Saturday, September 5, 2009

Mindfulness and Kindness: Inner Sources of Freedom and Happiness

I just realized that I never posted the resources on Mindfulness as I promised. I am sure there are many people interested in learning how to live a more Mindful life so please forgive me for this omission. This occurred to me while helping a new friend in need of the benefits that Mindfulness Practice produces. All of my previous posts by Dr. Hopper came from this vast resource he has created for everyone seeking this valuable information. Below is a brief explanation of this remarkable gathering of Wisdom and an introduction containing a brief description of each section. I am sure you will be very impressed by the magnitude of this resource and find something that will help you to improve your life. If you are interested in Mindfulness after reading this post, just click on the title below to go to his website. Enjoy!


Mindfulness and Kindness: Inner Sources of Freedom and Happiness

By Jim Hopper, Ph.D.
(last revised 5/15/2009)

Today there are many options for learning to be more mindful. Which ones are best for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your current ability to regulate your emotions and where you live. One key question is whether to learn mindfulness skills first from a (mental) health professional, or from a teacher at a meditation center or Buddhist community.

I recommend that you do a little research: start with the resources below, then look into resources in your area, which could involve a series of calls to gather information and referrals from local clinics, therapists, and/or meditation centers.

Three important things to keep in mind

1. There is no substitute for actual mindfulness practice (especially in a daily, disciplined way).

2. To maintain a regular practice, most people will need regular contact with a meditation teacher and/or supportive group or community.

3. You may need to learn some emotion-regulation and other skills first, so if you haven't yet, be sure to read Caution: Mindfulness Includes Pain, and Requires Readiness before reading this section.

Here are four free and inexpensive options for getting started on your own. Please don't be discouraged, though, if you find that going it alone isn't working for you.

* Mindfulness in Plain English, a book by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, includes detailed instruction on how to meditate, and is available free on the web or from

* Mindfulness Meditation Practice CDs and Tapes, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

* Meditation for Beginners, an audio CD by Jack Kornfield, another highly respected senior teacher in the Vipassana tradition.

* The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (book plus CD), by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindal Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn; though focused on depression, this is a valuable resource for anyone struggling with a lot of sadness and suffering.

Other options for developing a mindfulness meditation practice largely on your own, but more structured than the options above, are self-study courses available from Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein, two of the most respected meditation teachers in the West.

* Insight Meditation: An In-Depth Correspondence Course includes an 88-page workbook and 18 hours of audiotaped instruction designed to help you establish and sustain a daily mindfulness meditation practice. There is also the option of receiving personalized instruction (via email) from an advanced meditation teacher.

* The smaller (and less expensive) Insight Meditation: A Step-By-Step Course on How to Meditate, includes a 240-page Insight Meditation workbook, two 70-minute CDs and twelve study cards.

The Vipassana Fellowship offers a 90-day online meditation course, taught by Andrew Quernmore, a meditation teacher in England.

Online meditation courses are also available from Wildmind Buddhist Meditation.

There are many workshop and retreat options available at conference and retreat centers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries. If you're interested in a workshop/retreat I'm leading in May of 2009 with my colleague Dana Moore, a therapist and yoga teacher, see Buddhism, Yoga, and Neuroscience: Concepts and Tools for Transforming Trauma and Addiction.

Another way to learn be more mindful is by participating in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program.

MBSR is very accessible to people who have no experience with meditation, and was originally developed to help people struggling with medical illnesses that were not responding to Western medicine. MBSR was developed by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, who by now have trained hundreds of practitioners around the world – including medical doctors, nurses, psychologists and other health-care professionals – who in turn are offering MBSR programs of their own. The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society maintains a web page where you can search for MBSR Programs in the United States and other countries. To get a better sense of their approach, you might want to read Kabat-Zinn's best-selling book, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.

If you have great difficulty regulating your emotions, especially unwanted emotions and impulses to harm yourself (problems that are not uncommon among people with histories of child abuse and neglect), then you may benefit from learning mindfulness through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

This combined individual-and-group therapy approach, developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan to help people who can be said to suffer from "Borderline Personality Disorder," is available at many mental health clinics and hospitals in the US and around the world. DBT incorporates training in mindfulness skills within a comprehensive program that cultivates skills of emotion tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. If you really do struggle with regulating negative emotions and self-harming impulses, please don't let the term "personality disorder" scare you away: this treatment can be extremely effective at helping people who have not yet had the opportunity to learn essential emotion regulation skills. To learn more, read Dr. Cindy Sanderson's excellent Dialectical Behavior Therapy - Frequently Asked Questions.

If you're interested in learning more about the Buddhist tradition that has cultivated and preserved mindfulness practices for over 2500 years, and tapping into communities of Westerners practicing mindfulness and other meditation practices from this great spiritual tradition, there are many organizations and centers in the United States and around the world. Two highly respected retreat centers in the U.S. that teach mindfulness meditation are the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. The IMS web site has two pages of links to web sites of other centers, possibly one near you (for the second page of links, follow the "more centers" link on the first page).

