Mindfulness

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an approach to consciously settling the mind. According to Germer (2013), the definition of mindfulness originates from the word ‘Sati’ meaning, ‘awareness’, ‘clear-headedness’, or ‘joy’. Gunaratana (2002) suggests that mindfulness cannot be fully explained with words as it is a subtle, non-verbal experience.

The Chinese character for ‘mindfulness’ comprises of five characters: eyes, ears, heart, mind, along with undivided attention (see Figure 1 and 2).

Figure 1: The Chinese character for mindfulness.
Figure 2: Separation of the Chinese characters that comprise of ‘mindfulness’.

According to Salzberg (2011), mindfulness comprises of three levels: focused attention, open monitoring, and compassion.

Focused attention is the area that most people consider to be mindfulenss: a practise of focusing fully on one thing in the present moment through breathing, postures, chanting, mantras, mudras, mandalas, and so forth. Indeed, any practise where one is fully absorbed may be considered as ‘focused attention’. Yet true mindfulness really concerns engagement with the second level of practice: open monitoring. During open monitoring, there is an awareness of thinking, being aware of thoughts and feelings without attachment, analysis, or judgement of the impressions. The third level of mindfulness is compassion or loving kindness.


The Plateau Experience

If you have heard of Abraham Maslow, you would probably be aware of his hierarchy of needs, a series of stages where deficiency needs (such as the need for safety, food, water, etc.) progresses through being needs (self-esteem, acceptance, love, etc.)

However, there are several criticisms of the hierarchy, for example, dancers or gymnasts putting their physical safety at risk while striving for aesthetic beauty, training through injuries, and so forth. One of the greatest critics of the hierarchy was actually Maslow himself. His core criticism was that while self-actualisation should be the result of a lifetime of striving, this was being relegated to weekend LSD workshops to achieve such heightened experience. He also noted that one could achieve self-actualisation but be completely self-centred.

In his 1970 book, ‘Religions, Values, Peak Experiences’, Maslow suggested that the focus on self-actualisation should be replaced with a focus on self-transcendence: transcendence of the sense-of-self. This, he suggested, was characterised by ‘the plateau experience’, something he expanded on following his near-fatal heart-attack. Unfortunately, Maslow had only started theorising about the plateau experience and self-transcendence when he died in June 1970. The only other mention Maslow made of the plateau experience was at a conference, in discussion with Stanley Krippner, with the transcript published in 1972.

Maslow (1970, p.xv) referred to the plateau experience as ‘…pure enjoyment and happiness…’ which could be ‘…achieved, learned, earned by long hard work.’ This experience enabled ‘…the simultaneous perception of the sacred and the ordinary’ in a ‘…unitive consciousness’ (Krippner, 1972, p.113). Maslow referred to this as the ‘Zen experience’, an experience he suggested as cross-cultural (Krippner, 1972, p.114).

The defining features of the plateau experience identified are detailed in the table below:

DevelopmentVoluntaryBy this, one can engage with practises to facilitate the plateau experience, for example, walking on a beach opposed to walking through a city.
Can be taughtVarious transpersonal pratises may facilitate the plateau experience.
Cross-culturalVarious transpersonal practises come from a variety of cultures; similarly, the plateau experience may in turn be a global human experience.
DualitiesWhere, for example, life and death are seen as complimentary. In a more practical sense, engaging with practises that encourage a dualistic approach, for example, maintaining physical effort to achieve relaxation (e.g. progressive muscular relaxation).
Resultant characteristicsCalmness or serenityRelaxation, ‘a sustained state of inner peace’ (Roberts & Aspy, 1993, p.145).
CognitiveA witnessing or ‘mindfulness’; seeing the sacreness in the ordinary; transcendence of time and space; appreciating dualities.
Acceptance of deathConfronting mortality, perhaps in a dualistic notion.
(Adapted from Buckler, 2011)

One practise that can help engage with the plateau experience is Shinrin-yoku.


