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Mindfulness: Scientific Footprints Along a Spiritual Path
(Talk give at the Universalist Unitarian Church, Miami, FL, 3/6/06)


I teach mindfulness meditation in a secular way, allowing anyone who wants to
come and learn, to then take the practice into their own spiritual dimension, should
they wish to do so.  I am also a psychologist interested in meditation and
neuroscience.   Perhaps sharing something about the scientific footprints left along the
path of meditation, will motivate you to follow your own spiritual path.

Although I have been a student of meditation for many years, it was the scientific
work of Drs. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli, at the University of Massachusetts
Medical School, who developed secular teachings in meditation, and then studied
scientifically the outcome, that gave me permission to bring mindfulness meditation
into my psychology practice, and to integrate it with other ways of psychologically
helping patients.  I am also indebted to Buddhism, from which Drs. Kabat-Zinn and
Santorelli developed their secular meditation practice.

What is mindfulness meditation?  I hear all the time, “I can’t meditate.  My mind’s
too busy.”  People have this misconception that meditation is about making the mind
go blank.  They conclude that they will fail, before even starting.  Mindfulness
meditation involves the refinement of innate abilities we already possess.  Meditation
involves letting go of the over-use of a natural tendency, which is supported by our
culture, constantly to be getting to some new place, striving.  For example, “I’ll get the
right job promotion, the right degree, the right partner, my child will get into the right
school. . . “   Meditation involves balancing out this kind of striving.  There is a time
and place for striving, but it does not need to color every waking moment.

Mindfulness meditation involves taking two abilities the mind possesses, and
cultivating these natural abilities.  The first is the ability of the mind to focus attention.  
The second is the ability to investigate; to contemplate the nature of experience itself.
So meditation involves cultivating these natural abilities, and giving them the
conditions to flourish (like a seed will grow, if you give it the proper soil, and nutrients,
and water, and sun - and it will blossom into a plant).          

So, mindfulness meditation involves cultivating paying attention on purpose, in the
present moment, with moment to moment non-judgmental awareness.  It involves
cultivating a vast, spacious field of awareness.  It is the act of falling awake, not falling
asleep, or going through life mindlessly, on automatic pilot.

Mindfulness meditation involves a formal practice, each day, much like a concert
violinist finds it useful to practice scales.  But it also involves integrating this practice,
in a less formal manner, into the flow of everyday life.  The musician practices scales
so that he or she can go and play a symphony – or the music of life.  Meditators
practice so that they can fall awake to the full richness of the moment, during as many
moments of living as possible. After much practice, meditation can help us cultivate
better emotional balance; and it becomes as important as eating, sleeping and
exercising.

It turns out that we can also measure scientifically the effects of meditation on the
brain and the emotions.  We cannot reduce meditation to science, but we can see the
scientific footprints, left by a path of meditation.  Later I will touch on the scientific
footprints already discovered.

I’m going to invite you to do a brief exercise with me, that will also show you what
meditation is about.  To also bring in the science a little, let me start by asking you to
pause and to observe what your breathing is like in this moment, and feel your pulse
for a few seconds.  Also noticing whatever sensations in your body are noticeable in
this moment, and what thoughts and feelings are present.  


                                                             
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Janice Lindsay-Hartz, Ph.D., P.A.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
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