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Mindfulness, Meditation and Ericksonian Hypnosis

Out of such absolute emptiness... action blossoms beautifully.

(From the book "Zen and Archery")

The practices of meditation and hypnosis constitute a fascinating and significant meeting area between psychology, neuroscience and philosophy, in terms of both psychotherapeutic and evolutionary aspects. Meditation and hypnosis appear to be completely different and independent subjects in terms of history, culture, definitions and use, but they are actually more intimately connected than you can imagine.
Meditation and contemplative traditions have for centuries refined practices useful to pacify the mind, relax the psycho-corporeal system and cultivate transpersonal qualities and achieve increasingly advanced levels of integration between compassion and wisdom.
Hypnosis and self-hypnosis can become powerful allies to support meditation, they can help us develop the ability to observe everything that happens while remaining at the center of ourselves, preserving our inner peace.
Self-hypnosis can be at the service of meditation and support the journey to our center everything that takes us away from ourselves, from our truth, can be defined as negative hypnosis, everything that brings us back to ourselves, to the center of our interiority, meditation.
Only when we are really in the present moment we can get out of the trance, in the present, the role of the mind is reduced to that of a simple servant and awareness can guide us.

Tart (1975) shows us how meditation can be considered as an induction technique: most meditation techniques in the first phase mean that the subject is sitting in a comfortable position, the head, neck and spine straight; to stay in this position is necessary a minimum of muscle effort: as in induction of hypnosis and sleep preparation this comfortable position allows the slowing down of kinesthetic activity, but in opposition to sleep the minimum amount of muscle effort prevents meditators from falling asleep.
Concentrative meditation teaches you to focus your attention on an external object that you are looking at intensely or on some internal sensation, such as the movement of your breathing.
As in hypnosis, the meditator is told that if his spirit is distracted, if he departs from the rule of concentration, he will have to gently restore it and put an end to distraction. the meditator then fixes his attention on one thing, this can produce unusual phenomena due to different degrees of fatigue as in hypnosis, but most meditation systems emphasize that these anomalous perceptual phenomena are not positive signs for meditation.
In Mindfulness, meditative practice is a fundamental tool for the maturation of those qualities that make the therapeutic relationship effective. The qualities of deep listening, empathy, acceptance and therefore of non-judgement, allow creating a safe basis in a dimension a climate within the therapeutic session that greatly facilitates the possibility for the patient to focus attention on himself, to relax, to open up with confidence to the experience he is experiencing.

The most known are:

  • Zen meditation, also called zazen. It is practised sitting cross-legged and can be developed in two ways: by concentrating on one’s breath (i.e. breathing through the nose) or by looking at everything that passes through the mind or is around, but without dwelling on anything in particular (Shikantaza);
  • vipassana meditation, also known as mindful meditation. With this technique, one starts with a phase of concentration on one’s breath and then gets to ‘feel’ all the other sensations inside one’s body (sounds, emotions, etc.);
  • Mindfulness meditation, an adaptation of traditional Buddhist practices that consists of concentrating on the present moment by focusing attention on one’s thoughts, emotions, sensations arising in that instant but without ‘judging’ them. The first psychologist to apply Buddhist meditation methods to psychotherapy by creating the Mindfulness strategy was Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Mindfulness involves learning, consolidating and integrating a wide range of mindfulness-based self-regulation skills through the development and refinement of specific internal resources through daily practice that benefits both the mental and physical level.
  • In the context of psychotherapy, from the very beginning I used relaxation and imaginative techniques in a functional sense, as a therapeutic tool in anxiety disorders, but in a short time, with the growing experience of the positive possibilities deriving from the relaxation response, I found myself incorporating the relaxation technique in more than ninety per cent of cases: the importance of a relaxed physiological and mental state as a facilitating tool in psychotherapy in relation to all kinds of problems is indeed obvious.
  • And here a first possible link between the practice of calm mindfulness meditation and psychotherapy became apparent to me. This occurs through a particular type of concentration, called passive concentration: the person learns not to act, but simply to remain in observation of his or her body and its modifications.
  • This is only a first point of contact between Eastern and Western methods, but such a technical affinity points us to a very important factor for psychophysical health: clear-headed attention, in the context of a non-interventionist, non-activated, simple observer’s mindset.
  • A traditional image encountered in the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism is as follows: when water in a container is agitated, it is cloudy and does not allow us to see the bottom; when the agitation of the water stops, we can instead see what is at the bottom of the container.
  • The metaphor speaks of our mind: if it is too agitated by a whirlwind of mental events, we are unable to grasp anything of what is deep within it; if we manage to calm it down, on the other hand, we will be able to encounter it in its authenticity, we will literally be able to see into it.
    This second level of meditative practice is called profound vision (vipassana in Sanskrit, lhagthong in Tibetan): in it, the observation of mental events, conducted as non-judgmental observers, slowly frees the mind from the suffering that arises from emotions and from the rejection that one often operates towards those very thoughts or emotional states.
    As long as we fight and reject the suffering within ourselves it becomes stronger and stronger and manifests itself in a thousand ways.
  • By observing the movements of thoughts and emotions without judging them, one arrives at a deep mental relaxation that becomes a solid base on which to walk the therapeutic path.

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Mindfulness, Meditation and Ericksonian Hypnosis