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    Reflections on Mindfulness by Graeme Armstrong

    Graeme Armstrong is a Relate Counsellor and Clinical supervisor. He also works in private practice. He delivers counselling for relationships in Mea House, Felling Children's Centre and two GP surgeries in the Newcastle area. He also works with clients experiencing depression, anxiety and loss. He is currently in the 1st year of an MSc in Mindfulness through Aberdeen University, studying at Samye Ling Tibetan Monastery in Scotland. He is an active member of the student / practitioner forum at Northumbria University.

    What is mindfulness?

    Mindfulness is said to be the very heart of Buddhist meditation, yet in essence it has very little to do with any kind of religion at all, and is used by scientists, engineers, artists and therapists of all persuasions. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. During mindful practice we become more aware of the way our minds spend large amounts of their waking time simply distracted and often regretful about the past or anxious about the future, missing the very moments that are really all we have. Mindfulness takes us out of any inner story we might have created and are caught up in and brings us into a fresh intimacy with our actual experience in an unconditioned way.

    We often use the term mindfulness to mean “mindfulness meditation practice” and sure enough, a lot of formal mindfulness is done sitting cross legged on a cushion. But mindfulness is much more in its practice than this, and has a whole range of informal practices such as mindful walking, mindful eating-you can practice mindfulness whilst gardening or riding a bike; there are mindful techniques whilst stopping at a red light and when out shopping-the list is endless.

    All these practices are not just in-the-moment practices though. You’ll see above the word “non-judgmentally” is used deliberately in the definition, and part of mindful practice is to bring a sense of non-judgement, a sense of compassion and loving kindness to self, to friends and to the world at large. We become kinder to our bodies, our minds, we become more empathetic, considerate people; we take time and we have time, for we learn to truly savour the moments we live.

    Where did it begin?

    Mindfulness began with then Buddha two and a half thousand years ago, but it was Jon Kabat-Zinn who pioneered the scientific use of mindfulness in the 1970s and developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), resulting in the now classic book “Full Catastrophe Living” where he described in great detail the efficacy of MBSR in helping people who were experiencing a range of stressful symptoms often associated with severe and chronic pain. Over the decades MBSR flowered and has been developed into Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy- a treatment of choice for the NHS in combating depression.

    What might I get out of it?

    Mindfulness practice can bring you the benefits above, but it can also provide other benefits as well. As a mindful practitioner I find that I am able to be more attentive, more focussed towards my clients in therapy, as such I have experienced my clients deriving better therapeutic outcomes by not just exploring the content of their thoughts and feelings but how their thoughts and feelings behave; it’s a revolution in therapeutic orientation, whereupon a small but significant rotation in your consciousness can have such a powerful effect. Teaching my clients some mindfulness skills has enabled them to become less critical and more compassionate to themselves, greatly ameliorating their distress.

    Where can I go to find out more?

    Books include

    Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Heneploa Gunarata ISBN 0-86171-321-4

    Diamond Mind by Rob Nairn ISBN 978-1-57062-763-7

    Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn. New York: Dell Publishing, 1990.

    Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life, Jon Kabat-Zinn. London: Piatkus, 1994.

    Coming to our Senses, Jon Kabat-Zinn. London: Piatkus, 2005

    Breath by Breath: The Liberating Power of Insight Meditation, Larry Rosenberg. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.

    A Heart as Wide as the World: Living with Mindfulness, Wisdom and Compassion, Sharon Salzberg. Boston: Shambhala, 1997.

    The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

    The Joy of Living, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. New York: Random House, 2007.


    Kagyu Samye Ling Tibetan Centre and Aberdeen University,
    Eskdalemuir, Scotland.

    Mindfulness Scotland

    Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice,
    University of Bangor, Wales.

    Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health and Care Society,
    University of Massachusetts.

    The official UK website for Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)