Art and medicine:

Maps of Mindfulness -
Mindfulness in times of crisis
Mindfulness in Western medicine and psychotherapy

The project

In 2007, the medical doctor and psychiatrist Ulrike Anderssen-Reuster (Dresden) invited me to co-author one of the first books in the German market, in which medical doctors, scientists, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, philosophers and other thinkers explore the role of mindfulness in corporal, neurological and mental healing processes. The authors present new investigations and understandings of this technique and its application in clinical and everyday life.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a meditative practice known in Buddhist philosophy but also the Christian culture. It stands for a posture of uninvolved, calm observation of all phenomena presenting themselves, including our own thoughts and emotions: we are serene, unruffled witnesses of all that is and happens. As opposed to concentration, mindfulness does not aim to turn our focus onto something specific; instead, it seeks opening our consciousness towards the most ample panorama possible. In the past decades, mindfulness has entered Western therapy practices and become object of scientific research.

Navigating without landscape and map?

My essay – “Maps of Mindfulness – Mindfulness in times of crisis” – explores how, in times of transitions and crisis, not only our known answers are tested, but the very fundaments of our orientation begin to lose their connection with reality hitherto familiar to us. No matter how hard we cling to our convictions and values: they seem to have lost their regulating and commanding power. My essay builds on the notion that outer reality (the world of things and facts) and inner reality (our perception, cognition and interpretations) are not separate realms: they collaborate jointly in the creation of our world. This leads to the thesis that the crumbling of know orders – painful as it might be – also contains the seed of growth. In such phases it is common that our perspectives contract to a tunnel view and that our attention narrows down to one focal point of danger: we then are paralyzed by the threats and contradictions we perceive, and by our impossibility to resolve them. The essay proposes working with navigation maps. Starting precisely from what we concentrate on, these maps may help amplifying our views not only as regards outer circumstances but also ourselves.

Images of the unimaginable?

The essay is illustrated by images of Mr. Fivehair who accompanies the reader looking to move from a state of limited and limiting concentration toward a state of observing broad awareness. Mindfulness allows us becoming conscious of the dual nature of our own emotions, ideas and conceptions: they are a vehicle to approach reality (of which they themselves form a part), and they are a barrier to access this reality. Of course, no image will redeem us from this paradox – as no words, mathematical formulas or any other system of representation will. But art can put in vibration our potential of feeling beyond the limits of emotions, sensing beyond the boundaries of senses, and recognizing beyond what body and mind are capable of perceiving. In that sense, art does not compete with other representations: an image does not say more than a thousand words. It points toward that which withdraws from words.