Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Is Mindfulness Therapy Just A Fad?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s Mindfulness ‘Infatuation’

While clicking through the many photographs of the American Indian Select List of our National Archives in 2008, I found my face on a Kiowa Chief named Satanta.  Having grown up with all connections to my Native American ancestors severed, I was fascinated by this photograph that looked so much like me, and I immersed myself in learning more.  Along the way, it became apparent that Native American medicine shares many important ideas with Buddhism (and others have written on this subject; for example, see http://taramandala.org/article/buddhism-native-american-practices). 

Interestingly, some of these shared ideas, such as compassionate mindfulness, have recently been embraced by modern Western Psychology, such as with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  I find this development to be very exciting, for its potential as portending a paradigm shift from a left-brain hemisphere, every man for himself perspective to a right-brain hemisphere, we are all connected perspective.  Such a shift would be in alignment with the larger brewing group process--if social media is an accurate gauge.  Others, however, wonder if it is just the latest passing fad.

The Buddhist practice of mindfulness asks us to practice waiting silently at our internal center--to compassionately observe and accept our own internal flow of thought and emotion, and to practice stepping back from that flow, in detachment.  The Buddhist mandala is a Sacred Circle that symbolizes an enlightened mind, and depicts four directions with a center.  Like the practice of mindfulness, both the Buddhist mandala and the Native American Medicine Wheel direct us to go inside ourselves (to our center) to wait in silence and observe with compassion.  

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way.  Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me.  Be still, they say.  Watch and listen.  You are the result of the love of thousands” (Linda Hogan, Chickasaw Nation).

The Native American Medicine Wheel or Sacred Circle is a compass for living in balance on the Red Road or Spiritual path.  It shows us our current position (which describes our true animal nature and includes our strengths and weaknesses), and in which direction we need to travel in order to find balance.  As with any compass, every direction on the Medicine Wheel is of equal value to the whole.  At the center of the Medicine Wheel is the place of balance and of awareness that we are all connected (Mitakuye Oyasin, a Lakota prayer of Oneness).  This awareness reminds us of our duty to care for all our relations—because at the Center of the Sacred Circle, we understand that what is done to one, is done to all.

In Buddhism, as in Native American medicine, centered balance means acceptance of what is--that no matter what comes, ‘it is all good,’ and it is all temporary.  Let it go, observe its flow.  Wait it out and soon you’ll know ... balance.  This is a very different approach than C.B.T.’s standard of reaching into the flow and pulling out all of those negative thoughts to examine, challenge, and unravel, as defined causes of one’s suffering.  Whether Beck and Ellis will eventually fade into the background, or whether compassionate mindfulness will burn itself out as just the latest passing fad in C.B.T. practice instead, as some are wondering, remains to be seen.  I for one, am rooting for a paradigm shift toward right-brain hemisphere processing, in alignment with Native American and Buddhist principles.