A hermeneutic exploration of mindfulness psychology
This thesis explores the theory and practice of mindfulness within the context of clinical psychology. Informed by philosophical hermeneutics, it seeks to understand (1) mindfulness, (2) how mindfulness works and (3) how mindfulness interfaces with cognitive and behavioural psychologies.
In recent years, use of mindfulness based psychological therapies has significantly increased within the field of clinical psychology and growing empirical evidence supports the efficacy of these interventions. However, the integration of non-dualistic philosophies and practices, i.e. mindfulness within dualistic clinical psychology, challenges this development.
I have developed a research methodology and methods that endeavour to accommodate theories, philosophies and practices emerging from seemingly opposing worldviews. The method, termed mindfulness hermeneutics, has been modified to accommodate the non-dualistic worldview and involves the ongoing practice of meditation. The thesis therefore draws understandings from relevant psychological literature, ancient and contemporary Eastern philosophies, expert clinicians’ opinions and personal insights derived from the ongoing practice of meditation.
Elucidation of the structure and mechanism of mind suggests that the conditioned mind has three components with distinct functions. The automatic mind which is the most perceptible component of the conditioned mind consists of thoughts, attitudes, schemas, beliefs, emotions and memory. It functions automatically without conscious awareness. The subtle mind consists of ego which functions through constant desiring or intentionality. The observing mind, which comes into existence at the time of observation, comprises a quantum state of awareness and subtle ego. The main function of the observing mind is to execute awareness. This interpretation supports the claim that autonomous functioning of the conditioned mind and one’s identification with the conditioned mind leads to suffering which, in turn, may lead to psychopathology.
Mindfulness practice is both a process and outcome. As a process, mindfulness is a meditation technique and, as an outcome, it achieves a state of awareness. The four key mechanisms of mindfulness, namely, regulation of attention, regulation of energy, witnessing and unconditional observation gradually transform the conditioned mind into pure awareness. I have argued that awareness of the mind’s functioning and meta-conditioning ameliorates suffering and restores health.
Comparison between the Eastern philosophies and clinical psychology reveals that the conditioned mind, in the case of the Eastern philosophies, and cognitions and behaviours, in the case of clinical psychology, are acquired through learning (conditioning). However, while the Eastern philosophers understand that the mind is conditioned through insights developed from meditation; empirical theorists derive understandings of cognitions and behaviours through learning models. Eastern philosophers claim that meditation allows one to experience the mechanism lying behind thoughts and emotions i.e. awareness and energy, whereas clinical psychology has yet to adequately research awareness and energy. The thesis suggests ways in which clinical psychology could overcome this dichotomy and better integrate with mindfulness theory and practice.