About Dr. Smith
I am a Professor of Psychology at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, and founding Director of the Roosevelt University Mindfulness Initiative (formerly the Stress Institute).
My work focuses on advanced mindfulness theory and practice, with applications in business, health, sports, education, the military, and religion. In addition I publish in the areas of critical thinking (as applied to paranormal claims) as well as stress management.
I have served as Psychology Department Chair where I proposed and won University approval of a doctoral program in clinical psychology.
My publications include 24 books and more than three dozen articles. In addition, I served as expert outside reviewer for PsycCRITIQUES, Perceptual and Motor Skills, The Brain, and Psychosomatic Medicine. I have published invited chapters as “guest expert” in eight textbooks and encyclopedias. My book publishers have included Aldine, Guilford Press, Macmillan, Oxford University Press, Plenum, Praeger, Prentice-Hall, Research Press, Springer, and Wiley/Blackwell. Currently I teach courses on meditation / mindfulness / contemplation / relaxation at Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
Our Approach to Mindfulness
Professional relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness have come of age. The big reason is that these techniques work. Skills at relaxation, meditation, and mindfulness may yield many rewards for health, productivity, and well-being.
But there are problems. Some are afraid to try, confused by the many approaches available. Students persist with important questions:
• Which techniques are really mindfulness?
• Which fit my beliefs, or my religion?
• Are some in conflict with what I hold as true?
For those who have chosen an approach, questions may persist.
• I’m frustrated by long sessions.
• Am I practicing the right technique? Is there something better?
• This is distracting. I can’t focus. It takes too long. I don’t know if this exercise is working.
Over the decades I have developed an approach that addresses these questions, both for those new to mindfulness and those who want to enhance what they already practice. I call this approach the M-Tracker Method. My goal has been to maximize success and emphasize the following:
• Individualize training,
• Introduce ideas and exercises compatible with a wide range of belief systems,
• Incorporate enhancements during “dry periods” when mindfulness doesn’t seem to be working
• Strengthen the likelihood of early progress,
• Decrease mind wandering and distraction,
• Make practice interesting,
• Provide easily identified indicators of progress, and
• Encourage the generalization of mindfulness skills to life at large.
Since 1984 I have taught various combinations of mindfulness and dozens of companion disciplines to roughly 5,000 students and clients. I have not restricted my instruction to mindful meditation, but have included a full rainbow of approaches, including progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, breathing exercises, t’ai chi, autogenic training, imagery, contemplation, loving kindness meditation and gratitude meditation. My students have taught me important lessons about what works and how to effectively present mindfulness.
The Eye of Mindfulness
The Eye of Mindfulness. Most contemporary programs of mindfulness teach four basic exercises: body scanning meditation, breath scanning meditation, focused attention meditation, and open monitoring mindfulness meditation. I combine all four into one sequence, the Eye of Mindfulness. The Eye of Mindfulness is our home exercise. Again and again we return to this exercise after exploring others. Central to the Eye is the core exercise of mindfulness proper (often called “open monitoring”). In our perspective, all relaxation, all meditation, and all mindfulness ultimately end with open monitoring, a calm and accepting awareness of the world as it is.
Complimentary techniques and the Mindfulness Universe. I Teach a variety of complimentary or companion approaches, presented as different ways of attending mindfully, that is with focus and acceptance (Smith, 2015). There is a universe of mindfulness-related techniques. Some are body-oriented, including progressive muscle relaxation, yoga stretching, t’ai chi, breathing, and autogenics. Others are cognitive and emotional, including imagery, contemplation, loving/kindness meditation, gratitude meditation, and prayer. Students have an opportunity to select exercises to do before practicing the Eye of Mindfulness as a warmup, or to do after as a way of exploring and expressing mindfulness. Complimentary approaches enable the student to more richly understand the nuances of mindfulness. They provide ways of enduring “dry periods” when mindfulness seems not to be working.
