By connecting with the present moment, calmly observing our thoughts, feelings and sensations so as to become more directly aware of them, mindfulness practitioners become, essentially, better able to manage them.
It was around 1995, when I was living in Istanbul, having my psychology undergraduate degree in Koc University. I remember myself sitting on the floor, putting green candles around me and sitting quietly. I was mostly praying or talking to myself, visualising my dreams in my mind’s eye. I remember my mum looking at me with curious eyes, trying to understand what I was doing.
I had started to meditate in my own way, without having any knowledge of any sort. I was an introvert as a student in university, occasionally living in my world of dreams and connecting to my heart more than connecting to people at that time. How funny that without knowing, I had invented this model of meditating, by just closing my eyes and having wishful thinking.
After graduating, I had started to work as a psychologist. During these 14 years, I surely had my own spiritual challenges. During those hard times and still whenever I have a challenge in my soul, what I do is to always create more time for myself in order to increase my mindfulness and my awareness.
Today, after 14 years of experience of working as a psychologist, I am able to give training in the topic of Mindfulness, both in London UK or in Istanbul, Turkey. I am so grateful to be able to improve myself as a migrant woman in London, having completed my second Masters in UCL and my PhD in Regent’s College.
For years, I have been doing meditation and various spiritual practices in order to balance my mind and my soul and yet by coming across, with Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programmes, I am very happy and blessed to be able to apply these practices to my clients in a more systematic and an easy way. Thanks to John Kabat Zinn and Mark Williams!
Let’s briefly look at what mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is and how it works.
Mindfulness aims to achieve a relaxed, non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, feelings and sensations; what Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, part of Oxford University’s department of psychiatry, calls a “direct knowing of what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment”.
Buddhist monks have been practising a similar technique for 2,500 years, but western medicine caught on in the late 1970s when a US medical professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, began successfully treating patients with chronic pain using a secular programme he called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In 2002, Williams and colleagues from Cambridge and Toronto universities devised Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, aimed at helping prevent the relapse of depression.
Clinical trials have since shown that MBCT is as effective as antidepressants, and in patients with multiple episodes of depression can reduce the recurrence rate by 40-50% compared with usual care. Nice, the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, approved MBCT for the management of depression in 2004, meaning the therapy is available on the NHS.
In everyday life, mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention to our experience as it unfolds, rather than “living in our heads”. The pace and stress of modern living leave us caught up in a stream of thoughts and feelings, trapped in past problems or overwhelmed by future anxieties. The theory is that by connecting with the present moment, calmly observing our thoughts, feelings and sensations so as to become more directly aware of them, mindfulness practitioners become, essentially, better able to manage them.
“It lets us stand back from our thoughts, and start to see their patterns,” Williams says in an interview for the NHS. “Gradually we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over, and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us. Most of us have issues we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively.”
How do we practice it?
Firstly, by becoming more aware of the world around us: switching off the auto-pilot, noticing and watching your thoughts and feelings, and waking up to the physical sensations of things.
Secondly, most teachers recommend a set daily period of more formal mindfulness practice. The techniques sound simple enough: sitting in a quiet place, deep-belly breathing, paying attention to your body, training the mind to observe, focus and filter.
Setting aside 15 minutes a day is the best way to start practicing.
When I gave a workshop last year, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey on the National Cognitive Behaviour Therapies Congress, I, my colleagues and some participants, discussed about the similar concepts of Buddhism and Sufism (Islam). Turkey, being mostly consisting of followers of Islam as a country, has deep connections to spiritual realms. Thus, after the congress, we shared a valuable discussion about the similar roots of Mindfulness and Islam.
The first notion that was completely the same was compassion and humanity. Buddhism opposes the evils of caste and creed and asserts the equality of all beings. Just like Islam stressing on the equality of individuals, thereby, abhorring caste and creed. In both beliefs, the eternal life depends on the works of the present life. Also about the concept of universe, both beliefs claim that the universe is separate from God and had been created by him. Love for all beings is also one of the most important aspect of them.
After the congress, once again I realised that being mindful, being full of compassion for ourselves and for life in general is the way to go forward. The notion of being one and united can be felt during love and kindness meditation. Let’s try to sit down and practice meditation for 15 minutes every day and let’s see the beauties of our inner self. May we can all have a week full of compassion and love!