06 December 2010


This week we have two guest contributors – Dr Craig Hassed and Paul Bedson. Both are friends and colleagues; Craig lectures at Monash Medical School and has regularly presented at Gawler Foundation cancer programs for around 10yrs. Paul and I worked together for many years and co-authored "Meditation an In-depth Guide". Both are experienced authorities on mindfulness and meditation and have responded to my blog: “Go with the flow or intervene”(see the blog below of 16/11/10), where I suggested there was potential confusion in the way mindfulness was being currently defined and used as a word.

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Here then is Dr Craig Hassed on mindfulness and meditation:

"In regard to the question and answer, there is a lot in what you say but it would be my view that you have not accurately portrayed mindfulness and have drawn a false distinction. The reason for saying that is because all of what you say about discernment and getting to know our minds ('selves') better is exactly what mindfulness teaches us.
The short and apparently one dimensional definition from Jon that keeps getting cited does not provide a full account of all that mindfulness offers. That is probably why Jon's books on the subject are 500 pages long and not just one line.
Mindfulness meditation is the cornerstone in how to live mindfully - i.e. consciously and with discernment. It is exactly because it teaches us much about ourselves that it helps so much with conditions like depression, and fosters things like emotional regulation and self-awareness.
To say that mindfulness is just paying attention is true on one level - like saying that an elephant is a big animal with four legs and a trunk. It doesn't tell us anything about its functions - i.e. what the elephant can do.
The'non-judgmental' attitude, I believe, nearly always gets misrepresented. The judgments of the ego - e.g. deeply personal, biased and reactive - and seeing the dream-world we tend to live in within our own imaginations, are just the kinds of thought processes that one begins to see more clearly and objectively through the practice of mindfulness meditation. The judgment of inner wisdom, which is impersonal, objective and arises from equanimity, and which we could call discernment (or buddhi in Sanskrit),
and the capacity to be more in touch with the reality of the present moment, are strengthened and stabilised through mindfulness meditation and mindful living. One cannot make rational decisions without it.
The point you make about cocooning oneself from major challenges that one is not yet strong enough to deal with is a valid point. Like weight lifting, leave the heavy weights alone until you are trained to lift them.
So, sorry Ian, I can't really agree with the main theme of your blog. There are, I believe, similar false distinctions made between 'mindfulness meditation' and 'stillness meditation' - as if mindfulness does not help to bring one to stillness - which I have often heard mentioned by various people."

And here is what Paul Bedson has to say:

"In places I have some different emphasis to you:
I don't distinguish mindfulness from meditation, after all we have written a book on meditation using mindfulness. Nor do I distinguish meditation from living in the world ("coming out of the cocoon").
Mindfulness into Stillness meditation connects us with the inner cocoon of awareness, stillness and spaciousness that are our true nature. Connecting with this cocoon actually liberates the mind from some of the distinctions between self and other, inner and outer. The inner cocoon then opens us to the outer world, it travels with us to remind us that we are not separate, it provides us with resources of wisdom and compassion to be in the world.
Formal meditation helps to reconnect us with the inner cocoon which opens into life. The distinction between inner and outer is misleading and can be healed through meditation .
When you say "meditation is a way of getting to know the mind" it sounds a bit like a cognitive process.....I think of meditation as a way of abiding in our true nature. Out of that abiding insight comes as some illusions start to dissolve (healing comes out of the abiding as well). The Masters did not need to learn the wisdom teachings, or to learn discrimination. Their teachings are tools to guide us to the experience of our true nature (not tools for understanding)".

The issue for me remains as one of definition. Words are used to convey concepts. There is no doubt that the word for mindfulness, the concept of mindfulness, falls short of the experience. The best way to know mindfulness, as with meditation, is to practice it. Yet words are important and as linguists know, they change with time and usage. Linguists know that if a word is used incorrectly long enough its new and inaccurate meaning becomes correct through usage.
There is nothing wrong with this; this is how language progresses. The point again is that it does seem to me that mindfulness is being used increasingly as a generic word to cover a whole lot of things that its traditional definition and the commonly quoted one of Jon Kabat-Zinn does not include.
What more traditionally was called meditation, these days is commonly being called mindfulness. While this may be politically useful in arenas where mindfulness is a more acceptable word than meditation, in my view it creates more than just a language problem; it helps to foster a misguided conception of what mindfulness is, and potentially generates confusion in beginners and the experienced alike.
Because words do have power, I believe there may be the need to come up with a new modern definition of mindfulness, or else a new word to describe all this other stuff that goes with it.

Your comments are most welcome.

Next week, some personal reflections on the year as 2010 draw to a close, and some thoughts and plans for 2011.


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