The question is it enough to read about Mindfulness to have it? Or is Mindfulness even enough?

Talking about mindfulness is a little like reading a label on a prescription bottle without taking the medicine, and expecting it to work anyway.

When therapists come to our workshops and classes on integrating mindfulness with psychotherapy, the most common difficulty we notice them having, is that they see mindfulness as a philosophy or accessory to add to their toolbox. Some have a sense that because of their intense training in the realm of feelings and emotions that they know what mindfulness is without achieving the same intense training for it.

Alarmingly, more and more therapists who might have taken a 3 hour seminar with some authority figure for a few Continuing Education Units are already promoting themselves as “Mindful Therapists.”As a composer, I can tell you that having read a few books on music and taking a class or two did not make me a composer. The same holds true for mindfulness.

Although helpful, mindfulness isn’t developed by talking about it or reading books on it any more than our muscles would be strengthened by reading about weight training. Only through skillful and intensive practice is mindfulness cultivated – and like developing muscles in the body, there are definite exercises that cultivate mindfulness. If you are familiar with MBSR, you’ll get a glimpse of the kind of effort and patience it takes to develop this quality of mind.

Although in extremely capable hands, the academic world has newly acquired the concept of mindfulness directly from a 2500 year old Buddhist tradition. A development, I believe, will ultimately be one of the most profound changes in the world of mental health since Jung – I applaud their efforts – yet it has far to go before it becomes a holistic system rather than the flavor of the day.

I’ve taught as an adjunct teacher at the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA and I can tell you that many skilled and long-term practitioners of mindfulness who are trained at providing a teaching that is connected to the core of where these teaching came from are facing difficulties. Painstakingly, they continue to attempt the transition from a 2500 year old Buddhist model to a secular medicine/psychology model (while simultaneously doing their best not to alert the “religion police”) and it’s a tremendously difficult and worthwhile task that may take many years to bring to a worthy standard.

Until then, the effects of such an approach may be diluted. This is because the concept and practice of mindfulness is plucked out of a rich, integrated “system” of training for the heart and the mind – and the rest of the elements in that system are absolutely essential for mindfulness to function in any real and sustainable way and serve the goal of our long-term happiness and well-being.

In many cases, important aspects for successful learning of Mindfulness have not yet been clarified, such as the fact that, first and foremost, mindfulness is a constant practice that must work in unison with qualities such as concentration, energy, kindness and ethical behavior if it is to work properly. Or that mindfulness is a path to what the Buddha calls “the end of suffering.”

So, we begin our Integration courses for our therapists with this emphasis: If you want to incorporate mindfulness into your life and your professional practice, learning about acquiring the skill of mindfulness alone isn’t enough. For example, without enough concentration, mindfulness is very much like a ship without a rudder. Without compassion, and ethical behavior (lack of greed, hatred and delusion), mindfulness quickly goes awry.

Then there is this thing called practice – doing it – and the only way to do it is through consistently practicing the exercises for the mind which develop it via mediation and in daily life.

I’d like to emphasize that mindfulness cannot be cultivated from discussion or thinking alone. It must be developed in the same way one learns a musical instrument – one ungraceful and arduous step at a time. Also as with studying an instrument, the most reliable way to practice it well is to study with a well-trained and experienced teacher – and practice it daily – until your skill with it has developed to the point where you don’t need to talk about it any more.

I offer these thoughts for your reflection – please take what you find truthful and beneficial and leave the rest.

*(paraphrasing the Buddhist meditation master, Ajahn Cha)