June 30, 2009
In today's Washington Post, a New York clinical psychologist specializing in cancer treatment writes of her own stage II breast cancer diagnosis. A proponent of mindfulness, Mindy Greenstein remembers what she learned from another breast cancer patient before she herself was diagnosed:
Every hour she spent ruminating about the pain that was awaiting her was another hour she wasn't fully engaged with her life, another hour she couldn't enjoy. She couldn't pretend she didn't know her prognosis. So she chose a different route.
Quoting one of the most well-know Buddhist teachers in the West, she continues:
Even the basic act of washing the dishes can be a mindful act if one is focusing only on washing the dishes and not on what activity comes next. As Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh explains in "The Miracle of Mindfulness," when we let ourselves get sucked away into the future, we're not really living; for every next activity that comes, we're already thinking about the one following.
There's no doubt that mindfulness and mindfulness meditation have become mainstream. Remembering her introduction to the practice, Greenstein describes it this way: "Originally a Buddhist notion, mindfulness was making its way into Western psychology as a method of teaching people to take hold of their own consciousness.
The Dalai Lama, speaking to a student, once commented that if mindfulness can help to alleviate suffering in this way, it's a good thing, but it's not Buddhism. As we apply simple mindfulness to a whole host of activities--from pain management to stress reduction to enhanced attention spans--it'll help to keep in mind that there's far more to mindfulness meditation than its palliative uses. But it's also good to know that it's being used to such positive effect. Like Greenstein points out, for many of us, it sure beats attempts at forced optimism.
You can read Greenstein's Washington Post piece here.