Shinrin-yoku

Shinrin-yoku roughly translates from Japanese as ‘forest air breathing/bathing’. It involves immersing oneself in a natural, forest environment and engaging in mindful practice.

While there is no set criteria for shinrin-yoku engagement, through synthesising research from numerous resources, some suggested activities are provided below:

First 10 minutes: Walking in silence while just focusing on breathing naturally. This helps to calm the mind, settle thoughts, and orientate to the time in the forest environment. Focus on how you are moving, the way your feet traverse the terrain, how your muscles work in unison.

Mindful exercise 1: Focus on mindful breathing. As you breathe in, say in your mind the word, ‘calm’. As you breathe out, say in your mind the word, ‘relax’. Repeat this at least nine times. As you breathe in, be aware of what you can smell.

Next 10 minutes: Continue to walk in silence, again focusing on breathing. Focus your attention on the path, bushes, trees, leaves, what you can see in the distance, what you can see close up.

Mindful exercise 2: Open awareness. Stop and focus on one tree, the shape, the way the branches lead to the trunk, the texture of the bark, the shape of the leaves, the detail of one leaf. Expand your perspective to how that tree sits among many others. Be aware of what thoughts, images, impressions, feelings, come to mind.

Next 10 minutes: Continue to walk in silence, again focusing on your breathing. Focus your attention on what you can hearing: the wind gentling rustling through the leaves, birdsong, scuttling in the bushes, and so forth.

Mindful exercise 3: Pebble meditation (see the script below).

Next 10 minutes: Continue to walk in silence, focusing on your breathing. Just ‘be’ in the moment. Send compassionate, or loving kindness thoughts, to others you know, perhaps someone you have passed, to a pet or other animals, then expand this to a wider concept of humanity.


The Pebble Meditation

(Adapted from Collard, 2014:38-39)

Close your eyes gently… Settle yourself in your chair… Focus on your breathing…as you breathe in, say in your mind the word ‘calm’…As you breathe out, say in your mind the word ‘relax’…Continue to breathe naturally, as you breathe in, ‘calm’…as you breathe out, ‘relax’.

[Allow about a minute for the person to focus on their breathing.]

Imagine being at the edge of a beautiful pond… The sun is shining and you can see some of its rays reflected in the water… There are water lilies, and blue and green dragonflies circling… Maybe you hear a frog croaking… Perhaps you can hear the rustling of leaves gently blowing in the wind… Can you feel the gentle breeze on your skin?… Allow yourself to visualise this pond in all its glory and add any image or sound to the picture that you create in your imagination.

Now see yourself picking up a small, flat pebble…Take the pebble in your hand. Feel the texture…is it smooth, rough…is it cold, or is it warming up within your hands. How did the pebble get to be where it is?

Imagine throwing the pebble gently into the water… See the concentric ripples dancing on the surface from where the pebble entered the water… Watch the pebble sink a little…Notice what thoughts, feelings and sensations you are experiencing right now… Allow the pebble to sink deeper and see whether any sensations, images or feelings change.

Let the pebble settle at the bottom of the pond. You may even be able to see where it has settled…What do you feel, sense, or think now? …Are there any messages arising from your consciousness that you need to hear or bring to your awareness?

Stay a little longer and just breathe, from moment to moment… taking care of the here and now.

Collard, P. (2014). The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 Minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace. London: Gaia Books.



Further Reading

Buckler, S. (2011). The Plateau Experience: Maslow’s Unfinished Theory. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Buckler, S. (2020). The Plateau Experience: Maslow’s Unfinished Theory (International translations: Dutch, French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese). Mauritius: Sciencia Scripts.

Buckler, S. and Woodward, A. (2021). Development and validation of a plateau experience psychometric to investigate the effect of shinrin-yoku (森 林 浴) on depression. Transpersonal Psychology Review, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp.66-77.

Gruel, N. (2015). The Plateau Experience: An exploration of its origins, characteristics, and potential. The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Vol. 47, No. 1, pp. 44-63.

https://atpweb.org/jtparchive/trps-47-15-01-44.pdf