Why mindfulness?

This fundamental inability to control or change the course of illness progression (and ultimately death) is why acceptance-based approaches, such as MBIs, can be especially helpful. The core training in MBIs is the development of stable and kind mindful attention, through repetitive and consistent application of awareness of present-moment experience, with a kind, curious, and non-judgmental attitude. This typically begins with training in focused attention on the breath or bodily sensation through body scanning, sitting meditation, and mindful movement. Once stability of attention has been established through ongoing practice, a broadening of attention (“bare awareness”) is applied, which allows people to directly experience the nature of mind for what it is: Transient, impersonal, and constantly changing. Through observation participants can also directly experience how grasping at certain outcomes or states of being causes suffering, and through that insight learn to let go of clinging and personalization of experience. Repetitive practice of alternative responses to difficult emotions or thoughts during meditation helps retrain the brain to respond in ways that are supportive of more positive emotions.

A mindfulness approach is eminently adaptable to a wide array of circumstances. Simply absorbing the general understanding that the only certainty in life is change, and that sometimes the best thing to do to solve a problem is accept it, can be extremely relieving and even liberating to people who are desperately and often frantically trying to fix things. Realizing that in fact they can slow down and see things as they are, without blinders, and learn ways to hold the strong emotions and sensations that arise can be transformative. The further realization that although specific symptoms may be unpleasant, they are tolerable and are also constantly in flux, can provide further liberation from suffering. Stepping back and seeing the racing thoughts, worries, and self-blame as just thoughts, and not necessarily the truth, provides further relief. Hence, change occurs not only by training the mind through formal mindfulness practice, but via a shift in attitude and perspective that allows people to see their illness in a new light, without allowing fear to consume them and to drive behavior.

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