Mindfulness and meditation, what are they and do they work?

It has to be good news that there is a new book out which examines the hard evidence for the benefits or otherwise of meditation. ‘The Science of Meditation’ by Daniel Goleman (who wrote the renowned book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ trained as a psychologist and became a science journalist) and Richard Davidson (also trained as a psychologist and is a neuroscientist) covers issues such as the various forms of meditation of which mindfulness is just one – but which are all united by focus on a single point be it breath or whatever which you keep coming back to when your mind wanders – and define meditation at various levels in its ancient more intense forms where the aim is to change yourself profoundly to lighter more modern forms to help with depression, anxiety and so on. What is the hard evidence for the benefit of each form and what claims are based on thin air?

Mindfulness is everywhere. It’s big business. I’ve practised it for the past 8 years or so to help me cope with anxiety. When I first read the book ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn (who developed a stress reduction course using mindfulness meditation – tailored to make it more palatable to Westerners in the modern world – and other tools to help people cope with stress, anxiety and depression at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre many years ago ) I thought I could do mindfulness on my own.  I would follow instructions for a sitting instruction and promptly fall asleep. It was nice because it felt mindless. After some time I realised I wasn’t getting it and that I needed more guidance to practise it. So I signed up to do the 8 week mindfulness based stress reduction course with an instructor registered at the Mindfulness Centre, Bangor University in Wales.

What I found and liked is that Mindfulness is secular, there are no rights or wrongs to it save the misunderstanding that the aim is to banish thoughts from your mind which is impossible. And there is no guru in charge of it – it is up to each person to decide for themselves whether they find  it helpful. And the only way to do this is to experience it.

I found it hard initially to do and still do. It’s not a quick fix cure-all solution. But I keep doing it like cleaning my teeth because it’s a tool which slowly ever so slowly has helped me see myself and the world in a different light which I find beneficial. But I don’t want to live in cloud cuckoo land so I’ve just started to read the book, hopefully with an open mind, there may be some findings which surprise and/or  challenge me.   I’m glad that mindfulness and the other meditation methods are being put under the spotlight and tested as rigorously as is possible with our current state of knowledge so that people are not misled by false claims and know the facts about the benefits or otherwise of the various types of meditation.