For some people, standard sitting and walking versions of mindfulness meditation are not appropriate, at least initially. Focusing on the breath might cause intense anxiety to arise, or scatter attention, leaving one "ungrounded." Or a more physically active and movement-oriented approach might be a better match. (However, some just assume "I could never sit still and meditate for half an hour!" then actually discover that sitting meditation is not only possible for them, but quite beneficial.) Also, more active and movement-based approaches can be extremely helpful if you don't feel at home in your body and often lack awareness of bodily sensations and needs. If so, Iyengar yoga or Qigong practices like Tai Chi may be great ways to begin cultivating mindfulness. Unlike some popular yoga methods, Iyengar strongly emphasizes mindfulness of bodily and breathing sensations. Iyengar Yoga Resources includes a very clear description (What is Iyengar yoga?) and a directory of Iyengar yoga centers worldwide. The National Qigong (Chi Kung) Association explains What is Qigong and allows you to search for teachers near you.

Finally, increasing numbers of therapists and counselors are also mindfulness meditators, and many incorporate teaching of mindfulness skills into therapy. Therapists who are meditators will also tend to know about other local options for learning mindfulness – and just a couple of consultation sessions with such a therapist could be extremely helpful for sorting out your options. A few phone calls to local therapists or clinics might be enough to find such a therapist or counselor in your area.


This will orient you to this extensive webpage, via some opening comments and brief descriptions of each section.

Opening Comments and Suggestions

Is this page for you? You'll have to see, but some of the people I'm hoping to reach and benefit:

People who are curious about mindfulness, but have read little or nothing about it and never tried meditating.

People seeking new ways to overcome childhood hurts, depression, addiction, and other all-too-human problems.

Beginning meditators.

Meditators interested in the insights of a fellow meditator who happens to be a therapist, clinical psychology and psychiatric neuroscience researcher, as well as a husband and parent.

Therapists interested in bringing mindfulness and meditation into their clinical practices.

A message to those who will begin reading and find themselves thinking, "I can't see myself doing mindfulness meditation practices, so I might as well stop reading now and not bother coming back to this later":

Simply reading this page (whether you try meditating or not) will introduce you to new, and potentially very transformative and healing, ways of thinking about, experiencing and responding to your own emotional and other mental and brain processes. Just learning these concepts and perspectives (without ever meditating), has proved extremely helpful to many people, including those struggling with a great deal of emotional suffering. I can't guarantee that will happen for you, but I would like to encourage you to take the time, at some point, to find out for yourself.

A suggestion: If you discover that you are really interested in what you're reading, print the entire page. At 34 printed pages, it's too long for most people to read on the computer.

Descriptions of Each Section

What is Mindfulness? defines mindfulness by expanding on an often-quoted definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn. My elaboration speaks to struggles that we all have, with overcoming 'bad habits' that cause problems and suffering in our relationships, our work, and the most private parts of our lives. My definition also addresses common misconceptions about mindfulness by clarifying what it is not.

How Could Mindfulness Help Me? describes several ways that mindfulness can help people overcome habitual and automatic ways of responding to experiences that are either strongly unwanted (from emotionally uncomfortable to traumatic) or strongly wanted (including addictive). These include loosening the grip of habitual responses that cause suffering, quieting and calming the mind, and fostering greater awareness, enjoyment and cultivation of healthy positive experiences.

How Can I Cultivate Greater Mindfulness? begins with a few comments about meditation and Buddhism, followed by instructions for a standard mindfulness of breathing meditation. It then discusses some key issues, including the distinction between concepts and skills, daily versus intensive mindfulness practice, and formal practice versus weaving mindfulness into daily life. It ends by addressing some common questions and concerns about the cultivation of mindfulness in daily life and relationships.

Caution: Mindfulness Includes Pain, and Requires Readiness is a very important section, particularly for those who can become overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. It discusses the need for a solid foundation of self-regulation skills before practicing mindfulness meditation, and how this is essential for people who struggle with certain problems.

Kindness - An Essential Companion of Mindfulness explains why cultivating mindfulness is necessary but not sufficient, and how cultivating kindness promotes acceptance, peace, freedom, and happiness. It also includes some simple but very effective practices for cultivating key aspects of kindness.

Resources for Learning To Be More Mindful provides very specific advice for how and where you can learn to become more mindful. It has immediately useful information about books, tapes, online mindfulness meditation courses, and meditation centers. It also includes suggestions and resources for those who need more help cultivating self-regulation skills, or for whom more movement-oriented practices such as yoga or Tai Chi will be most effective.

Recommended Books, CDs/Tapes/MP3s, and Articles includes recommendations for everyone as well as therapists in particular.

Links to Other Resources on Mindfulness and Meditation has a small number of highly recommended sites.

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