Goals of Mindfulness Practice

Reduce Suffering and Increase Happiness

  • Reduce pain, tension, and stress.

Increase Control of Your Mind

  • Stop letting your mind be in control of you.

Experience Reality as It Is

  • Live life with your eyes wide open.
  • Experience the reality of your . . .
    • connection to the universe.
    • essential “goodness.”
    • essential validity.

Either before or after reviewing the lesson, make a note of each goal that is important to you from the choices in the lesson, and then reflect and journal about your choices. In what areas of your life do you believe mindfulness might be of help?

You might need to be convinced of the importance of mindfulness skills — which you may or may not have heard of — this can be a very hard sell. It can be useful then for you to learn how widespread the teaching and practice of mindfulness is in many settings. For example, mindfulness practice is being taught in business schools, corporations, organizations, medical schools, and middle and high schools; it is also moving slowly into the mainstream consciousness.

Please choose the goals you would like to achieve by practicing mindfulness.

Goal 1: Reduce Suffering and Increase Happiness

  • Reduce pain, tension, and stress.
  • Increase joy and happiness.
  • Improve physical health, relationships, and distress tolerance.
  • Other goals you might have can also be discussed and written in the journal.

There is some evidence that the regular practice of mindfulness has beneficial effects. The major effects found for mindfulness alone include the following. Review several of these but not too many.

  • Increased emotional regulation.
    • Williams, J. M. G. (2008). Mindfulness, depression and modes of mind. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(6), 721–733.

  • Decreased in both distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviors.
    • Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., et al. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: Effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 33(1), 11–21.

  • Decreased dysphoric mood.
    • Broderick, P. C. (2005). Mindfulness and coping with dysphoric mood: Contrasts with rumination and distraction. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 29(5), 501–510.

  • Increased activity of brain regions associated with positive emotion and enhanced immune response.
    • Davidson, R. J. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564–570.

  • Decreased depression, anxiety.
    • Gross, C. R., Kreitzer, M. J., Reilly-Spong, M., Winbush, N. Y., Schomaker, E. K., & Thomas, W. (2009). Mindfulness meditation training to reduce symptom distress in transplant patients: Rationale, design, and experience with a recycled waitlist. Clinical Trials, 6(1), 76–89.
    • Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., et al. (1992).
      Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 936–943.

  • Decreased anger and emotional irritability, confusion and cognitive disorganization, and cardiopulmonary and gastrointestinal symptoms.
    • Speca, M., Carlson, L. E., Goodey, E., & Angen, M. (2000). A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: The effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62(5), 613–622.

  • Reduction of pain symptoms, improvement of depressive symptoms in patients with chronic pain, and improvements in coping with pain.
    • Chiesa, A., & Serretti, A. (2011). Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: A systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(1), 83–93.

  • Decreased psychological distress and increased sense of well-being.
    • Pradhan, E. K., Baumgarten, M., Langenberg, P., Handwerger, B., Gilpin, A. K., Magyari, T., et al.(2007). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 57(7), 1134–1142.

  • Decreased risk of depression relapse or reoccurrence.
    • Sephton, S. E., Salmon, P., Weissbecker, I., Ulmer, C., Floyd, A., Hoover, K., et al. (2007). Mindfulness meditation alleviates depressive symptoms in women with fibromyalgia: Results of a randomized clinical trial. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 57(1), 77–85.

  • Increased healing of psoriasis.
    • Kabat-Zinn, J., Wheeler, E., Light, T., Skillings, A., Scharf, M. J., Cropley, T. G., et al. (1998). Influence of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction intervention on rates of skin clearing in patients with moderate to severe psoriasis undergoing phototherapy (UVB) and photochemotherapy (PUVA). Psychosomatic Medicine, 60(5), 625–632.

  • Improved functioning of the immune system in patients with HIV.
    • Creswell, J. D., Myers, H. F., Cole, S. W., & Irwin, M. R. (2009). Mindfulness meditation training effects on CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV-1 infected adults: A small randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 23(2), 184–188.

Most of these findings have been obtained with individuals who have practiced mindful meditation and yoga every day for eight or more weeks. Even very brief mindfulness practice, however, can be beneficial. In two of these studies, the mindfulness practice was very brief. More permanent and long- lasting gains, however, are likely to require a longer period of reasonably faithful practice. The numbers correspond with published articles to be added onto the bibliography. The sources are listed in the DBT Skills Training Manual.

Goal 2: Increase Control of Your Mind

To a certain extent, being in control of your mind is being in control of your attention — that is, what you pay attention to and how long you pay attention to it.

  • Increase your ability to focus your attention:
    • In many ways, mindfulness practice is the practice of controlling your attention.
    • With a lot of practice, you get better at it.
    • Mindfulness reduces automatic modes of attentional processes.

  • Improve your ability to detach from thoughts, images, and sensations:
    • We often react to thoughts and images as if they are facts.
    • We get tangled and blended in the events in our mind and cannot tell the difference between a fact in the world and thoughts or images of the world.
    • We spend a great deal of energy trying to fit reality to our perception of it rather than accepting reality as it is, not our perception of it.
    • Mindfulness, practiced often and diligently, can improve your skills of seeing the difference between facts and images and thoughts about facts.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, originally called Comprehensive Distancing Therapy, focuses on just this: getting enough distance so that people can detach from their thoughts, images, and emotions. The central component of the therapy is teaching individuals how to step back and observe their minds—to see thoughts as thoughts, images as images, and emotions as emotions. Cognitive therapy also stresses the ability to differentiate thoughts, images, and emotions from facts.

  • Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2012). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Hayes, S. C., & Melancon, S. M. (1989). Comprehensive distancing, paradox, and the treatment of emotional avoidance. In L. M. Ascher (Ed.), Therapeutic paradox (pp. 184–218). New York: Guilford Press.

