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The 7 pillars of mindfulness

The 7 pillars of mindfulness

We either have the choice, to see things as they are, or to see things as they are, and to be terribly upset about it. Make your choice now…

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The 7 pillars of mindfulness form an inner attitude to see things as they are: ‘present moment, on purpose and non-judgmental’.

Mindfulness: Present moment

That means being in contact with the present moment, instead of indulging in memories or brooding about the future. It is an everyday experience that our consciousness is occupied with completely different things during a certain action. We are annoyed or happy about what just happened, or we go through a to-do list in our thoughts, while driving a car. Kabat-Zinn calls this state “autopilot mode”. Mindfulness practice draws attention back to the present moment and focuses on the current activity (i.e. just driving our car with undivided attention,  a state that the Road Traffic Regulations – very optimistically – makes a general duty). To consciously perceive the current moment, e.g. posture , noises, sensations, is not a basic state of mind in the age media. (Advertising agencies would be breadless and the i-Phone would have turned into a flop, would people had been “wired” for undivided attention.)

Mindfulness: On Purpose

This attitude is intentional, because practitioners consciously undertake to use this undivided attention whenever possible and in all life situations, which requires patience and constant reconsideration.

Mindfulness: Non-judgmental

The attitude is not judgmental because the occurring contents of consciousness should be perceived free of labeling as pleasant or unpleasant, etc., but simply as what it appears. This judgment-free attitude also refers to the evaluation itself (the inevitable act of judgment should not be condemned).

Historically mindfulness exercises have been developed in Buddhist meditation practice. Mindfulness-based elements have also found their way into approaches in cognitive behaviour therapy, for example, “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” for prophylaxis against relapse in depression by Z. Segal, M. Williams and J. Teasdale or the “Dialectic therapy for borderline disorder” by M. Linehan. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a chronic disease training program in 1979, known worldwide as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It is an exercise program based on mindfulness. The MBSR program is now offered worldwide and supports people dealing with stress, pain and illnesses: “Full Catastrophe Living, Revised Edition: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) concept by Jon Kabat-Zinn is based on 7 principles of inner posture that are developed during meditation.

7 pillars of mindfulness

  4. TRUST

In contrast, the autopilot complicates flexible and appropriate action and favours automated and pre-made processing and reaction patterns. (Prefabricated processes are the great strength of autopilots in standard situations, and their great weakness when deviations from the programmed standard appear.) A lack of mindfulness creates space for brooding and avoidance of unpleasant experiences. Brooding often promotes excessive generalizations from biographical experiences and disrupts the adjustment of the approach to challenges.

Mindfulness exercises

There are formal exercises of mindfulness in all body postures (sitting, walking, standing, lying): Mindfulness is focused on the experience in the current situation, for example on the breath. If the attention is distracted by thoughts, emotions, itching or pain (which inevitably happens, evens to experienced practitioners), one consciously takes note of the distraction and returns to the breath. In doing so, one remains accepting and benevolent about oneself, instead of scolding oneself for the failure. Neither breath, thoughts nor other appearances in consciousness are changed or controlled. Mindfulness is more about giving yourself permission to be in the moment, and just perceiving, what is present, attentively and without judgment. Segal calls this attitude «being mode» (in opposition to the prevalent «doing mode»).

There are alsos informal everyday exercises, which I would particularly like to recommend to you. During these exercises one does even the most trivial things in everyday life with full awareness: washing dishes, cleaning, climbing stairs, but also work or hobbies. When washing up, only think about that activity, how water, dishes and movements feel, what colors and reflections can be seen, what sounds and what smells perceived. Do neither think about the commendable deed you are performing, nor about the damage you might intend to undo by washing the dishes, nor about the injustice, that the doing the dishes always sticks to you, nor about the cup of tea, or the TV show afterwards. You understand the principle …

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Mindfulness and psychotherapy

Break through automatic patterns

Cognitive behavioral therapy also seeks to break automatic reaction patterns in order to restructure assessments, and change behaviour. For this purpose, triggers, thoughts, emotions, actions and sustaining factors of undesirable behavior in specific situations are identified and analysed. The developed alternatives of evaluations and behaviors are then tried out and practiced in exercises and in everyday life.

Comprehensive perception of the present

The comprehensive perception of the present is also consciously and specifically sharpened by the situational analysis in cognitive therapy or the so-called flooding during the treatment of anxiety. The avoidance activated in fearful situations is thereby reduced. Such an “experience avoidance” also plays a role in depression, post-traumatic stress or sleep disorders.

We “are” not our thoughts

Cognitive behavioral therapy also encourages individuals not to identify with their thoughts or feelings. When treating depression in particular, it turns out that thoughts do not automatically represent reality, or the self for that matter, but are mere mental processes. (You cannot sit on the word “chair”.) Examining incorrect thoughts and evaluations is the ground for changing attitudes and feelings. Even with obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is important to learn, not to identify with the obsessive-compulsive idea. Thoughts and feelings do not have to determine actions directly.

On the one hand, mindfulness is more a basic lifestyle than a psychotherapy principle. On the other hand, successful psychotherapy must also include basic attitudes. Whether you are interested in “mindfulness” because you are looking for an approach to psychotherapy, or because you want to develop yourself further, it will definitely enrich your everyday life, your relationship with partners, children and colleagues, or your experience and perception ,

The next post will continue with # 1 Non-judgment.


Jon Kabat-Zinn: Gesund durch Meditation – Das große Buch der Selbstheilung mit MBSR.

Chögyam Trungpa: Erziehung des Herzens. Buddhistisches Geistestraining als Weg zu Liebe und Mitgefühl

Sam Harris: Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion (2015)

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