice was brought into contemporary psychotherapeutic practices over 30 years ago by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn who learned of it through his practice and study of Buddhism. Although a student of Zen master Seung Sahn, Dr. Kabat-Zinn attempted to strip it of it’s overtly Buddhist elements in order to make it more palatable to the western audience. There have now been hundreds of scientific studies conducted on Mindfulness that prove this practice has tremendous healing powers.


And if you look-up Mindfulness on Youtube there is a good chance you will come across Buddhist monks. And if you delve into the literature and research Mindfulness on the Internet, you might even come to the conclusion that the Buddha invented Mindfulness 2600 years ago.

However, this is not true because it is a normal human faculty or power, and as such, it is as old as humanity itself. To believe that the Buddha invented Mindfulness is akin to believing he invented walking. We have all experienced moments of Mindfulness. Some of us more than others. All it is, is a present-centred awareness that arises now when focus here on something occurring in this unique moment and location.


We can all become aware of something as common as our breathing.


Police Officers, Customs Agents and soldiers in a war zone have all been taught how to practice certain forms of Mindfulness on a regular basis. Because all Mindfulness is, is the act of becoming consciously aware. So any activity that requires a high degree of focused attention is a form of Mindfulness; whether it is looking for that one person who is acting in a suspicious manner as you drive down the street in a police cruiser or if you are on heighten alert for any possible roadside bombs.


What the Buddha did was to recognize the importance of this innate human ability as a tool for human development and transformation. He obviously felt it was very important because he made it number seven on the Eightfold path to enlightenment. But then he did say that suffering was caused by attachment and that the route to freedom lay in detachment.

Mindfulness is also practiced in Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. They use terms such as practicing Presence and Remembrance for it. It is also found within the Hindu Vedantas which pre-date the Buddha by at least 200 years and was probably where he learned of it. You will also find terms like the Witnessed and the Witness, or the Field and the Knower of the Field, and icons of two birds, one engaged in the world and the other watching the first, sprinkled throughout Hindu scriptures and sacred art. Metaphors that perfectly encapsulate the inner separation or detachment that is an essential component of all Mindful practices. One part of our self detaches from and watches another part experience the world.

Why combine Mindfulness and Hypnosis? Aren't they very different?

The understanding and practice of Mindfulness has seeped from the world of ancient mystical practices into present-day psychology and psychiatry.


And if you read modern accounts of hypnosis you would be led to believe that it was invented by Anton Mesmer in the 18th century - when in reality it has also been practiced in the east for thousands of years. And as with Mindfulness, hypnosis, has now been subject to numerous rigorous academic studies over the last 30 years that have scientifically proven it has the power to help people deal with a whole range of issues.


We have over 150 of these studies on hypnosis on this website.


To learn more about current studies on the healing power of Mindfulness click on the following link for The Mindfulness Research Guide.
 
 
This research indicates that both Hypnosis and practicing Mindfulness can improve the immune system, lead to more balanced brain-wave states, and recover more easily from disturbing and challenging emotional experiences.


The growing body of research has also proven that both hypnosis and Mindfulness can help people deal more effectively with pain, stress, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions and many other problems. It can even help with communication, because Mindful listening facilitates understanding.


This is why I like to think that they are like two sides of the same coin, because they both involve the focusing of our awareness: one inwards and one outwards. One does this by requiring you to go into a trance and the other by having you wake up to the reality of existence now in this moment and here in this place. As such they fit together like a hand and a glove.

What is Self-Remembering?

Self-Remembering is a complex form of Mindfulness that has a number of different forms.


According to Gurdjieffian Psychology we have three distinct brains. We have an intellectual or mental brain, a physical or sensory brain, and an emotional or feeling brain.


The normal varieties of Mindfulness taught by Buddhists and western psychologists involve a one-brained or one-pointed focus of attention. So you either become Mindful of your perceptions (or thoughts and inner dialogue), or Mindful of your body and various physical sensations, or Mindful of your feelings. They will even teach you to become Mindful of what you see, and then to become Mindful of a thought that floats through your Mind, and then to become Mindful of your breathing. But this is done in a sequential fashion as you move from one variety of Mindfulness to another to another.


Self-Remembering, is more complex because it is any form of simultaneous two-brained (or in advanced cases three-brained Mindfulness). Where one of the brains involved must always be the physical/sensory brain so that this act is always grounded in the sensation of our self.


So two variants are to become aware of our external perceptions/thoughts and the sensation of our self, or to become aware of our feelings and the sensation of our self.

However, the easiest form of Self-Remembering to master, involves becoming aware of our external perceptions (what we can see, hear, smell and possibly taste) while simultaneous becoming aware of the sensation of our self. Something you will be able to learn if you listen to our free Youtube and mp3 series.


As a result, the verbal formula we use most often is for what I call Basic Self-Remembering. And it is: "to consciously look, listen and smell, while at the same time, sensing your body as one organic whole (and sensing your body breathing)."

How Does Your View of Mindfulness Differ from the Buddhist's View?

Allan Clew's Answer: As a Gurdjieffian, I would emphasize things differently from the Buddhists. I see six different aspects to Mindfulness and they all overlap with the Buddhist teachings. And I have to stress that this is my own extrapolation from the psychological teachings I follow and you will not find it laid out in the writings of George Gurdjieff or even in the work of his immediate students.


So this is my own understanding. One that comes from having practiced Self-Remembering for over 30 years.

The first, and most basic form of Mindfulness, one that I continually pull myself back to throughout my day, when I notice my awareness has wandered, is the practice of Self-Sensing, or becoming aware of my physical body. Particularly an awareness of it as one organic whole. Sensing my entire body from top to bottom, front to back and side to side. Sensing my body breathing. This is in accord with the Buddhist teachings and is akin to our sense of touch. Recognizing of course, that not only do we have sensory receptors on the surface of our skin, but throughout the inside of our body as well. So you can also become Mindful of the sensations in your throat and other inner places.

The second is by becoming Mindful, or aware of the world around me. That is, what I can perceive through my external organs of perception; what I can perceive with my eyes, ears, nose and mouth. Or my sense of sight, sound, smell and taste. And this doesn’t just mean becoming aware of what I can see, or what I can hear, or smell, or taste. But actively looking, listening, smelling (and possibly even tasting if I happen to be eating or have something in my mouth).


The third involves becoming Mindful of my feelings and emotional states. Mindful of whether I am feeling loving or angry, joyful or despairing, peaceful or fearful. Because even though we may not realize (or be Mindful) of it, we are always feeling something.


The fourth involves becoming Mindful of my thoughts and mental processes. Mindful of the words and internal dialogue floating through my head. Mindful of the images and sensory -rich memories that float through my mind.


And the fifth, which is unique to the Gurdjieffian tradition is called Self-Remembering. It is an extremely advanced form Mindfulness and it involves the simultaneous practice of the first and second steps.


It involves the division of our attention into two. So one part of my awareness is focused on the world around me and another part is simultaneously sensing my physical body as one organic whole.


And the sixth, which is only hinted at in the Gurdjieff tradition is to Self-Remember while breathing in an element of blissful delight.


Of course, this is easy to talk about and a bit harder to practice. Though the hardest part about being Mindful is simply remembering to do so.

It involves the division of our attention into two. So one part of my awareness is focused on the world around me and another part is simultaneously sensing my physical body as one organic whole.


And the sixth, which is only hinted at in the Gurdjieff tradition is to Self-Remember while breathing in an element of blissful delight.


...


Of course, this is easy to talk about and a bit harder to practice. Though the hardest part about being Mindful is simply remembering to do so.