Why does mindfulness-based pain therapy (MBPT) include meditation?

Meditation supports practitioners in allowing intellectual realizations to become personal experiences. The bits of wisdom that feel appropriate will eventually become a solid component of their lives.


Meditation is a good opportunity for training and cultivating mindfulness. The steps of mindfulness are practiced in formal meditation so that they can ultimately be mastered in the everyday application.


A positive aspect of mindfulness-based pain therapy (MBPT) is that it is not necessary to grapple with theoretical knowledge about meditation in order to fully enjoy the advantages of this method and immediately start with the practice. So if you are not especially interested in theoretical statements on the topic of meditation, simply ignore this section.


Definition of Meditation

Meditation is the non-intentional perception of what occurs inside of us: We observe what is happening in our mind and our body. Non-intentionality consists of looking without wanting to change anything, taking a benevolent inventory of the things that we find inside ourselves – no matter whether we think they are good or not.


In this sense, we can meditate anywhere and at anytime: in a quiet place, while speaking, while thinking, and any other time…


So meditation does not mean sitting motionless with crossed legs by candlelight and enjoying the peace and quiet. That would be relaxation and only has a very limited value for the way in which we deal with our everyday problems.


The idea that we rest and relax while meditating is wrong. Concentration (and not calming) is the method for achieving a meditative state. It is an indispensible requirement and always related to effort. Therefore: Meditation is not associated with resting.


In Western countries, meditation techniques are now also practiced independent of religious aspects or spiritual goals for supporting general well-being and within the scope of psychotherapy.



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In earlier times, meditation was a strict and rigid endeavor. It was only oriented toward religiosity and reserved for an elite of monks and nuns who were first allowed to become familiar with the secrets of meditation after examinations, but the path to meditation is open to everyone today. All of the media is available to us as information channels in this process. Although people still had to travel to the gurus and yogis during the 1960s, the teachers soon found their way to the West. The certainty that meditation provides its practitioners with a great many advantages and can deliver instruments for coping with a large variety of problems is now widespread.


However, it is also important to understand that detaching the meditation techniques from their spiritual context and having a purely instrumental understanding of meditation as a tool for solving the problems of the 21 st century can be very challenging – especially when the non-intentionality is threatened, which can cause the entire endeavor to fail.


Another important point to emphasize is that meditation is not just “something Asian” without any relationship to our own culture. All cultures and religions have their own meditative elements and traditions.


Types of Meditation

There are many approaches to meditation. The first look at the theoretical aspects may be confusing because “the package does not always contain what it says on the outside.” A certain degree of structure is good for the cause and may save years of frustrated wandering.


The one thing that all forms of meditation have in common is that the meditator concentrates on something such as an object. Categorization becomes possible by naming the meditation according to the object of its concentration: breath meditation, body meditation, metta meditation (meditation that is oriented toward the development of loving kindness), and mindfulness meditation.



As quickly as possible, let go of the idea that meditation is somehow related to resting. But it is also separate from the defined goals that you want to achieve by means of meditation. Meditation only works when it exists in non-intentional practice. As soon as you connect it with a goal, nothing will happen: This can result in wasted time and effort, frustration, and maybe ultimately even giving up the meditation practice.


Analytical meditation, which promotes insight into the true nature of things, occurs in five phases:


1. Meditation always starts with concentration on an object, for which a proper amount of discipline is required. Such an object could be:


  • An actual object (picture, sculpture, or an idea of it)
  • A syllable or word (mantra)
  • A sentence (spoken or thought)
  • A sensory perception (hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, or smelling)
  • A physical sensation (touch, temperature)
  • A physical process (breathing, heart beats)
  • A thought
  • An idea
  • A memory
  • A feeling


A state of mental peace and stability is achieved by always concentrating on the same object and the constant (non-criticizing, benevolent, and friendly) refocusing on it whenever the mind may wander. Such inner peace is also called concentrative relaxation. It arises within the scope of an organismic shift from the work mode to the recuperation mode. The recuperation mode is significant because it allows learning to occur much more easily than a tense state. In spiritual literature, this process is also called “grounding.” The recuperation mode leads us to surrendering and immersing ourselves in it. When this occurs, it is necessary to also immediately refocus on the initial object and allow concentration to increase again.

It is therefore absolutely not true that the meditator only moves in one direction with a concentrated beginning, away from tenseness and toward relaxation. Instead, the meditator seeks a balance between these two poles. The art of meditating consists of always keeping the concentration on the object and patiently returning to it time and again whenever new thoughts constantly arise or the sleepiness threatens to win the upper hand. The advantage of the classic meditation pose is that it counteracts both the mental unrest, as well as the sleepiness.

Some meditators may think that the definition of meditation is adequately fulfilled in their realization of mental peace and stability. When we speak of concentrative meditation that serves the creation of mental peace, then this is correct. But we can also benefit much more from meditation when it involves gaining insights in the so-called analytical meditation.


2. In the second phase, the strategy of directing the attention changes. In an active process, the meditator moves from always focusing on the same object to an all-encompassing attention or a receptive (expanded) consciousness. This easing or expansion allows a state of relaxed alertness that is also called the “inner space.” During this phase, analytical observing is possible. When other stimuli once again push into the foreground, it is important to be aware of them without being self-critical; instead, gently return to step 1 and observe the breath or the respective selected object and once against continue with step 2 once mental stability has been achieved again.


3. The receptive consciousness, the inner space, allows a development from the state of categorizing and judging to “simply being present in the here and now.” This is also called an “identity shift.


4. Contemplation phase: Insights and understanding are developed in the fourth phase. In mindfulness-based pain therapy (MBPT), such an insight could be that a portion of the pain-associated suffering leads back to our own patterns of thought and behavior and that going through the mindfulness cascade helps let go of this suffering.


5. Development of wisdom: A secure feeling of inner wisdom arises in the last phase of the analytical meditation. The newly gained insights are tested in everyday life and become a firm component in a new view of things. In MBPT, this could be a changed perspective of our own pain experiences and the dependence of the related suffering on automated thought processes.


Copyright Dr. Peter Tamme and Dr. Iris Tamme

Last update: September 21, 2012