"It is not hard to live through a day, if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days and so drains you that you cannot live the moment at hand.”
In his work, The Mindful Brain, Daniel Siegel explains how consciousness plays a direct role in the harnessing of neural plasticity (the brain’s ability to alter automatic modes of neural firing which enables new patterns of neural firing to occur.) He writes, “The basic steps linking consciousness with neural plasticity are as follows: Where attention goes, neural firing occurs. And where neurons fire, new connections can be made. In this manner, learning a new way to pay attention within the integration of consciousness enables an open receptive mind within therapy to catalyze the integration of new combinations of previously isolated segments of our mental reality.”
One way to practice this “new way of paying attention within the integration of consciousness” is through a mindful practice. While other clinicians are discovering the benefits and have begun to incorporate mindfulness into their own clinical work, some pioneer clinicians have been doing it for years - most notably, Kabat Zinn’s work, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction; Brach's Radical Acceptance and Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy. During trauma, dissociation provides a psychological escape when physical escape is not an option. Quite a gift, really. Another gift for the survivor would be a practice that provided a means for the development of a healthier escape-a conscious detachment and dis-identification from trauma’s sequelae. Mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is such a practice. In meditation, the survivor detaches and observes his/her internal process, as he or she is experiencing it. Detachment from feelings, sensations and thoughts, allows emotional and physical pain to become more distant, therefore more manageable. Only when the survivor no longer identifies with the suffering, can (s)he transcend or transform it.
Mindfulness is a technique which cultivates an intentional awareness of the present moment. It helps clients experience life non-judgmentally, as it unfolds moment by moment, with curiosity, attention, and compassion for self and others. Engaging in life mindfully helps clients to develop more skillful and creative responses to life – to live with greater balance and ease; to cope with life’s stressors and challenges; to accept the human condition; and to develop an awareness of, and appreciation for, the only time we have: the now. As previously stated, mindfulness is attracting increasing interest among western psychiatrists as a non-pharmacological means of dealing with anxiety and depressive mood states. Meditation affects the body in exactly the opposite ways that traumatic symptoms do. When practicing meditation, heart rate and breathing slow down; blood pressure normalizes; oxygen is used more efficiently; adrenal glands produce less cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline; positive hormone production increases; and immune function improves. In addition, the mind gains clarity and creativity increases. People who meditate find it easier to give up former coping mechanisms, i.e., life-damaginghabits like smoking, drinking, binging, purging, self injury and drugs. Meditation restores the body to a calm state, helps the body to physically repair itself, and prevents new damage caused by the physical effects of every day stress.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh- Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, peace activist and one of the best known teachers of mindfulness today- “Awareness of breathing and of our steps is our anchor in the present moment. It enables us to nourish peace, joy, love and understanding in our individual and collective consciousness, and to avoid losing ourselves in regrets about the past, worries about the future, or craving, anger, or jealousy in the present.” Hanh offers a practice of mindfulness that seems to appeal to Western sensibilities. His contribution permeates the work of Jon Cabot Zinn, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield and Marsha Linehan. Sharon Salzberg, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, writes “The entire purpose of meditation practice is to learn how to harness, refine, and sensitize this quite incredible power of awareness”. According to Hahn, “The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.”
Hanh’s teachings are very simple and easy to instruct others in the practice. Below are examples of his mindfulness breathing techniques from Touching Peace, Parallax Press, 1992, p. 1.
Recite these lines silently as you breathe in and out:
1. As you inhale, say to yourself, “Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” or simply “In.”
2. As you exhale, say to yourself, “Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.”or simply “Out.”
With this exercise you recognize your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. This technique can help keep the mind on the breath. The mind becomes peaceful and gentle along with the breath. It takes but a few minutes to experience the benefits of this meditation. It is important and enjoyable to breathe in and out. The breath links the body to the mind. When the mind is thinking one thing and the body is doing another, mind and body are disconnected. By concentrating on breathing “In” and “Out", we reconnect mind and body and become integrated and whole again.
Recite these four lines silently as you breathe in and out:
1. “Breathing in, I calm my body.” Recite this line and feel the coolness permeate your body, just like a cool drink on a hot day. When you breathe in and recite this line, you can feel the breath calming the body and mind.
