Chapter 8: Eastern Phenomenology
It should also be noted that the Buddhist technique now commonly referred to as mindfulness has increasingly been identified as the quintessential phenomenological method and has been around for over 2500 years. (Varela et at 1993) In traditional Buddhist writings mindfulness is known as Vipassana .
Mindfulness has been defined as “the self regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for the increased recognition of mental events in the present moment” and “a particular orientation towards one's experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterised by curiosity openness and acceptance.” (Bishop 2004)
The eastern tradition has long term training practices for developing the capacity for mindfulness. The core practice is usually sitting meditation practice. However, mindfulness practitioners try to infuse this approach into all their daily activities by the practice of Mindfulness in action techniques .
Over the last 30 years a number of mindfulness therapies have been developed and experimentally validated. This began with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979. In parallel, there has been an explosion of brain research which has shone some light on the processes of mindfulness and therefore phenomenology.
As the brain is the organ of the mind it is edifying to note the changes in the brain associated with meditation. The significance of these positive brain changes associated with meditation is that the processes involved in adopting the phenomenological stance can be trained and strengthened.
Even people who have only been meditating regularly for eight weeks show increased blood flow to the left frontal region of the brain. (Davidson et al 2003) This is an area important in the formation of intention and the control of attention. Both of these faculties are critical in the practice of phenomenology.
Lazar et al (2005) found that long term mindfulness meditators had increased thickening of the cortex of the middle prefrontal regions of the brain and of the right insula. These structures seem to be involved with empathy and self observation.
Brain areas that are thicker in practitioners of Insight meditation than control subjects who do not meditate. Graphs show age and cortical thickness of each individual, red= control subjects, blue = meditators.
Link: YouTube - Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Bishop, Scott R., et al ( 2004) Mindfulness, A proposed Operational Definition Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11: 230-241
Davidson, Richard J., Kabat-Zinn, Jon, et al. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine , 65, 564-570.
Lazar Sara W, et al (2005)Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport; 16:1893-1897.
Varela Francisco J., Thompson Evan T., Rosch Eleanor (1992) The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience MIT Press Massachusetts