In a sense, my combination approach isn’t exactly new. People have combined mindfulness with other exercises and activities for millennia. It is surprising that an exercise that can be defined with fewer words than a proper pushup has inspired such a variety of training formats. Precede mindfulness with yoga and breathing. Combine mindfulness with loving prayer and imagery. Practice mindfulness alone, without warmup. Practice in groups. Practice with one-minute sessions. Practice with eight-hour sessions. Practice after an inspirational story, poem, or song. Practice during communal feasts. Practice after fasting.
In spite of this diversity, little has been written about the different effects of combinations. Perhaps this is the result of not having a formal tool for providing practitioners with feedback enabling them to compare approaches, a telescope for peering into the skies of mindfulness. Perhaps what is lacking is a universal map, one not locked to any specific tradition or religion.
The M-Tracker and The Mindfulness Universe
Our observational tool and map of the mindfulness universe are one in the same: the M-Tracker. This tool is based on a comprehensive and unique list of mindfulness related states (which we call “M-States”) that might emerge in practice. It is the product of nearly two decades of research involving 6,608 participants and over 40 types of activities and exercises. The M-Tracker is truly a universal tool not locked into any single technique, religion, or philosophy, but derived from hundreds of core instructional texts and guides for the full rainbow of mindfulness disciplines, including meditation, zen, prayer, contemplation, yoga, breathing, tai chi, progressive muscle relaxation, autogenics, hypnosis, imagery, and even more esoteric mystical endeavors. It is not a map of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, or secular spirituality. Instead, it is a meta-map, compatible with all.
The M-Tracker is an essential component of how we teach mindfulness and companion disciplines in the mindfulness universe. It identifies M-States that can be signs of progress and enables one to compare the relative effectiveness of different strategies. It is also provides a practical introduction to universal mindfulness theory. That is, key defining elements of mindfulness are actually embedded in questionnaire items. By repeatedly applying the M-Tracker, the practitioner gradually and gently learns more and more about the nature of mindfulness.
Again, our core exercise is the Eye of Mindfulness, articulated and defined through the M-Tracker and enriched through complimentary approaches from the mindfulness universe. Our overall strategy is to cycle from mindfulness to an exploration of companion exercises and back to mindfulness. The Eye of Mindfulness becomes our home base in a journey through a universe of complimentary approaches. At times a student will choose a complimentary approach to combine with mindfulness, perhaps practiced as warmup preparation before the Eye, or at different times of day when different M-States are desired. Our home is always open monitoring, a simple return to viewing the world honestly and clearly, as it is.
An essential feature of mindfulness is viewing the world in a way that is fresh and new, with curiosity and interest. This can be a challenge when one is required to practice a handful of tradition-prescribed exercises. Or tack is to keep practice ever fresh and new, and to nurture curiosity and interest by continuously exploring new complementary approaches. For us, mindfulness is not a static ritual, but an adventure, an evolving practice one guided by the M-Tracker.
M-Theory, M-States, and the Five Levels of Mindfulness
The M-Tracker taps 5 levels of mindfulness experience that comprise M-Theory. Each level consists of M-State reflecting mindful focus and acceptance. M-States have been derived through decades of research on thousands of practitioners of diverse approaches to mindfulness, meditation, relaxation, and contemplative disciplines. Most are independent dimensions (or statistical “factors.”) Included are M-States (not yet identified as factor dimensions) suggested by neuropsychological research and my own training experiences (designated “*”). For further explanation, check my “Eye of Mindfulness” books.
1. BASIC RELAXATION
Experienced by most practitioners during the first 8 weeks of practice. Consists of M-States that reflect simple manifestation of mindful focus and acceptance.
- FAR AWAY and distant from the troubles around me.
- PHYSICALLY RELAXED. Muscles relaxed, loose, limp, warm and heavy. Breathing slow, even, and easy.
- AT EASE, AT PEACE
- PLEASANT MIND WANDERING*. Undirected, random positive thoughts.
