During this author’s first MA in Philosophy, he had the pleasure of attending a small-group seminar with High Lama Nora while he and toured the U.S.. High Lama Nora explained that one of the great ironies of mindfulness, and perhaps what is so difficult to grasp for the Western mind, is that in order to achieve it and its full benefit, one has to betray the term mindful, and rather seek for more literal mindless experience. That is, one must seek an empty mind, clear of the conclusions and baggage of mischaracterizations of life’s current events that come from filtering them through a mind full of past judgments. This simple summary of mindfulness can also be found in the forward written by the Dalai Lama in Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life (Hanh, 1991).
Like mindfulness itself, MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) and MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) promote a peaceful and non-judgmental acceptance of the present and the way things are (Burke, 2009; Pigni, 2009). Clients are taught a range of exercises and techniques to use on their own in mindful meditations that can be used long after their formal therapeutic sessions have ended. In group or home practice, the silent practice of mindfulness includes sitting or walking meditations which are designed for those practicing it to heighten awareness of not only their environment, but also their inner-thoughts and reactions. Once these feelings and reactions are recognized and brought to the front of consciousness, mindfulness does not try to “fix the problems at all costs and work out solutions” (Pigni, 2009, p. 155). Instead, MBSR and MBCT promote a healthy understanding of the processes or events which led to the current situation, and then should result in a mature vision of the reality guiding one’s decisions on how to recognize and live with it (rather than triumph over it or forget it). This generality of application lends MBSR and MBCT a level of flexibility to be applied to range of dynamic stressors or triggers for traumatic experiences or psychological and somatic manifestations in clients’ lives, even those that are not being discussed with their therapist.
MBSR and MBCT are increasing in popularity as the old stigmas yoking all meditation practices to religious or philosophical traditions are shed. “Although mindfulness-based interventions have been in use for over 20 years, it has only been more recently that mindfulness has been examined as a psychological construct, with efforts to establish consensus of the operational definition, elements and processes” (Burke, 2009, p. 134).
There is no shortage of articles about the art of listening as the means to improve effective communication either in business or therapeutic environments. Dana Jack (1999) presents an article about the uniqueness of listening as it pertains to women’s therapy; she subtextually highlights the complexity and importance of listening with all genders and social types. Jack maintains that over time the terms and concepts of therapeutic relationships, and the conclusions stemming from them, have become a “history of maleness, and represent a deposit of the desires and disappointments of men” (p. 92), rather than the roles and complexities of women’s concerns. Therapists (males in particular) must be alert to the possibility that their ideal therapeutic mind, and how they believe it should register and react during various interventions, could already be jaded if the developments made during therapeutic working alliances are based on the “maleness” assumptions, and not on active listening to each unique person and situation.
The mental and physical space between the speaker and the listener “holds a myriad of factors that influence [them] both, such as the social realities of power, economics, race, and privilege” (Jack, 1999, p. 92). Through the process of active listening, listening becomes more than hearing a message; it becomes the most highly effective (and affective) tool communication therapists have (Cericola, 1999). “Each woman’s individuality, in its full richness of class, ethnicity, and social context, can be honored by observing what values she has accepted and strived to attain” (p. 91). The worthy of note word in this quote is “honored;” while it is one thing to sit and simply listen to someone, it is another thing altogether to actively pay attention and participate with a person during the interview process, showing their personhood the empathy, compassion, and respect they deserve. One can demonstrate this respect by showing the other person that they are actively listening to them and not distracted, bored, judgmental, or otherwise mentally engaged in any way other than 100% for that relationship in that moment.
Cericola (1999) compresses the art of listening into four easy steps: sensing, interpreting, evaluating, and responding. Normally these steps take place in a matter of seconds, but in the therapeutic atmosphere where interpretation (by both parties) takes on such great importance, Cericola asserts that mental health practitioners must be cautious to “check and recheck words” and innate assumptions “until [the therapist’s] understanding matches the other person’s intended meaning” (p. 41). Again, with respect to the male-borne presuppositions Jack (1999) insists the industry is working under, the insistence that practitioners insure they are receiving and processing the information correctly becomes even more salient. One must know exactly what he or she is hearing (both in intentional and meta-statements) and seeing (in overt and covert somatic tells) to bridge the gap between hearing and listening. A truly successful active listener knows that the therapist’s role “is to restrict the imposition of personal judgments, to foster the [client’s] self exploration, and to refrain from imposing [his or her] own moral judgments” into the conversation (Jack, 1999, p. 91).
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Cericola, S. A. (1999). Communication Skills: The Art of Listening. Plastic Surgical
Hanh, T. N. (1991). Peace is every step: The path of mindfulness in everyday life. New
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Jack, D. C. (1999). Ways of Listening to Women in Qualitative Research: Interview
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Pigni, A. (2009). A First-Person Account of Using Mindfulness as a Therapeutic Tool in
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