Mapping modalities of self-awareness in mindfulness practice: a potential mechanism for clarifying habits of mind

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2014 Jan;1307:28-42. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12270. Epub 2013 Oct 1.


To better understand the neurobiological mechanisms by which mindfulness-based practices function in a psychotherapeutic context, this article details the definition, techniques, and purposes ascribed to mindfulness training as described by its Buddhist tradition of origin and by contemporary neurocognitive models. Included is theory of how maladaptive mental processes become habitual and automatic, both from the Buddhist and Western psychological perspective. Specific noting and labeling techniques in open monitoring meditation, described in the Theravada and Western contemporary traditions, are highlighted as providing unique access to multiple modalities of awareness. Potential explicit and implicit mechanisms are discussed by which such techniques can contribute to transforming maladaptive habits of mind and perceptual and cognitive biases, improving efficiency, facilitating integration, and providing the flexibility to switch between systems of self-processing. Finally, a model is provided to describe the timing by which noting and labeling practices have the potential to influence different stages of low- and high-level neural processing. Hypotheses are proposed concerning both levels of processing in relation to the extent of practice. Implications for the nature of subjective experience and self-processing as it relates to one's habits of mind, behavior, and relation to the external world, are also described.

Keywords: awareness; bias; habit; meditation; mindfulness; self.

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Awareness
  • Buddhism*
  • Cognition
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Mind-Body Relations, Metaphysical
  • Mindfulness*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Stress, Psychological