- Lost in FANTASY and DAYDREAMING*.
2a. BASIC MINDFULNESS (Mindful Focus)
Experienced by most practitioners during the first 8 weeks of practice. Mindful Focus and Mindful Acceptance are core defining M-States of mindfulness proper
- CLEAR, AWAKE, AWARE.
- FOCUSED, ABSORBED.
- CENTERED, GROUNDED.
- INTERESTED, CURIOUS, FASCINATED.
2b. BASIC MINDFULNESS (Mindful Acceptance)
M-State Quiet is experienced by most practitioners during the first 8 weeks of practice. Mindful Focus and Mindful Acceptance are core defining M-States of mindfulness proper
- QUIET. Still, few thoughts. Little mind wandering.
- UNBOTHERED. Accepting. When I have a negative thought or feeling, I don’t get caught up in it.
- EASY TO LET GO. Effortless to let go, put thoughts aside and sustain focus.
- I felt like an OBSERVER standing aside and watching what came and went.
3. MINDFUL POSITIVE EMOTION
Somewhat less frequently experienced by practitioners in session. These M-States can emerge in session or in life at large. All reflect positive emotional states that have mindful focus and acceptance as an essential componenet.
- HAPPY, OPTIMISTIC, TRUSTING.
- LOVING, CARING.
- THANKFUL. Grateful.
4. MINDFUL OPENING
Experiences less common during the first 8 weeks of practice, reported by perhaps 10 percent of practitioners. Hypothesized to reflect the further development of mindfulness skills, perhaps leading to Mindful Transcendence.
- GOING DEEPER. Things seem unexpected, new, changing, opening up, being revealed. Feels like I’m in a different place or space.
- Sense of SPACIOUSNESS, EXPANSIVENESS*.
- I felt the SENSE OF SOMETHING GREATER* than myself (God, a higher power, spirit, energy, love, or consciousness).
- A sense of MEANING, PURPOSE, DIRECTION*
5. MINDFUL TRANSCENDENCE
Relatively rare M-States, which when experienced can have a powerful effect on motivation, direction, and maintenance of mindful focus and acceptance. These states embody high levels of mindful focus and acceptance and are frequently described in inspirational literature, art, and music.
- Feeling REVERENT, PRAYERFUL.
- AWE / WONDER, DEEP MYSTERY of things beyond my understanding.
- I felt a profound personal meaningful “SPIRITUAL” or “MYSTICAL” experience — sudden awakening or insight.
- Felt an underlying hidden TRUTH
- Feeling AT ONE.
- Feelings so profound they COULD NOT BE PUT INTO WORDS
The Mindfulness Research Initiative
Researchers around the world are applying the M-Tracker series of inventories in an attempt to compare approaches to meditation, mindfulness, relaxation, and contemplation. Our goal is not to identify which is best, but to look at the unique strengths and potentials of each, and explore how to enhance instruction. Some topics include:
- The factor structure of mindfulness and relaxation-related states. Present the single-session version of the M-Tracker to at least 240 practitioners of various disciplines. Conduct a simple factor analysis on the results.
- The different effect of mindfulness and relaxation disciplines. Present the single-session version of the M-Tracker to 20 practitioners of two techniques (say yoga and mindfulness) as well as a control group that practices nothing. Compare the M-States. Are some disciplines more likely to evoke certain M-States than others?
- Practice variables and M-States. Who is most likely to experience which M-States? Previous research has found that number of years one practices is a predictor of level of mindfulness, as is group practice (as opposed to individual solo practice). These findings can be replicated on a sample of about 200 practitioners.
- Prevalence of M-States among practitioners. Which M-States are most likely experienced? How often to practitioners experience other M-States, if at all.
- Indicators of “successful practice.” Which M-States are the best indicators that a mindfulness or related discipline is successful. This study would involve presenting the “Best Indicator” version of the M-Tracker to about 200 actual practitioners.