  • Decrease reactivity to mental events:
    • Mindfulness is the practice of observing what is going on inside yourself as well as outside, without doing anything to change it.
    • Consider it a practice of observing things without reacting to or trying to change them. The ability to experience without reacting is essential in many situations.
    • Mindfulness practice improves your ability to be less immediately reactive to everyday situations. It gives you a chance to take whatever time is needed before you react.

Reflect on some of your own experiences:

Think about how your inability to control your attention creates problems. Examples may include inability to stop thinking about things (the past, the future, current emotional pain or hurt, physical pain); inability to concentrate on a task when it is important to do so; and inability to focus on another person or to stay on a task because of distraction.

Goal 3. Experience Reality as It Is

Let’s consider this. If you walk across a dark room, is it better to see the furniture or not? Is it easier with the light on or with it off? A fundamental goal of mindfulness is to reduce mindlessness — both of what is going on around us, and of what we ourselves are doing, thinking, and feeling. The idea is that if we truly experience each present moment of our lives — if we let go of mental constructs, ideas, and judgments about what is — then we will ultimately see that our worst imaginings of reality are not true. We will at some point see that life itself is unceasing change, and also that clinging to any moment of reality is ultimately not in our best interests.

  • Be Present to Your Own Life
    • Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present. It is being present to your own life. Many people find at some point that their life is whizzing by and they are missing a lot of it. Children are growing up; friends that we care about are moving away; we are getting older.
    • It is easy to be so focused on distractions, the past, or the future that we actually miss many positive things in our lives. If you are walking in the forest, and you slightly change directions without knowing this, it may not take long before you are really far from where you were originally going.

Being present to our lives is the opposite of avoiding our lives and trying to avoid or suppress our experiences. Suppression increases the frequency of the very thoughts and emotions we are trying to suppress. Avoidance has no permanent effect on our well-being. When we avoid situations and events that prompt difficult emotions, this temporarily decreases the painful emotions, but it has no permanent effect on our response to these same situations and events in the future. When we avoid and escape painful emotions now, they will be painful in the future. Escape often causes more problems and rarely solves problems.

  • Be Present to Others
    • Mindfulness is focusing on the present moment and on the people we are with now. It is very easy to be around people but far away—thinking about something or someone else, looking for someone else to talk to, wishing we were somewhere else, planning what we will do next, dreaming about other things, focusing on our pain or our suffering.
    • We are not present to the people around us. Others, of course, often notice this. They may eventually pull away from us; it is hard for them to be ignored in this way.

  • Experience Reality as It Is

  • Connection to the universe. Everyone and everything in the universe is connected. As physicists would point out, the universe is a network of interconnected atoms, cells, and particles that are constantly moving and changing. We touch the air around us that touches everything else around us, and on and on. Each move that we make interacts with the entire universe at some point. It is this point that we need to get across. However, knowing that we are interconnected is one thing; experiencing it is another. Many people feel isolated and alone. Their experience of themselves is as outsiders. But once we see that the world and universe is an interconnected network, we can see that there is really no outside or inside. Thus our experience is built on the delusion of separation. Mindfulness is aimed at enhancing our experience of the universe as it is, without delusion or distortion.

  • Essential “goodness.” Many individuals experience themselves as bad, unworthy, or somehow defective. Mindfulness is the practice of seeing ourselves as we are—ultimately simply ourselves and inherently neither good nor bad, but rather just as we are. From this perspective, all things in the universe, including ourselves, are good. (Although the use of the term “goodness” may seem to contradict the notion that “good” and “bad” are concepts in the mind of the observer, we cannot deny the use of “good” as an adjective and “goodness” as a term to denote a quality of something. Thus it is important not to move too far into a rigid notion that we can never use the term “good,” as in my saying “Good boy” to my dog when he does something I have taught him, or “Good job” to a colleague at work. Once we have given up “good” and “bad” as judgments, we can revert to using them as shorthand comments about what is observed.)

  • Essential validity. “Validity” here means that each person has inherent significance which cannot be taken away or discounted. Each person’s voice and needs warrant being heard and taken seriously. Each person’s point of view is important.

Please take the time to pause here and reflect on the information I have shared thus far. Reflect your own experiences of being connected to the universe, as well as experiences of being an outsider. Reflect on your own experiences of being bad or unworthy, or of not being taken seriously.

You may be feeling put off or even offended by references to Eastern meditation practice. It may feel like a religion is being encouraged, possibly either because you already have a faith or are not religious. I try to be sensitive to this point. You can either separate meditation from any religion or relate it to all religions.

  • The fact that meditation is now commonly used in the treatment of chronic physical pain and stress management programs, is increasingly being used in the treatment of emotional disorders, and is part of many wellness programs suggests that it can be practiced and be effective outside of any spiritual or religious context.
  • Eastern meditation practice is very similar to Christian contemplative prayer, Jewish mystical tradition, and forms of prayer taught in other religions.
  • I will stay diligent to recognize difficulties on this topic and discuss them openly and honestly. It is important not to push mindfulness onto religious practitioners.
  • You may start out by thinking of it as incompatible with your religion. I offer a suggestion that you practice what you can. Please discuss it with other people who practice the same religion as you.

Is what I have said about mindfulness similar or different from your own spiritual practices?

Copyright protected content:

In order to view the material in this section of the course, you must be a current or previous client of James Fitzgerald, MS. Content has been adapted from DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan. Copyright 2015 by Marsha M. Linehan. Permission to photocopy the information is granted to purchasers of DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, and DBT Skills Training Manual, Second Edition, for personal use and use with individual clients only.