2. “Breathing out, I smile.” A smile can relax hundreds of facial muscles. Smiling shows that you are master of yourself.
3. “Dwelling in the present moment.” With this phrase you can sit. You don’t need to think of anything else. You know exactly where you are.
4. “I know this is a wonderful moment.” It is wonderful to sit, stable and at ease. It is a joy to return to your breath, to smile, and to know your true nature.
Our appointment with life is in the present moment. If you do not have peace and joy right now, when will you have it? What prevents you from being happy right now? Follow your breath and say, simply, “Calming, Smiling, ... Present moment,... Wonderful moment.”
* According to Sharon Salzberg, mindfulness is one of the main pillars of meditation. “…that means being aware of what is going on as it actually arises – not being lost in our conclusions or judgments about it; our fantasies of what it means; our hopes; our fears; our aversions. Rather, mindfulness helps us to see nakedly and directly; “this is what is happening right now.” Through mindfulness, we pay attention to our pleasant experiences, our painful experiences, and our neutral experiences – the sum to total of what life brings us.”
* The second pillar is concentration or “…the development of stability of mind, a gathering in and focusing of our normal scattered energy. The state of concentration that we develop in meditative practice is tranquil, at ease, relaxed, open, yielding, gentle, and soft. We let things be; we don’t try to hold on to experiences. This state is also alert - it’s not about getting so tranquil that we just fall asleep. It’s awake, present, and deeply connected with what is going on. This is the balance that we work with in developing concentration.”
Sharon Salzberg’s Breath Meditation
Below is a copy of a Basic Breath Meditation based on Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein’s Insight Meditation. (For people with a history of sexual abuse please begin to practice in five minute intervals – increasing the duration as the client becomes more comfortable with the procedure.) Client should begin by finding a quiet space where he/she will be undisturbed for the duration of the meditation. Take a comfortable posture-sitting on a chair with your back supported and your feet comfortably on the floor. Play script:
“Close your eyes or find a spot a few feet in front of you to place your gaze. Begin to relax. Allow your mind to be spacious. Don’t try to make anything happen, just begin to become aware of what is. Slowly bring your attention to the breath. Take a few deep breaths and release. Now allow your breath to return to normal-no need to control or change it in any way. Just notice the natural rhythm of the breath. Wherever you notice the breath most distinctly whether it be at the nostrils, the chest, or the abdomen, allow your attention to rest there. As you feel the breath, you might silently label it – “in/out or rising and falling”.
As you feel the breath enter, noting “in” and as it leaves the body, “out”. Notice the cycle of the breath as it is appearing right now. Allow yourself to sustain attention through a full cycle. The beginning of the in breath-the end of the in breath, the pause, the beginning of the out breath through to the end of the out breath. Allow yourself to pay attention throughout an entire cycle.
You may find your mind wandering. That’s fine. Our minds have been trained to be distracted. It doesn’t matter. Each time you notice that you’ve lost touch with the breath simply notice and very gently bring your attention back… come back to the feeling of the breath in this very moment.You may discover that there’s a pause between the in breath and the out breath or between the out breath and the next breath. If you notice a pause just allow your attention to settle there. Simply noticing what is; allowing the next breath to come naturally. There’s nothing you need to do about it. There’s no need to alter it or perfect it. Simply notice the breath as it arises.
Many distractions will appear-the mind will wander. It doesn’t matter. When you practice you’ll need to begin again and again. When you recognize that you’ve lost touch with an awareness of the breath… simply and lovingly return your attention to the breath as it is appearing right now. You can end this session by bringing your attention to your hands and feet. Slowly and gently opening your eyes."
The Practice Recommendations: Having the therapist’s voice on the client’s CD allows for soothing in addition to serving as a transition object for client. To induce meditative state and enhance the experience add alpha wave meditation music as background for the script. Sharon Salzberg & Joseph Goldstein’s Insight Meditation Kit (CD) “… Insight Meditation makes it simple to start meditating in the Buddhist tradition. This elegant gift-boxed set includes two exclusive compact discs with authentic guided meditations,complemented by study cards and a special instruction book with the beginner in mind.”