The following is excerpted from Michel Ribeiro’s article: Mindfulness Meditation: Healing Through Groups which appeared in The Group Psychologist, Newsletter of Group Psychology & Group Psychotherapy, November 2009, Vol. 19 No. 3, pp 10-12.
There remains a fine line between imprisonment and freedom, reaction and action, eternity and impermanence. It is upon walking this fine line that meditation has shown me the way. As a therapist,
being mindful in the moment with a client allows me to understand my own reactions and to feel my compassion for their narrative. Mindfulness also equips me with a set of skills to introduce to my clients, a new way of holding emotional pain rather than quickly following an old pattern of thinking or feeling. Mindfulness builds the capacity to tolerate often-intolerable suffering.
Mindfulness meditation invites an individual to see things as they really are, not as one would like them to be. In so doing, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness in a purposeful and nonjudgmental way (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). According to Fleishman (2001), once “meditative mindfulness” becomes established, one can directly observe “the manner in which our thoughts become embodied” (p. 6). Thus, it is the practice that allows individuals to come out of emotional and physical pain, not the intellectual understanding of mindfulness’ utility.
In 1995, I sat my first 10-day silent retreat at a Vipassana Meditation Center in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. I knew after my first course that my life could no longer be the same and I am a happier person because of the path I have chosen. I was working at a transitional living home for adolescent girls at the time when I was struck by the teaching of the meditation—“we create our own misery and there is a way out of it.” I realized then through Fleishman’s work Vipassana Meditation: Healing the Healer that all of us in the psychotherapy field need to cleanse our hearts and minds and that our own therapy is not enough. Sitting through a 10-day course is a cleansing process where pain and pleasure are
experienced and the ego can be observed. After my first course, I talked with fellow colleagues about how the course allowed me to see my work with clients in profound ways and that we as counselors
could engage more compassionately with the clients we serve, through this practice. The therapists were not interested at the time, but expressed happiness for my experience. The following year, I began working as a family therapist providing home based services. My continued meditation practice allowed me to see things, both pain and pleasure of my life and my clients’ lives through a new lens. The practice and the benefits of the practice were clear to me; however, others who I knew continued to question it. The following year, my journey in meditation blossomed further as I sojourned throughout India, Nepal and Myanmar, particularly sitting 10-day courses and experiencing the ever-changing reality within. I began to understand my own reactions and how my mind expanded and filled with compassion for people and how to be more equanimous with all of life’s experiences. I returned to the U.S. one and a half years later humbled but still using my practice as a way to explore people in understanding reaction and the attachment and aversion process to pain and pleasure. I continued to sit daily and participated in 10-day silent retreats on a yearly basis. My meditation practice remained personal and interfaced professionally only through the interactions of being present with my clients, until graduate school when I began researching meditation and considered writing my dissertation on the topic. Due to the area being new to faculty in my department and minimal in its’ generalizability to psychotherapy practice, I decided to abort my research in the area.
Appreciating development that occurs during university studies, my interest in mindfulness meditation with college students was reignited when I interviewed at Oregon State University and met a psychologist who was considering starting a mindfulness meditation group based on Kabat-Zinn’s work in Full Catastrophe Living. In 2005, I was hired at Oregon State University’s Counseling Center as a psychologist. After these 10 years of meditation practice, I decided mindfulness would complement a strength based therapeutic approach to working with college students and thus I began collaborating with the colleague I met during my interview, who by the start of my employment had successfully facilitated one mindfulness meditation group. Currently at the center, we co-facilitate mindfulness meditation groups every term with numbers of students ranging from five to eleven who appear ready, open and intrigued to practice. The group becomes a natural home for mindfulness meditation because the practice allows students to learn a skill within a supportive environment and to experience living moment to moment.