Deep Mindfulness (DM) differs from the Mindful Self-Reflection (MSR) practices found in most mindfulness-based therapies (Welwood, 2000). In contrast to most mindfulness practices, DM allows thoughts and felt meanings to arise without reacting to, studying, following, or interpreting them. Additionally, instead of attempting to unfold felt meaning, in DM practice, attention constantly returns to the unknown so that “a larger awareness can ventilate and permeate the narrow world of self-preoccupation” (Welwood, 2000, p. 97).
Welwood (2000) notes the therapeutic value found in both MSR and DM practices. For instance, MSR provides “relative self-knowledge” and DM provides the experience of “a deeper undivided awareness”. He suggests, if we include both practices in psychotherapy, we will be offering a psychotherapy that addresses the whole human being: the conditioned and the unconditioned natures, the relative and the universal, the psychological and the spiritual (Welwood, 2000).
Different Goals but Not Inherently Separate
In addition, Welwood (2000) suggests that, although these two mindfulness practices have different goals and processes, they are not inherently separate. He tells us that all mind states are forms of the deeper ground of awareness, which he refers to as Unconditioned Presence. Therefore, the thinking mind is not separate from this deeper awareness nor are the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions considered to be problematic. Indeed, Welwood affirms, “It is more a question of being fully awake within thoughts, feelings, and perceptions when they arise, no longer maintaining a hair-breath of separation from whatever arises” (Welwood, 2000, p. 114).
Thus, DM is a process by which one realizes the basic inherent essence from which all else arises.
The Practice of Deep Mindfulness
“Enlightenment is not some ideal goal, perfect state of mind, or spiritual realm on high, but a journey that takes place on this earth. It is the process of waking up to all of what we are and making a complete relationship with that” (Welwood, 2000, p. 33).
As we sit in mindful inner awareness we can see how we are constantly trying to maintain our identity structure through our thoughts. Welwood (2000) notes that our thoughts are like glue that hold the personality structure together. Simple non-judgmental awareness can actually act as a gentle solvent that begins to dissolve the glue-like effect of these thoughts and loosen our attachment to this “compulsive self-maintaining process” (Welwood, 2000).
When we bring DM to inner suffering, we first experience ourselves caught in the grip of painful thoughts and emotions, then, patiently working through to more subtle blocks and holdings, we eventually find ourselves in an unconditional realm where problematic thoughts and emotions dissolve or we lose our need to change them or ourselves (Bradford, 2007). Bradford notes that this is called self-liberation but does it not refer to being liberated from a “self” but rather that the problematic identifications and fixations spontaneously liberate themselves (Bradford, 2007).
Therapeutic Presence vs Unconditioned Mind
Bradford (2007) distinguishes between our focus in MSR, which he refers to as Therapeutic Presence and our focus in DM, or Unconditioned Mind. He notes that both Therapeutic Presence and Unconditioned Mind engage our entire being, including thought, emotions, imagination, and somatic experiencing to explore inner experience. However, when we are engaged in Therapeutic Presence, we are focused on and attending to our specific moment to moment experience. In contrast, when we rest our awareness in Unconditioned Presence, we are not focusing on anything in particular (Bradford, 2007).
Welwood (2000) agrees that DM attention is not focused on any particular content or experience but rather “… allows a whole field to be experienced at once without linear analysis… and is beyond subject/object division” (Welwood, 2000, p. 64). Welwood (2000) continues to explain, that when there is no identification happening with either the observer or with what is observed, awareness remains undivided, and “a new freedom, freshness, clarity, and compassion become available” (Welwood, 2000, p. 100).
Fenner (2003) tells us that the Unconditioned Mind reconditions thought patterns and emotions and changes the very structure of our conditioning.
Walking into the Eye of a Hurricane
Welwood (2000) notes that the experience of facing our emotions can be akin to walking into the eye of a hurricane. The surrounding wind can feel like it will blow us away but if we keep on walking toward the center, we will come to a clear, still opening in the middle of the storm. Fenner notes that resting our awareness in this opening of Unconditioned Mind is profoundly healing, as it soothes our minds and repairs the damage to our nervous systems caused by pain and trauma.
Bradford, G. (2007). The play of unconditioned presence in existential-integrative psychotherapy. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 39 (1), 23-47. Retrieved March 14, 2012, from ProQuest Psychology Journals. (Document ID: 1389177851).
Fenner, P. (2003). Nonduality and therapy: Awakening the unconditioned mind. In J. J. Prendergast, P. Fenner, & S. Krystal (Eds.), The sacred mirror: Nondual wisdom and Psychotherapy (pp.23-56). St Paul: Paragon House.
Welwood, J. (2000). Toward a psychology of awakening: Buddhism, psychotherapy, and the path of personal and spiritual transformation. Boston: Shambala Publications.