Authors: (Frank A.M. Vernooij and Jesse Vernooij, Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, St. Antonius Ziekenhuis Hospital Utrecht, The Netherlands, and others)
Abstract: Can man be regarded as a complex, layered being, with a biological, a
psychological and a spiritual aspect which are interrelated? Layers that
permeate each other, that can be distinguished but not separated? Does the
concept of freedom of choice connect to this? Can thoroughly thinking about
mindfulness and research on it throw light on these issues? The purpose of this
paper is to give some answers to the questions above.
By considering essential characteristics of mindfulness, theoretical aspects
on different levels of abstraction and by describing the effects of the practice
on a psychological level and a spiritual level, we intend to give evidence for
the interrelation of these layers, and thereby of the layering itself. Mindfulness
stems from contemplative spiritual traditions and it is a core element of it. It is
interesting to see that the practice of mindfulness in a spiritual perspective and
in a psychological perspective correspond with one another. By using the
concept of ‗correspondence‘ we indicate a comparable underlying structure.
We will mark the significant points of distinction and transition between
mindfulness in a spiritual and a psychological context and we will discuss the
concept of the soul in this context.
Man being a layered being living in a layered world, is not a new idea. In
fact, it is possibly one of the oldest ideas about our existence that has been
thought since human thinking advanced. Actually it is still in many cultures a
dominating idea in everyday life. In its biological aspect man obviously has
the least freedom of choice. All human bodies resemble each other and in this
aspect mankind still resembles his animal nature. In its psychological and
spiritual aspect life of man can be seen as less or more or even totally different
from the animal way of life. In these aspects, indeed, there seems to be a
freedom of choice.
Mindfulness, since it has attracted so much scientific interest in the last
decades, could be conceived as a gift to the science of psychology.
Psychology, especially in this period, has directed itself, in its theorizing and
methods of research, strongly to the relative observable, mechanical, outward
and instinctive aspects of mankind. Evolutionary psychology, behavior therapy
and in part cognitive behavior therapy, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
of Mental Disorders, the method of randomized controlled designs of research
and the strong interest in genetics, neuro-psychology and the working of the
brain, they all breathe a strong, and sometimes rigid, conviction that
psychology should follow the concept of science and the methods of research
of the natural sciences: the sciences of the material side and the mechanical
aspects of life where all building blocks are alike and the laws relatively
simple. It has brought us a lot of knowledge about how the average,
conditioned, man behaves, but little about other more unique and subtle
qualities in man and in his relating with others.
We think that thinking about the essence of mindfulness and evidence
coming from research about it, reopens a view, which gradually has been lost,
in which man can be regarded as more than an accidentally advanced animal,
indeed endowed with possibilities which give him a freedom of choice, a sense
of meaning about an inherent unity of everything in existence and a key to
acquiring peace. In this way, mindfulness, supported by scientific evidence,
could become of immense value for the well-being of future mankind, and can
be regarded as a phenomenon with transformative potential in the evolution of
man in respect to his natural, conditioned ‗animal-way‘ of life.