The SPARK Model of Mindfulness Training

By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.

For the recently published book Becoming Mindful: Integrating Mindfulness into Your Psychiatric PracticeDr. Doris Chang and I wrote a chapter on developing mindfulness practices for patients.  As part of our contribution, I shared a model for mindfulness practice that I’ve developed based on my work with patients and my own personal practice.  Represented by the acronym SPARK, this model involves 5 distinct steps for practice:

  • Stopping (or Slowing Down)
  • Perceiving
  • Allowing
  • Reflecting
  • Knowing

Stopping (or Slowing Down)

Oftentimes, our attention is divided across multiple activities or simply “turned off” as we’re immersed in a mind-numbing experience, like watching TV.  In order to begin our mindfulness practice, we need to make a conscious decision to stop or slow down what we’re doing.  This deliberate act signifies that we are going to start paying attention.  


Next, we need an object of attention.  We need to pay attention to something.  The particular object can vary depending on your practice and intention.  If you’re new to meditation, you might begin by paying attention to the physical sensations of breathing.  If you’re at a nice restaurant, you might savor the flavors of your meal.  If you’re interested in dieting or losing weight, you might notice feelings of hunger, thirst, and satiety.  Here, it is important to pay exquisite attention and really linger over the experience.  


As part of the practice, we cultivate acceptance of all experiences--whatever is present and whatever is absent.  In fact, this attitude is more important than whatever you noticed in the second stage of practice.  Of course, the mind finds many ways to resist this way of being.  How do we deal with this resistance?  In mindfulness circles, the simple instruction is often to “let it go.”  While this makes sense for some people, many can be left wondering exactly how to do that (including me).  If you’re one of those people, it’s helpful to provide some simple encouragement, such as “It’s OK that...” or “Yes” relative to whatever you notice.  


Mindfulness practice is not the same as developing one-pointed concentration.  In fact, self-reflection is a significant part of cultivating mindfulness.  So, we can inquire of our experiences and/or make observations of what we notice.  In guiding my patients in mindfulness meditation, I might prompt them to dialogue with difficult emotions by posing questions such as “What do you want me to know?” or “How can I help?”  Questions such as these deepen our practice and set the stage for the development of...


Through our practice and embodied inquiry, we develop a better understanding of ourselves and the world.  This wisdom is not characterized as discursive musings or logically plausible hypotheses.  Rather, it emerges as a profound truth that resonates with the heart, body, and mind.  


If you’d like to learn more about this model, please check out our chapter, "Mindfulness in Practice: Incorporating Mindfulness Inside and Outside of Sessions," in Becoming Mindful, available here: Awesome New Mindfulness Book for Psychotherapists.