Interview with Dr. Vicente Simón

We interview Dr. D. Vicente Simón Perez, professor of psychobiology at the University of Valencia. Psychiatrist and Medical Doctor.
His professional activity has always been linked to research and its application to psychotherapeutic practice. In the field of research for the most dedication has occupied the Psychobiology, and for more than twenty years ago is interested in scientific research, the study of consciousness and practice of Mindfulness and Compassion, participating in numerous activities both at nationally and internationally and having written several books on consciousness and emotions. He has published the review “Mindfulness y neurobiología” which includes the most significant advances in this field of research, as well as co – editor of the book “Mindfulness en la práctica clínica” among other titles published. He teaches courses, conducts retreats and mindfulness groups, especially for mental health professionals.

He is a founding partner of AMyS (now AEMind), having been its president for several years. He is currently the Honorary President of the Association. It is an honor to interview him because he represents one of the leading exponents in the field of mindfulness.

AEMind.- How do you see the association since your new position ?, How do you see the present AEMind with your current project and the incorporation of the working groups?

I think AEMind has entered a phase of very interesting and necessary expansion. Mindfulness demand in Spain is growing very rapidly and the restructuring of the Association, with the creation of specialized working groups and AEMind meditation groups in various Spanish cities, is the appropriate response to this growth. The new president has been able to see this need and is giving way, building the right conditions for the association to fulfill the purposes of its own structures.

AEMind: The association has had a journey from its origins to today and I imagine many people and shared along the way experiences, What has AMyS meant for you from its beginnings to the present time?

AEMind AMyS- evolution has been amazing. It started as a small group of people with common interests and a desire to promote the development of the practice of meditation, in an environment in which to talk about mindfulness was very new, almost a rarity, that aroused curiosity and often, suspicion. I lived the illusion of those beginnings, an illusion that united us much to all team members, who were then very few. We had little means, only the illusion and the clear idea that you had to walk in a certain direction.

In retrospect, the organization of courses of “Mindfulness in Clinical Practice”, aimed at professionals, have been of great importance to AEMind since have become known throughout the country as a serious partnership, betting strong by training of experts in mindfulness. Although the courses, in the beginning, few people came forcibly, its impact among Spanish professionals have been accused, giving AMyS-AEMind recognition it has today. Now, of course, we are at another stage and courses have grown a lot. The offer, not only in Valencia, but also in Madrid and Barcelona, so that they are reaching a much larger number of people.

I have lived with enthusiasm, interest and satisfaction the whole process. Given the very rapid development of the Association, I soon realized that I had fulfilled my role as initial promoter of the project. So I did not hesitate to pass the baton, when I had the conviction that Marta Alonso was the right person to lead the Association in the next phase of its development. For now, I think I was not wrong.

AEMind: Looking to the future What lines would you like to develop at AEMind ?, What is the future we would like to imagine for the association?

Well, the future is impossible to predict. One thing is what happens and another what one wants to happen. I see AEMind play a very important role in the development of the whole mindfulness, first movement role here in Spain, and then possibly expand in the two related areas of our cultural environment, which are, on the one hand, Europe, on the other, Latin America. With both geographical areas we unite different ties, but such ties exist in both cases and I think we have to boost relations in both directions. With Europe because we are Europe, and Latin America because we share the language and can function as a link between the Spanish-speaking countries and European countries. We are moving towards a globalized world and densely interconnected, which each have a specific role to play.

AEMind: Currently, mindfulness increasingly appears in more areas; education, health, business, etc. How do you see the current landscape of mindfulness and how he sees his future in the medium term?

I think it is logical and desirable that AEMind open to the different areas you mention. Mindfulness is a global movement of the whole society and, as such, has to go expanding everywhere. We started by medical and psychological, because our origin as individuals twas that. But we also have to project ourselves into other environments, such as education and business, which will be hugely important in expanding mindfulness. That mindfulness reach classrooms and children is important because it represents the future of social change. And whoever comes to business is essential and inevitable, because it is the area in which works most of the population and, therefore, its importance to the general public, is huge.

AEMind: What do you think about the phenomenon we are witnessing growing interest regarding the general population on Mindfulness and the proliferation of centers, individuals and associations are echoing the same?

That fact merely confirms my impression that mindfulness is a global movement, not limited to specific sectors of society, but is destined to change the world and create a new, more intelligent and compassionate man at a time.

