Mindfulness is a good thing

Scientific research can now show us this, to some extent. We have been researching mindfulness, not because a 2500 year old tradition wasn’t reliable; it has stood the test of time. Practice yields reliable results. I know this personally and have witnessed this professionally, as have many researchers. Apparently, however, we still have a validity problem, which implies a reliability problem.

“What is mindfulness?”

This a question psychologists and other researchers still don’t seem to have agreed upon; a content validity issue. And how can we know if we are accurately measuring something if we don’t even know what that something is? APS colleagues may have seen the InPsych article February 2018 on this.

Mindfulness appears to be a noticing skill.

Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness “as paying attention, on purpose, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment”. And yet, after practice, many people report they feel relaxed, focused, calm. Looking from the outside, as well as practicing from the inside, it is easy to get caught up achieving feel good results; to think our practice “isn’t working” when we bump up against pain, grief, despair, anxiety, fear.

And, some level of calm IS required in order to pay this sort of close attention to our inner world in meditation. In the yogic traditions, much of the practice of meditation is about how to achieve serenity / CALM / “samadhi” and further developing these sublime states of bliss. In the Theravadan Buddhist tradition, samadhi or “jhana” will be developed along side of INSIGHT / “vipassana”. The different Buddhist traditions place different emphasis on how to develop, and how much CALM is needed to prepare for INSIGHT.

So if noticing is the skill we are developing in mindfulness, and my experience is one of agitation and anxiety, the practice question is “can I notice this?” or “can I be mindful of this?” And if I am, what the mind usually does next is wonder what is or should be the outcome? Should my agitation go away? Is my wanting of it to go the very thing that is preventing the anxiety from going? Am I even aware of this wanting? How far down the rabbit hole of control do I need to go before I surrender to acceptance / non-judgemental noting of the phenomena?

Only far enough to see the mechanisms of my own suffering.

Or so it appears in my practice…

I know; what of the reliability and validity with “n-of-1”? Well, I don’t stand alone in my practice. I am part of a lineage of teachers back to the Buddha. 2500 years produces reliability and validity in transmission.

So while mindfulness could be described as a state, it’s perhaps more accurate to describe it as a process, faculty and quality of noticing. It needs some level of calm as pre-requisite; AND part of the fruit / result of mindfulness practice is calm and ease. The big difference in the before and after is that after mindfulness has been applied, the calm and ease are not so dependant on internal or external causes and conditions.

Resilience. Humour. Ease with life as it is. Liberation.

I want to congratulate the pioneers as well as the new generation of researchers in mindfulness. We are still in the process of discovering and articulating these ancient practices through a scientific lens. By its nature, this lens needs to know the mechanisms at work and therefore desires validity as well as reliability. However, we may have to delve further, sometimes without our measuring sticks, into the ancient traditions to see, know and realise the breadth as well as the depth of the knowledge and wisdom here.


NeLi Martin

If you’re a woman keen to develop your resilience as a mental health or health professional, register now for our course EMBODIED MIND; a weekend professional development on Yoga and Mindfulness Meditation.

PS also see Zoe’s blog on the path to insight when calm comes naturally.