Sunday, December 15, 2013

Difference in Psychological and Buddhist Approaches

If you look up research on meditation, you’ll most likely come across the term “mindfulness.” On one hand, the term’s definition is quite clear, ”Mindfulness is a characteristic of mental states that emphasizes observing and attending to current experiences, including inner experiences, such as thoughts and emotions” (Hill & Updegraff, 2012). This definition is similar to what some meditation schools (particularly Buddhist) aim to accomplish. But then the researchers’ focus shift shifts toward something confusing to me, “Mindfulness, then, may also be helpful in improving emotion regulation by increasing awareness, and, more specifically, emotional awareness of subtle differences between emotional experiences in the present moment” (Hill & Updegraff, 2012). The problem with this approach is that once you shift your attention to your emotions, you instantly lose your mindfulness. While the researchers do emphasize the importance of paying attention only those emotions that you experience in the present moment, your emotions represent only a fraction of your experiences in a present moment. At the very least, your mind in order to be full should include at least three types of experiences: 1) your body’s movements, 2) everything you feel, see, and hear from the surrounding environment, 3) your thoughts and emotions. The researchers then discuss the effects of emotion labeling (which, for some reasons, they continue calling “mindfulness") on emotion regulation. They state, however, “it is well known that Buddhist meditation is thought to improve emotional awareness and control by learning to focus one’s attention on aspects of emotional responses,” which is simply false. I never heard of a Buddhist method that would set a goal “to improve emotional awareness.” But I’m not writing this to argue; I just want to point out that once you start to focus on your emotions, your mind latches on to it, making it increasingly difficult to move on to other things. It may seem beneficial at first, because you distance yourself from a troublesome emotion by analyzing it, but after that you’re stuck with that emotion not only on the emotional but also on the mental levels.

            Buddhist approaches vary depending on school of thought, but one of the most commonly used methods is mantra. I met monks and nuns from South Korea, India, Burma, Tibet, and Japan who use this type of meditation. Essentially, the method of mantra allows you to create an independent from your attachments (which are all those experiences that trigger an emotional or mental reaction from you) point and to solidify it by training to concentrate on that mantra 24/7. The details on how to use mantra can easily get overwhelming, but basically it allows you to observe all and any experiences coming and going through your mind without discrimination, that is, it helps you to train yourself not to pay more attention to your emotions than to the little dot on the floor that you’re staring at when you meditate.    


Hill, C., Updegraff, J. (2012). Mindfulness and its relationship to emotional regulation. Emotion,             12, 81–90.    

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