Jon Kabat-Zinn presents an introduction to mindfulness (and why our lives might depend on it)

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The practice of cultivating mindfulness through meditation first took hold in Europe and the United States in the 1960s, when Buddhist teachers in Japan, Tibet, Vietnam and elsewhere left their homes. , often under great duress, and taught Western students eager for alternative forms of spirituality. Although popularized by counterculture figures like Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg, the practice at first seemed unable to reach those who seemed to need it most – stressed-out corporate and military-complex dwellers. industrialist who had not changed their consciousness. with psychotropic drugs, or left the culture to become monks.

Then professor of medicine Jon Kabat Zinn arrived, eliminated religious and new age contexts, and began reimagining mindfulness for the masses in 1979 with its Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Now everyone knows, or thinks they know, what mindfulness is. As meditation teacher Lokadhi Lloyd recount The Guardian, Kabat-Zinn is “Monsieur Pleine Conscience in relation to our secular strand. Without him, I don’t think mindfulness would have achieved the importance it has.

Its secularization of mindfulness, however, has not, in practice, removed it from its roots, which is why Kabat-Zinn’s groundbreaking 1990 book living in disaster receives praise from Buddhist teachers like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg and former Kabat-Zinn Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

While Kabat-Zinn says he isn’t (or isn’t) himself a Buddhist, his definitions of mindfulness may seem just close enough to those who study and practice the religion. As he says in the short segment at the top: “It’s paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without being judgmental.” And then, “sometimes,” he says, “I like to add, as if your life depended on it.” The quality of our lives, the clarity of our lives, the depth and richness of our lives depend on our ability to be aware of what is happening around us and within us. This ability, Kabat-Zinn insists, is the heritage of all human beings. It is found in spiritual practices around the world. Nobody owns a patent on sensitization.

Still, Kabat-Zinn is particularly wary of what he calls McMindfulness, the commodity-driven industry selling coloring books, apps, puzzles, t-shirts and novelties touting the benefits of mindfulness. awareness. Mindfulness-based stress reduction is “not a gimmick,” he says. It’s not something we try here and there. “MBSR is extremely difficult,” writes Kabat-Zinn in living in disaster. “In many ways, being in the present moment with a spacious orientation to what’s happening can truly be the hardest job in the world for us humans. At the same time, it is also doable ad infinitum. It can also be very unpleasant, causing us to sit with the things we’d rather ignore about ourselves. Why should we do it? We could consider the alternatives.

MBSR started (“in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center,” Remarks NPR) helping chronic pain patients recover. It proved so effective that Kabat-Zinn applied the insight more holistically – “using the wisdom of your body and mind to deal with stress, pain, and illness.” It is not a panacea, but a way of living that reduces unnecessary suffering caused by overactive discursive thinking, which locks us into patterns of blame, shame, fear, regret, judgment and self-criticism ( illustrated in Scottish psychologist RD Lange’s book of neurotic stories, Knots) – traps us, that is, in stories about the past and the future, affecting our physical and mental health, our work and our relationships.

The medical evidence for mindfulness is only beginning to catch up with Kabat-Zinn’s work, but it weighs heavily on the results he’s seen for more than 40 years. MBSR is also highly recommended by Sara Lazar, Harvard neuroscientist and trauma expert Bessel Van der Kok, among many others who have done the research. The proof is why, as you can see in the longer presentations above at Dartmouth and Google, Kabat-Zinn has become something of a mindfulness evangelist. “If it’s another fad, I don’t want to be part of it,” he says. “If in the past 50 years I had found something more meaningful, more healing, more transformative and with more potential social impact, I would.”

Like Kabat-Zinn’s 2005 book, Wherever you go, there you arewatch, we can integrate what happens in meditation into our daily lives, letting go of assumptions and “letting life become both the meditation teacher and the practice, moment by moment, no matter what.” , he says Aware magazine. It’s not about escaping into moments of Zen happiness. It fosters “deep connections”, again and again, with ourselves, our families, our friends, our communities, the planet we live on and, therefore, “the future we bequeath to our future generations”.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him on @jdmagness

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