Mindfulness and EI

Mindfulness and EI

13/08/18 Ian Llewellyn-Nash Emotional Intelligence Off Comments

Mindfulness has been defined as: “ Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn 1987) “A receptive attention to, and awareness of present events, and experiences”. (Brown & Cresswell 2007:212).

Over the past three decades, the original Buddhist approach to mindfulness and meditative practice has developed into the concept of a therapeutic mindfulness: a significant factor in a range of psychological contexts (Law 2012). There are uses such as the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme (Malinowski 2008) in association with counselling and/ or psychotherapy e.g. in methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy. Within such programmes, mindfulness is developed within a systematic meditative approach where focus on an object, or sensation is the key attribution of the exercise. When movement occurs away from the focus subjects refocus their attention. Emergent thoughts and/ or emotions are acknowledged in a dispassionate manner to increase awareness of the topic under focus.

This awareness is in contrast to other types of meditation that serve to contract awareness for a more pure focused concentration. Malinowski (2008) refers to this process as a ‘dispassionate’ state of mind. It seems as though the participant in such mindfulness activity is emotionally neutral, particularly when Malinowski (2008) alludes to a sense of disassociation from one’s thoughts, and feelings during times of emotional challenge. The practice of disassociation, however cannot be dismissed, as the ability to step outside of an emerging emotional crisis, and identify and regulate (or manage) how one responds to events like this lies at the heart of emotionally wise actions. Mindfulness is not new in the sense of being novel. It has been around as a practice for some 2,500 years (Malinowski 2008).

The dichotomy between ancient sacred texts and contemporary therapeutic practice occasioned a gathering in 2004 in order to determine a working definition of mindfulness. Bishop et al. (2004) as a result developed a two-component conceptualization of mindfulness. Firstly, that mindfulness is the ability to focus attention and the subsidiary ability to refocus attention when straying away. Secondly, that the individual is able to accept experiences whether they are desirable or not. In this theoretical approach, mindfulness is therefore an attentional awareness to the experiential now. Bishop et al. (2004) make a good point of stating that the benefits of mindfulness practice, e.g. calmness, self-trust, patience should not be confused with mindfulness itself. Baer et al (2006) carried out a meta-analysis of psychometric based self-report scales into mindfulness. They suggest a five- factor construct:

1. Acting with awareness- i.e. attention to the present moment
2. Non-judging of inner experience
3. Observing- noticing and attending to inner and outer experiences including emotions and thoughts and somatic sensations
4. Describing- labeling internal experiences
5. Non-reactivity- disassociated and dispassionate observation of emotions and thoughts There is a difference between the two-component construct of Bishop et al. (2004) and this approach of Baer et al. (2006).


Malinowski (2008) notes that there may be some overlap between the experiential awareness of Bishop et al. (2004) and the comments of Baer et al. with regard to ‘nonjudging’ and ‘observing’. Additionally, there may be some overlap between attentional awareness in both models. The remaining three elements however, Malinowski (2008) suggests possibly reflect mindfulness outcomes and should not be confused with mindfulness as a practice. The connection between emotional intelligence and mindfulness appears with regard to notions of emotion regulation, self-esteem, and adaptiveness in behavioural responses (Pepping et al. 2013). It is this openness element of mindfulness that holds opportunity for healthcare professionals to more fully engage, orient themselves towards those they care for without necessarily being swamped by the over-bearing negativity of some nurse-patient encounters. Emotions are arguably neutral artifacts.

Their impact and / or influence upon us depend to a great degree in how we respond to emotions as they emerge. Such responses, as muted above may be wise or unwise. Ciarrochi and Mayer (2007) suggest that using emotions wisely is about recognising which emotions are best suited to the context in which we find ourselves. Ciarrochi and Mayer (2007) have suggested that Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence Training (MBEIT) can help individuals to be open to the range of possibilities that emotions afford them. In their approach, they link aspects of the ability-based model (e.g. emotional detection, emotional understanding and emotional management) of EI to mindfulness approaches.

Two techniques that Ciarrochi & Mayer allude to are those of emotional orientation and ‘Defusion’. The first enables the individual to open themselves up to a range of emotional states and awareness (and stay open). They observe: “Being willing’ means having emotions, without trying to change them, even when they are extremely unpleasant, and even when they are leading to unhelpful cognitive biases. Ineffective emotional orientation involves the tendency to change or chronically suppress unpleasant private experience in a way that interferes with valued living”. (2007: 149). To illustrate this they cite the example of post-traumatic stress disorders in which individuals will avoid people and places that are connected with the triggering of painful emotions, although at the same time such avoidance does not negate the associated pain of memories. Practically, MBETI encourages individuals to reflect on the extent to which avoidance strategies have worked in getting them to change their distress. Often, the futility of such strategies emerges and an alternative approach of letting go of emotion control emerges as a valid way forward.

Defusion, according to Ciarrochi and Mayer (2007) is a learned skill that enables individuals to disassociate themselves from the pain of verbal assaults. They use the labeling of someone as ‘stupid’ in a fused context, which elicits pain emotionally in the hearer. The hearer, however has choice and can mitigate such emotional trauma by means of defusing and turning the words into sounds, or incomprehensible language, and thus has little, to no impact upon your emotions.

Skills within the MBEIT approach might draw on aspects listed above such as non-judgmental, observer roles. Emotions are what they are: signals, not substances. Law (2012) in discussing the relationship of Buddhist philosophy and a secular mindfulness highlights an interesting perspective as to the place of ‘emotion’ in Buddhist philosophy. He states that Buddhism has no equivalent phrase for emotion. Instead it alludes to ‘mind states’ that are either wholesome, or unwholesome. Hatred would be unwholesome; compassion would be wholesome.

In contrast, contemporary secularized mindfulness has an absence of this application of mindfulness. This lack of utilitarian focus on mindfulness and mind states that add or detract value seems a pivotal aspect of both emotional intelligence/ wisdom and mindfulness. To be emotionally adaptive to the contexts and demands being made upon oneself, personally and professionally, a recognition of that which adds to your lived experience and that which undermines, would seem most appropriate.

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