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Suggesting Mindfulness - Page 4

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Stage 3: Focusing Attention

focus then shifted from the general orientation and rationale for the session to a narrowing of attention on the breath. Selective attention gives rise to dissociation and is essential to activating any experiential processes. He directly suggested how to sit and then employed metaphor when he said, “So see if you can just feel yourself breathing. . . . Sit [in an] elevated and erect position that embodies dignity . . . [to] meet this moment in its fullness with alertness. . . . Let’s see if we can feel the breath, not think about the breath . . . moving in and out of the body as if we were approaching a shy animal sunning itself on a tree stump in a clearing in a forest. We want to approach [it] gently.”

Stage 4: Building a Response Set

The purpose of the response set is to increase responsiveness as the experiential process unfolds over time. In this phase, suggestions are offered to intensify focus and deepen absorption in the process. For this purpose, Kabat-Zinn said, “If you’d like to concentrate more, focus on the abdomen or wherever the sensations are most vivid, I invite you to close your eyes if you care to . . . and just ride; surf the feeling, the sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body, moment by moment by moment, . . . and let everything else going on in the mind, in the room—sounds, everything—just be in the wings.”

Stage 5: Offering Therapeutic Suggestions

Kabat-Zinn reassuringly suggested that for meditation beginners, or even for practitioners of 50 years or more, the mind will naturally wander; the goal is to come “back to the breath over and over again.” He explicitly stated that the goal of the session was to teach the value of awareness in the moment and the importance of holding on to that awareness across life experiences. “It’s not like you’ll make a bad meditator because your mind is unruly. This is the nature of the mind. . . . It’s just like the Pacific Ocean at its most tumultuous. . . . If you learn to drop down 20, 30 feet under the water, there’s just gentle calmness, . . . and it’s the same with the mind. The surface of the mind can be very agitated, embroiled in thought and emotion, but awareness itself is like the depths.”

Stage 6: Generalization

The goal at this stage is to help make the response available in other life contexts. At this point in the process, Kabat-Zinn had already encouraged a focused awareness on breathing, an appreciation for the inevitability of mindlessness and the value of mindfulness, an orientation toward finding comfort in the depth of oneself, and a sense of gentle compassion toward the self. How did he use suggestion to encourage people to integrate these new awarenesses into their lives? He said, “If [the mind] wanders 10,000 times, you know what’s on your mind 10,000 times, and without judging condemning, forcing, blaming, just come back to this moment, this breath . . . with a certain kind of tenderness as a radical act of love and kindness just toward yourself . . . wherever you are. . . . And the meditation practice winds up doing you much more than you’re doing the meditation practice, and the world and everybody and everything becomes your teacher.”

Stage 7: Ending the Experiential Session

In this last stage of the process, Kabat-Zinn used permissive suggestions to bring people back to a more externally oriented awareness of themselves and the immediacy of the context. He said that the formal experience might be over, but striving for awareness could be a lifelong commitment. He rang a meditation bell and continued, “Now I’d like to invite you, if your eyes are closed, to allow your eyes to open . . . while maintaining the same quality of awareness, . . . even as you turn your head or shift your body or stretch. . . . So although the formal meditation practice in some sense comes to an end, and has to, the real meditation practice never comes to an end; it’s your life. . . . It’s no more at an end than your breathing.”

In conducting this GMM, Kabat-Zinn offered many different suggestions about how attendees could think of themselves and their experience, starting with how to sit and ending with when to open their eyes. When he suggested different levels of experience, specifically the surface of the mind versus the depths of awareness, building on the earlier notion that the conscious mind is quite limited, he referred, of course, to the relevant attributes of the unconscious. These include the abilities to process information on multiple levels, develop new awarenesses and behavioral responses automatically, and respond to familiar challenges in new and creative ways. All in all, I’d have to say that although Jon Kabat-Zinn may not yet know it, he’s already a skilled practitioner of clinical hypnosis!

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