A Brief History of Mindfulness

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The Origins of Mindfulness


The modern western understanding of Mindfulness stems from buddhist teachings of Sati, which is one of the seven factors of enlightenment. Sati means ‘moment to moment awareness of present events’ as well as ‘remembering to be aware of something’ & leads to gaining insight into the true nature of reality according to Buddhist teachings. In early Buddhist practise Mindfulness was the path to liberation through constantly being aware of the sensory experience & therefore being able to prevent the arising of undesirable emotions or cravings of an undesirable nature. Mindfulness was also considered a powerful defence against delusion as it supplies the practitioner with a heightened & clear comprehension of what is taking place, free from biases & judgements which could lead to emotions such as hatred or greed. By avoiding these emotions Nirvana, the state of mind which greed, hatred & delusion are absent, can be attained.

A technique used by Buddhist monks to achieve Mindfulness is Anapanasati, Sati, meaning the concept of mindfulness, & anapana, meaning inhalation & exhalation. Anapanasati is the practise of becoming acutely aware of the sensations within the body associated with breathing. Anapanasati is used in Vipassana meditation, which centers around focusing on the three marks of existence, which are the impermanence of & unsatisfactoriness of conditioned things, & the belief in non-self.

Development of Mindfulness in the Western World

Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson & Walt Whitman have been credited with being the predecessors of the interest in mindfulness in the western world through their involvement with the transcendentalist movement. It was said that the approach of the yogis, zen masters & buddhists of the east offered a view of the world at odds with the predominantly materialistic & reductionist approach that was common is the western world. This alternative view gained popularity among many groups, & Vipassana meditation gained popularity in the 19th century due to the accessibility of the practise through english translations of the Buddhist sutras, & promotion by the theosophical society. Zen Buddhism was later popularised in the west by D.T. Suzuki who adapted a more modern, western approach to the practise.

Mindfulness in Modern Psychological Practise  

In 1979 the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program was founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts. This program brought the ancient practise of Mindfulness into the arena of modern medicine, & was applied to a wide variety of conditions in people who were both healthy & suffering from medical conditions. The Mindfulness practises used in this program were based in eastern traditions, & drew primarily from buddhist meditation including Vipassana. This approach has now been removed from the religious contexts of it’s origins & widely adapted for use in secular environments. Mindfulness Based Stress reduction is now applied in schools, hospitals, prisons, outreach programs & many other settings to help people deal with stressful events & reduce general levels of stress in their daily lives.

The Future of Mindfulness

The practise of Mindfulness is constantly gaining popularity with people from all walks of life, & is largely removed from it’s roots in deep meditation. Psychologists suggest using Mindfulness as a tool to reduce stress & calm the mind in daily life, & just a few minutes of practising Mindfulness each day can have dramatic effects on quality of life.

For tips on how to add Mindfulness practice into your daily routine, & more information on the benefits of Mindfulness stay tuned to The Essential Life. We'll be sharing more information about Mindfulness to help you live more Mindfully.

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