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Mindfulness: If Shifting Attention Can Create Inner Peace, Anything Is Possible

by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
"The only peace we find at the top of mountains" goes an an old Zen saying, "is the peace we brought up there with us." And yet we tend to search outside ourselves - and outside our daily existence - for inner quiet we hope will clear emotional fog and calm turbulent thoughts that seem unavoidable.   The trick is to develop a mind-and-skill set that helps us reframe life’s dilemmas, disappointments, and difficulties as creative choices – by working on them the same, focused way we learn technique in piano or dance or painting. By learning the techniques in a gradual and relaxed way when the pressure is off so they are ready to roll when the pressure is on.
     The fact that we can rethink our old, automatic mental habits, create new roles and change our minds through new learning for the entire length of our lives - the scientific term is “neuro-plasticity – really is good news, especially in these times of accelerated change and increasing complexity. Some effort and commitment are required but there is good news here too, in the form of evidence-based methods like Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, (MBSR). Nina Thorne, LCSW, an MBSR teacher, clinical social worker and educator - who will facilitate an 8-week program at Lifestage, Inc. in Smithtown, NY starting Thursday Sept. 20, noon - 2 p.m. -  describes the method as “a way to train the mind to stay in the present moment.  We learn to live, where life takes place,-in the present moment. Mindfulness fosters enhanced attention to and awareness of present moment reality. This attention helps us to get off automatic pilot behavior.”
     Getting beyond the automatic, mechanical reactions – which might rightly be called “mindless” since we experience them as something not in our conscious control – is a process that opens us to an inner space of greater receptivity to not only our partner’s point of view, but to a more compassionate acceptance of our own human flaws and failings. According to Thorne, who studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, "being more mindful helps the practitioner stay centered in life’s ups and downs. Research in neuroscience has shown that mindfulness practice actually changes the structures of the brain, offering protection from stress, anxiety and possibly aging related impact on the brain."
Some evidence for the benefits of MBSR:
Research published in the journal Stress and Health showed that participation in an 8-week MBSR program significantly reduced stress levels while enhancing positive states of mind and the sense of self- value. (Vickie Y. Chang, et al “The effects of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program on stress, mindfulness self-efficacy, and positive states of mind,” Stress and Health, Vol. 2: 3, August 2004)

The journal Emotion published a study involving individuals with social anxiety disorder that showed improvement in anxiety symptoms and depression as well as enhanced self-esteem after an MBSR program. (Philippe R. Goldin & James J Gross, "Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Emotion Regulation in Social Anxiety Disorder," Emotion, Vol 10, No. 1, 2010)

The Journal of the AmericanMedical Association identfied mindfulness as "characteristic of good clinical practice" among medical professionals. Mindful medical practitioners utilize “a variety of means to enhance their ability to engage in moment-to-moment self-monitoring, bring to consciousness their tacit personal knowledge and deeply held values, use peripheral vision and subsidiary awareness to become aware of new information and perspectives, and adopt curiosity in both ordinary and novel situations. In contrast, mindlessness may account for some deviations from professionalism and errors in judgment and technique. (R.M. Epstein, “Mindful Practice” Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume: 282, Issue: 9 (1999): 833-839,) 
  • The PsychotherapyNetworker  - the premier resource for cutting-edge information about the theory and practice of psychotherapy - dedicated an entire issue to the rise in importance of MBSR to psychotherapy and provides ongoing Continuing Education about its application for therapists.
  • James O’Dea of the Institute of Noetic Sciences writes about studies that show how even “a slight turning of attention and a subtle redirecting of intention can shift the entire landscape of lived experience. Transformation is not so much a change of the person but a change in perspective. It is a profound shift in our human experience of consciousness that results in long-lasting alterations in worldview—how one experiences and relates to oneself, others, culture, nature and the divine.” (James O’Dea et al, “The Shift Report: Evidence of a World Transforming” (Petaluma, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences, 2007):64).

Nina Thorne, LCSW

Nina Thorne is a member of Mindfulness Meditation New York Collaborative and studied MBSR in Mind-Body Medicine in a Residential Program with Jon Kabat-Zinn & Saki Santorelli, Residential Practicum in MBSR with Florence Meleo-Meyer & Melissa Blacker, and Residential Teacher Development Intensive. More information about the January MBSR program is available on her website.
Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer, writer and performer who will bring her original show Crazytown: my first psychopath to the San Francisco Fringe and Chicago Fringe Festival this fall.
About CrAzYToWn: How do you know that nice, helpful guy in the next cubicle is a psychopath? You don’t. In Crazytown, real-life therapist/performer Jude Treder-Wolff takes you down the rabbit hole of belief that led to her being blind-sided by reality. It’s a comic take on an over-eager therapist getting over herself (when nothing else seemed to be working). And these days, when our phones are smarter than we are, and we can meet, fall in love, shop for a ring and get some counseling with someone and never meet them in person – it’s a cautionary tale about how authentic a completely fake person can be. Click here for information about upcoming performances.


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