However, we have to care quality. Often, the number is achieved by sacrificing the quality and we must prevent this from happening, at least within our Association. We must take measures to prevent the teaching of mindfulness be trivialized or corrupted, so it will be necessary to establish training criteria to ensure an adequate level.

AEMind: It is common to hear that compassion is necessary for the practice of mindfulness, however stresses that are not the same, what is the role of compassion in the practice of mindfulness?

Currently is understanding that compassion is an integral part of mindfulness. You can rephrase, saying mindfulness, without compassion, is not mindfulness. I believe that now highlight the role of compassion, it is part of the natural process of discovery and understanding of what is mindfulness, as revealed from the perspective of Western culture and science.

That is, not that mindfulness has changed, but our understanding is, increasingly, more refined and more complete. And what is also becoming clear is that specific training in compassion is advisable as it accelerates the development process of this fundamental component. At the techniques used to develop compassion, they were being called “generative practices”, as they help us generate compassion, so indispensable if we want to be mindful creatures.

AEMind: How you can help self-pity to manage our difficult emotions?

First of all, say that self-pity is not something apart from compassion. Self-pity is just the attitude that results when we do not exclude ourselves from the compassionate disposition that we have towards the world in general.

Moreover, recognizing and understanding the suffering, whether ours or that of others, which gets underway spontaneously is precisely compassion. And it is this compassion (in this case, self-pity) that has the ability to heal wounds that can cause difficult emotions. Very briefly, we could say that, first, we become aware of what happens (mindfulness of suffering) and then waking up in us compassion and direct it to ourselves, that compassion is that we will relieve discomfort and heal the wounds that we could suffer.

AEMind: What influence has the practice of mindfulness on brain activity? What they tell us the latest studies on the neurological correlates of thoughts and emotions and what happens in the brain when practiced mindfulness?

From what at the moment can be sure of it is that mindfulness has the ability to activate brain plasticity and cause structural and functional changes in the brain. By practicing mindfulness we are restructuring our brain and therefore causing changes that can be durable.

Brain changes mainly affect the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that most distinguishes us humans from other animals, ie, zone underlying the capacity to plan, anticipate, troubleshoot, integrate, etc.

In that sense it is very important to understand that the function of mindfulness is to facilitate the development of the “new brain” and promote their integration with the most primitive functions, supported by phylogenetically older brain areas.

AEMind: What are the results of research regarding the clinical application of Mindfulness and Compassion to treat psychopathology?

This field is in full swing and, of course, is impossible to describe in a few sentences the complexity of what is happening. To synthesize a lot, I would say the (more or less implemented), traditional therapeutic techniques are enriched by the experiences and knowledge that therapists who practice mindfulness are discovering themselves and then apply it to their patients. The first thing that usually changes is the therapeutic relationship. An attunement to the patient ‘s inner world is produced and it “feels sense.” After a period of testing, therapists end up selecting those guidelines that are more effective to increase welfare and reduce their patients’ psychopathology. What happens is that this process occurs not only at the individual level but also at the level of clinical teams and research teams. The overall result is that the treatment of patients will be seeing heavily influenced by what mindfulness allows both discover how to modify human behavior. Attended, here too, the progressive integration of mindfulness in everyday life, in this case in the professional activities of psychotherapists.

AEMind: If compassion and self-pity, socially help us empathize and collaborate with others, could we say that is a recipe for promoting social change that encourages cooperation and group or collective versus competitiveness and individuality?

I think the changes that mindfulness occurs in the brain and behavior of human beings, is the foundation that allows us to be optimistic and think that the human species will evolve in a positive direction and be able to avoid self-destruction. The cooperative behaviors are very characteristic of our species and much of our current fantastic development is because we have learned to join forces and collaborate, rather than destroy each other. Advanced societies are precisely those that have known better channel the cooperative tendencies, instead of letting triumph destructive impulses. We need to ensure to make that delicate balance between the forces that promote cooperation and that tend to encourage annihilation will not break irreversibly in favor of the latter. In my opinion, the key lies precisely in fostering the compassion of which we spoke. Advance on the path of compassionate consciousness seems to be the best option to overcome the many dangers that threaten peaceful coexistence among humans. Much remains to be done, but it is a promising path, which can offer us something very valuable and rewarding: giving a deep meaning to our lives and free ourselves from the burden of suffering.

Finally, we would like to thank you for your kind attention, your words and your time and your interest to stay in the Advisory Council of the association, in its capacity as Chairman, ensuring its development actively. Thank you very much (Valencia, 8 November 2013)