Mindful Psychology is an interdisciplinary theory developed by Dr. Neil Kobrin. It integrates aspects of mindfulness with Western and Eastern psychology; neuroscience, specifically affective neuroscience; health and wellness, including nutrition, sleep and exercise; and consciousness and spirituality. It is a holistic approach that combines essential elements of these disciplines and blends them into a theory of human functioning that is based on current research and science alike. Mindful Psychology is a practical approach which advocates greater awareness and compassion for the human condition. This new approach challenges the traditional psychoanalytic/psychodynamic western psychological theory that our unconscious or “true nature” is a dark, maniacal place, filled with aggressive and sexual drives that will lead us astray.
The components of Mindful Psychology are described in the following sub-sections:
Mindful Psychology supports the basic tenets of mindfulness; that of having the intent to be fully present in life and to recognize that this moment is the only moment we have. Mindfulness encourages us to be fully engaged in our life and to embrace a compassionate, non-judgmental, curious, view of ourselves and the world at large.
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness” is the English translation of the Pali word sati, which also has been translated as “constant prMindful Psychology is an interdisciplinary theory developed by Dr. Neil Kobrin.esence of mind” or “awareness.” It has been described as a “calm awareness of one’s body functions, feelings, content of consciousness, or consciousness itself.”
Mindfulness has been defined as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.” Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the field of mindfulness, states, “Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposely paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to.”
The basic tenet of mindfulness is “intentional” awareness of the present moment. We commit to paying attention to the present moment, to the “now.” When we wander away from the present moment through distraction, or by thinking of the past or future, we gently return to the present moment. We train the mind to be focused on the moment and to be more of an observer than a reactor. When we are mindful, we are better able to observe and understand how our mind operates. When we are able to simply observe, and not judge, or become overly attached to the moment, we are better able to quiet our reactive mind.
Mindfulness is actually like a dance between the observing mind and the reactive mind. In this dance, a “figure/ground” experience unfolds, where the observing mind is the “ground” and the event is the “figure” that takes place in relation to the ground. When the mind is calm, it is better able to be an observing mind, a mind that is nonjudgmental and unbiased. When the observing mind is truly focused on the moment and not influenced by past or future events, it has the power to regulate the reactive mind. The observing mind observes. It supports a present-centered awareness that is nonreactive and allows us to simply accept our thoughts and feelings without becoming reactive.
Mindfulness involves bringing one’s awareness to the present moment, focusing on the experience of the mind and body. Through this process we can observe the aspects of our mind. We begin to notice a running dialogue in which our mind maintains a constant commentary about life filled with judgements and generalizations. We begin to notice how caught up we are with our thoughts and feelings, accepting them as a true representation of reality and believing that this is how things really are. Through mindful attention we can appropriately disengage from our thoughts and feelings by recognizing that ‘thoughts are just thoughts” and “feelings are just feelings” and they may or may not accurately depict reality. This helps us to relate to our thoughts and feelings differently and permits us to not be so heavily identified with either. Through this process, we don’t have to be enslaved by our own thoughts and feelings. We can recognize that they simply exist in this moment, that they may not depict reality accurately, and that they will pass. This can be a very freeing experience.
Mindfulness is not only being in the moment, but recognizing that the moment is all we really have.
Both Western and Eastern psychology focuses on the alleviation of suffering. However the approach to this intention can be very different. Much of Western psychology is based on “strengthening the ego”, theorizing that a “weak ego” is a primary cause of psychological distress. On the other hand, Eastern psychology emphasizes movement away from the influence of the ego and maintains that strong identification with the ego can be the seed to emotional distress.
Mindful Psychology embraces the Western traditional psychological belief that emotional well-being is related to emotional stability and a balanced approach to life. It recognizes that we must preserve harmony between our rationality and our emotionality and use them in tandem to maximize our emotional functioning. It affirms that emotional regulation, our ability to manage our emotions, and emotional resiliency, our ability to “bounce back” emotionally after experiencing the travails of life, are essential elements that cultivate balance in our lives.
Mindful Psychology is aligned with many of the world’s Eastern spiritual leaders that hold the view that our “true nature” is that of a gentle, compassionate, loving, being. It contends that traditional Western psychological theories which assert that at our core we humans are hostile and aggressive is potentially emotionally damaging. It proclaims that these types of beliefs can significantly influence how we feel about ourselves (self-hated) and our worldview. By example, tell a child often enough that they are a “loser” and often that is what they become.
Aligned with a prominent aspect of Eastern psychology, Mindful Psychology supports the belief that our mind states can significantly affect our experience of life. It supports the belief that “healthy” mind states, such as love, compassion and joy, can serve as antidotes to “unhealthy”, mind states that contribute negatively to our life experience. It accepts that life is filled with both moments of joy and sorrow and maintains that how we react to either can influence our emotional well-being. It contends that when we display unhealthy or unwholesome behaviors, it is a reactive response fuelled by our fear or anxiety or other unhealthy mind states.
Mindful Psychology incorporates the discoveries which have been made regarding how our brain functions and its relationship to the mind and our emotions. It specifically attends to findings and information revealed through the field of affective neuroscience.
Affective neuroscience has been defined as “the study of the neural mechanisms of emotion. This interdisciplinary field combines neuroscience with the psychological study of personality, emotion, and mood.” The field of affective neuroscience conducts various types of research including research on; brain mechanisms underlying emotion and emotion regulation; the relationship between mind, body and brain; the neural basis of social and affective processes; and other areas of interest related to the brain and its impact on our emotional experiences.
Of particular importance to Mindful Psychology is neuroplasticity, our ability to change the structure of our brain through experience; neurogenesis, the birth of new brain cells which occur throughout our lifespan; and epigenetics, the way in which genes are expressed or turned “on” or “off.”
Mindful Psychology fully supports the mind-body relationship and recognizes that both significantly affect the functioning of the other.
In essence, a healthy body, one that is maintained through proper nutrition, exercise and adequate sleep, will maximize a physical environment conducive to emotional well-being. Inversely, a healthy mind, one that cultivates healthy mind states, such as love, joy and compassion, along with a positive attitude about life, will set the stage for positive emotions which can support the immune system while reducing stress and its harmful effects on the body. A healthy mind/body supports the functioning of the brain and enhances many cognitive and emotional areas of our life, such as learning and intellect, empathy and atunement and memory.
Traditional psychology proclaims “do not speak of religion”, but religion/spirituality can have a significant influence on us. Many of us have a desire to understand “the meaning of life” or to feel connected to a “higher purpose or higher source”. To this end many pursue a spiritual journey, through a religious affiliation or alternative means. This pursuit will often form a contextual basis for life imbued with a belief system or ideology.
Mindful Psychology recognizes that the exploration of this belief system and its impact on one’s emotional functioning can provide valuable insight that can support transformation. For example, there are aspects of most of the world’s religions that inspired wholesome dispositions, such as love, gratitude, wisdom and kindness. However, many also engender fear, anger, judgment, hatred, submission, prejudice, and many other unwholesome attitudes. As a context for life these dispositions can set the stage for how one feels about themselves and the world at large and therefore are worth exploring.
From a spiritual perspective, Mindful Psychology embraces the interconnectiveness of all living beings. It supports a worldview that “sees a oneness in all things.” and that “nothing exists in isolation, independent of other life”. Perhaps it can best be summarized by the following quote from a Buddhist monk; “When we realize the extent of the myriad interconnections which link us to all other life, we realize that our existence only becomes meaningful through interaction with, and in relation to, others.”