Mindfulness-Based Interventions to Depressive Symptomatology I: Introduction, Background and Critical Analysis
Mindfulness Etiology in Eastern Philosophy
Siddhartha Gautama was born into a wealthy family in Nepal and came to reach enlightenment, at which point he was known as the “awakened one,” which means “The Buddha” (Gilbert & Choden, 2013). Buddhism has been described as being a religion that does not follow higher beings outside of the individual (Deatherage, 1975). Namely, Buddhism is described as being an introspective form of psychology and philosophy that derives its data from the basis of human experience (Deatherage, 1975). The specific components of the human experience that are paid most attention to in the analysis include the components of the “mind” which is considered to be comprised of emotions, thoughts, perceptions, sensations, and consciousness (Deatherage, 1975). The usage of mindfulness in psychology may appear to be a newer phenomenon when in actuality the etiological roots of this practice date back 25 centuries (Bodhi, 2013). Specifically, mindfulness has etiological roots in the teaching of the Buddha from the fifth century BC (Bodhi, 2013). Mindfulness is immersed in the teachings of the Buddha, which were meant to be principles and practices designed to assist humans to acquire spiritual freedom and happiness (Bodhi, 2013).
Buddhist psychology, also referred to as Abhidharma, entails instructing an individual to act as a scientist in relation to one’s own personal experiences so that melodrama can be avoided (Deatherage, 1975). At the center of this type of training is overcoming suffering through fostering insight (Bodhi, 2013). Buddhist teachings increased in popularity as they spread throughout Asia (Bodhi, 2013). Specifically, the teachings of the Buddha spread to North America to a great extent during the 1960s to 1970s when heightened travelling and interaction occurred (Bodhi, 2013; Gause & Coholic, 2010). As a result of increased exposure, meditation increased in popularity in North America (Bodhi, 2013). Due to greater practice of meditation in society, individuals in the medical profession and psychotherapists started to pay greater attention to this practice (Bodhi, 2013). The awareness of the breath has been a central component in relation to Buddhist practice as noted in original teachings of the Buddha in his work “Anapanasati Sutra” (Gause & Coholic, 2010). Awareness of the breath came to have a reintroduction into contemporary Buddhist practice in America by Rosenberg in 1998 (Gause & Coholic, 2010).
Mindfulness meditation is closest in link to Buddhism and is elaborated on in the sutras, which are the sacred texts in Buddhism referred to as Abhidhamma and Vishuddimagga (Gehart & McCollum, 2008). The term that was originally utilized to refer to mindfulness is Sati, which is a Sanskrit word that pertains to awareness of what is taking place (Chiesa, 2013). Sati has also been translated as meaning memory (Chiesa, 2013). Mindfulness can be observed within the context of Buddhist psychology. Namely, Buddhist psychology asserts that sense impressions are comprised of the five physical senses in addition to the mind (Deatherage, 1975). Mindfulness is thought to be derived from “bare attention,” which refers to a process in which one registers sensory components without reacting to them on a cognitive, verbal, or behavioral basis (Deatherage, 1975). As well, mindfulness is thought to assist one in understanding that thoughts are merely the current focal point in one’s consciousness (Deatherage, 1975).
In addition to relating to sensory elements, mindfulness also has etiological roots in further elements of Buddhist philosophy. Particularly, mindfulness assists one in overcoming suffering, known as Dukkha, through honing of awareness (Gilbert & Choden, 2013; Goldstein, 2013). The Buddha observed two and a half thousand years ago that life is constituted by suffering since all things in life are impermanent in nature (Gilbert & Choden, 2013). The Buddha stated that people become unhappy when they attempt to cling to a self that is categorically continuous and changing (Emavardhana & Tori, 1997). Suffering within the context of Buddhism is said to occur when one attaches to things of an impermanent nature within one’s experience as a human (Emavardhana & Tori, 1997). Hence, the Buddha advocated that clinging to any emotional state will induce suffering (Gilbert & Choden, 2013). Mindfulness is also thought to be crucial to one being able to abandon the five hindrances, in that, in order for one to be able to abandon them one must have awareness of their existence (Goldstein, 2013). Mindfulness is also thought to assist in ridding the mind of delusions that are obscuring conscious awareness (Goldstein, 2013).
In traditional Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness is also thought to be honed through providing service and kindness to others through means of being patient, compassionate, and engaging in loving-kindness with one’s self (Chiesa, 2013). The doctrine of mindfulness is comprised of three components, which are gaining awareness of one’s mental processes, developing the power to shape them through awareness, and acquiring freedom from lack of awareness of these processes (Deatherage, 1975). Through awareness, one is able to understand that one is not under the control of one’s thoughts, and in turn one comes to realize that one can exercise control over them (Deatherage, 1975). These ethical development components are an integral component of the “Eightfold path” which were taught by the Buddha as a way to acquire “enlightenment” and ultimately to end one’s suffering (Chiesa, 2013). Within the eightfold path, mindfulness, more specifically “right” mindfulness, is the seventh component (Chiesa, 2013). Right action is constituted by something that alleviates suffering in others (Monteiro, Musten, & Compson, 2015). Overall, mindfulness-based approaches involve right action since they encourage individuals to be free of suffering and to experience happiness (Gilbert & Choden, 2013).
The Buddha further clarified that suffering is a necessity in life for compassion formulation. From a Buddhist perspective, creation and maintenance of symptoms stem from resistance to experience and suffering (Germer, 2013). Hence, mindfulness is useful in helping one to be aware of what one is experiencing in one’s senses which allows one to not get lost in a state of desire (Goldstein, 2013). Overall, Buddhism encourages one to utilize compassion and other positive components on oneself (Flowers, 2009). This is thought to help an individual when he or she is dealing with difficult emotions such as depression. The Buddha suggested that the mind will be inclined towards certain kinds of thoughts on a recurring basis (Goldstein, 2013). Segal et al. (2013) explained that regular meditation permits one to recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts and thus do not have to be viewed as a reality.
The Buddha further elaborated that the goal of mindfulness practice is to end suffering and to acquire Nirvana, which is a state of peace and bliss (Bodhi, 2013). The Buddha’s teachings advocated that one should alleviate self-inflicted suffering through acquisition of Nirvana (Peacock, 2014). Nirvana, in definition, not only pertains to acquiring a state of mysticism but also pertains to stopping behavioral patterns based in attachment such as those pertaining to greed, confusion, or aversiveness (Peacock, 2014). The Buddha termed these three elements “the three fires” and argued that Nirvana is the state in which these forces are extinguished (Peacock, 2014). Hence, overall mindfulness assists in ending suffering for individuals in that, as outlined in traditional Buddhist philosophy, it facilitates awareness of defects (Chiesa, 2013).
Mindfulness works through balancing what the Buddha termed the “five spiritual faculties” of concentration, wisdom, mindfulness, energy, and faith (Goldstein, 2013). Mindfulness is thought to be able to allow one to have an awareness of when an imbalance in these components is present within an individual (Goldstein, 2013). Acquiring freedom, according to the Buddha, occurs through refraining from attaching to pleasant or unpleasant experience (Goldstein, 2013). Ridding oneself of desire is central to Buddhist philosophy, including ridding oneself of a desire to have a more favorable emotional state. Mindfulness also allows for more objective stances on thoughts in that it uses anupassana, meaning contemplation, which permits one to assume an observer stance in relation to one’s thoughts (Bodhi, 2013).