A Brief History
January 29th, 2019
Mindfulness meditation is a concept with roots dating back thousands of years. Scientific research into mindfulness practice and its application to mental health has been going on since the 1970s with many scientists discovering relationships between the mindfulness trait and positive psychological health.
“Meditation teacher Arnie Kotler likes to say that sitting meditation accomplishes two things: it allows us to get to know ourselves, and it improves our concentration. Getting to know ourselves means looking deeply into our own nature and the nature of everything around us and cultivating our willingness to allow our preconceptions about ourselves and our lives, and about everything else, to fall away. As we get to know better the true nature of our minds, we start to understand that thoughts are thoughts and feelings are feelings, and to become less invested in the drama that our thoughts and feelings can so easily create. We begin to live more gracefully. (Weiss 2004)
There are many misunderstandings about what mindfulness meditation is. And many people avoid it because they believe they don’t have the time or concentration for it. These preconceptions about the practice are typically not the case. The purpose of the this is to identify what mindfulness practice is, a brief overview of where it came from, and most importantly, how it can help alleviate the mental symptoms of addiction.
The history of Hinduism is extremely complicated itself, and would
require its own separate post to parse it all out. Suffice to say that what is
known as Hinduism today began around 4,000 years ago (Joaquin 2017).
It is widely considered the oldest known religion that is still practiced
(Joaquin 2017). “Mindfulness has been intertwined with Hinduism for
millennia. From the Bhagavad Gita’s discussions of yoga to Vedic
meditation, the history of Hinduism reads, in part, like a history of
mindfulness. Of course, it is only a partial history, and another crucial
player in the history of mindfulness is Buddhism. It should be noted,
however, that even Buddhism itself owes a great deal to Hinduism.
Buddhism is younger than Hinduism being founded around 400-500 BCE. Although it has many connections and similarities to Hinduism, Buddhism does not follow the teachings of the Veda. In Buddhism, mindfulness is referred to as sati and is considered the first step towards enlightenment (Joaquin 2017). Western mindfulness meditation practice comes mostly from the teachings of Buddhist practitioners (Joaquin 2017). Thus, mindfulness in Western culture is largely attributed and related to the Buddhist concept of sati (Joaquin 2017). “In fact, some sources even consider the English word “mindfulness” to be a simple translation of the Buddhist concept” (Joaquin 2017).
Mindfulness practice is closely linked with yoga practices. Both are connected to Buddhism and Hinduism (Joaquin 2017). Sometimes, yoga practice will be solely about mindfulness, while other times mindfulness practice can be more informal. Indeed, one can practice mindfulness at any time during the day, even while performing a task. Yoga requires a more formal setting with time set aside for sitting in silence. These two different forms of practicing mindfulness are often referred to as formal or informal mindfulness practice.
As far as its introduction into Western culture, Jon Kabat-Zinn is considered one of the primary influencers (Joaquin 2017). Kabat-Zinn studied under Thich Nhat Hanh as well as other Buddhist teachers (Joaquin 2017). He was able to establish formal classes at Universities that taught both practice as well as the teaching of the mindfulness tradition (Joaquin 2017). By integrating his Eastern knowledge of mindfulness with Western science, the practice began to gain notice and take off in Western culture (Joaquin 2017). It led to the creation of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), which in turn, led to the development of MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). These tools have become standard for psychologists to treat patients with in a variety of situations (Joaquin 2017). As technology has evolved to show us the tangible benefits of mindfulness meditation, skepticism of the Eastern Tradition has died down in Western society (Joaquin 2017). This has allowed further integration into the practice of mindfulness as a tool for mental health.
What is Mindfulness Practice?
According to Andrew Weiss (2017), “mindfulness meditation is not about being in a trance, or about escaping from reality. It is about waking up. We spend most of our lives caught up in the conceptual knowledge we have acquired, and in our concepts of who we are, or what our lives mean, or what a tree is or what a boulder is, and so on and so on. This layer of concept sits between us and the reality of the present moment.” The first step in allowing this layer of concept to fall away, is to stop in the present moment while focusing on the here and now (Weiss 2004). “Mindfulness in it’s current 21st century incarnation in medical and psychological contexts can be understood as a secular approach to developing a more adaptive intrapersonal relationship with physical and psychological experience” (Bowen, Enkema, Manuel, Roos and Wilson 2017). At the end of the day, mindfulness is about becoming aware of the thoughts/feelings that pass through our mind without our control. Sometimes, we let these impulses, feelings or thoughts become our reality. In that process, we begin to lose sight of our “true selves,” the people we know deep down that we are. Mindfulness meditation is a gateway to rediscovering who you really are and making your actions congruent with that reality.
Mindfulness' Application to Addiction
Mindfulness practice is a useful practice not only for becoming aware of our attachments, but also for letting them go. Naturally, this led people to research its efficacy as a treatment for addiction, which is sort of the ultimate practice in not being able to let go. “MBIs (Mindfulness Based Interventions) for addictive behaviors specifically target awareness of and reactions to craving and other aversive cognitive, affective or physical states” (Bowen, Enkema, Manuel and Wilson 2017). They go on to explain that, “several studies suggest that MBIs for substance use disorders (SUDs) may reduce reactivity to various challenging experiences that can trigger substance use.” As we practice mindfulness meditation, we practice the ability to notice what is going on within our own minds. In this way, the addict has an additional tool to identify impulses, cravings or triggering emotions in the moment. Recognizing these in the heat of the moment allows the logical part of your brain to intervene and help in regulating those impulses more effectively. Sarah Bowman, Matthew Enkema, Jacob Manuel, Corey Roos and Adam Wilson found a study that explains, “individuals with SUDs (substance use disorders) showed less physiological reactivity and subjective distress during a stress provocation task among those who received mindfulness training.” In fact, they found reviews of “24 studies [which] found evidence to suggest that MBIs support reduction in use of, and craving for, a variety of substances, including alcohol, amphetamines, cigarettes, cocaine, marijuana, and opioids.” These are only two examples of the many they relate in their article detailing the studies showing positive correlation with mindfulness and addiction healing.
At Hower Lodge, your goals for yourself are the most important aspect of your treatment. Similar to how mindfulness is the first step to enlightenment in the Hindu tradition, your personal recovery goals are the first step in healing both your body and mind. Our counselors can then help to guide you through the process of reaching those goals. In the process, we will hold mindfulness training groups every Tuesday morning so that you can practice becoming more aware of the concepts, thoughts, impulses and emotions that try to enslave our actions throughout the day. As always, feel free to reach out to us with any questions you may have. We look forward to helping cultivate your awareness, resilience and peace.
~ The Team at Hower Lodge
Weiss, A. (2004). Beginning Mindfulness. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Wilson, A. D., Roos, C. R., Manuel, J. A., Enkema, M. C., & Bowen, S. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Addictive Behaviors: Implementation Issues on the Road Ahead. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors,31(8), 888-896. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
Brewer, J. A., Elwafi, H. M., & Davis, J. H. (2014). Craving to Quit: Psychological Models and Neurobiological Mechanisms of Mindfulness Training as Treatment for Addictions. Translational Issues in Psychological Science,1(S), 70-90. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
Joaquin. (2017, March 13). History of Mindfulness: From East to West and From Religion to Science. Retrieved January 29, 2019, from https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/history-of-mindfulness/