Sunday, June 15, 2008
Meditation: Psychotherapy's Ancient New Tool
Psychotherapy is about one hundred years old. The practice of meditation goes back at least three thousand years. And now psychotherapists are saying meditation may be the best thing to happen to psychotherapy, ever.
Specifically, therapists are referring to “mindfulness meditation,” defined by Siddhartha Gautama around 500 B.C. as the key practice of Buddhism.
Since its inception with Sigmund Freud, psychotherapists have relied on patients’ words and then reframing patients’ thoughts to gain insight into the subconscious to alleviate despair, anxiety and many forms of mental illness. Psychotherapists today are discovering what Buddhists worldwide have known for millennia: Meditation bypasses the limitations of language and goes straight to the mind with remedial power.
That power resides mostly in letting things be. Not trying to change everything. Just see it for what it is.
Mindfulness avoids some of the complexities of Transcendental Meditation, which also has bushels of scientific studies to support its value. With mindfulness, you sit comfortably and, for ten minutes or more, you take note of bodily sensations and your breathing. As thoughts enter your mind, you let them pass without judgment. Always bring your attention back to the rhythm of your breathing as a focus.
Eventually you learn to gain control of your attention and reduce the usual brain chatter. Some therapists now say that getting a grip on your attention helps you face troubling thoughts, endure the pain or anger or sadness associated with them, and then let them pass.
The difference from conventional psychotherapy is in not trying to alter the thoughts or feelings – an action that can backfire with damaging results.
According to a recent New York Times article, the National Institute of Health is financing 50 studies testing mindfulness meditation for relieving stress, easing addictions, improving attention and easing despair.
“It’s a shift from having our mental health defined by the content of our thoughts,” said Steven Hayes, a psychologist at the University of Nevada, “to having it defined by our relationship to that content – and changing that relationship by sitting with, noticing and becoming disentangled from our definition of ourselves.”
I encourage your to read the entire Times article.
I encourage you to at least make an attempt to incorporate some form of meditation into your life. It’s not a major investment, though it is a commitment.
In fact, for the post below, I’m going to reprint one of my earliest Quantum Spirit posts, with its link to Peter Russell’s effective three-minute meditation.