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Mindful : February 2014
38 mindful February 2014 Almost every thing we do we do for a purpose, to get something or somewhere. But in medita- tion this attitude can be a real obstacle. That is because med- itation is different from all other human activities. Although it takes a lot of work and energy of a cer tain kind, ultimately meditation is a non-doing. It has no goal other than for you to be yourself. The irony is that you already are. This sounds paradoxical and a little crazy. Yet this paradox and craziness may be pointing you toward a new way of seeing yourself, one in which you are trying less and being more. This comes from intentionally cultivating the attitude of non-striving. For example, if you sit down to meditate and you think, “I am going to be relaxed, or get enlightened, or control my pain, or become a better person,” then you have introduced an idea into your mind of where you should be, and along with communicates that, and because people a re intelli- gent and inherently mindful, they resonate with it. At that point, it becomes ordinar y common sense. People often say, “I always figured meditation was something weird and mystical. If only I had known what it really is I would have started years ago.” Your interest is not just working with medically defined pain, but with all of life—“ the f ull catastro - phe,” in that colorful phrase you borrowed from Zorba the Greek. People say, “I came to this program to deal with my pain. I didn’t realize it was about my whole life!” There was a professor I knew f rom my MIT days who needed a bone-ma rrow transplant, and he showed up at the clinic in Worcester. He said, “I want to learn how to be in relationship with my mind, so that when I’m in isolation in the transplant unit, I can survive it.” After a few MBSR classes, he said, “I feel more comfortable with these people I’ve just met than I do with the colleagues in my depart- ment.” When he asked himself why, he concluded, “This is the community of the afflicted, a nd we acknowledge the affliction. The faculty is also the community of the afflicted, but we don’t acknowl- edge our affliction at all.” Later, he was riding the subway and realized we are all “the community of the afflicted.” It made him feel extraordinarily free. If the real benefits take place in the heart and in our ver y way of being, why does the scientific work matter so much? David Black of the Mindfulness Research Guide has been gathering information on the number of sci- entific and medical papers per year on mindfulness, and the resulting graph is prett y telling. Some- thing that was not on the research map at all a few decades ago is a prime a rea of interest now. These studies provide the evidence of effectiveness you need to be respected and adopted in key institutions in health care, education, social policy, and so on. But ultimately we do science to understa nd the nature of the universe—and the nature of the one who wants to understa nd the nature of the universe. Resea rch that helps us understa nd the capabilities of the brain and how to improve them is vitally important to how we can live well, as individuals and as a society. The brain science has become very rigorous. A lot of credit obviously goes to Richie Davidson, in his lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison a nd the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. Their work is unique in that it focuses on both basic science and translational resea rch, which takes place in real-life settings such as Madison’s public schools. Research on how the brain can be trained ventures into areas we wouldn’t have dreamed of years ago. For example, one of the center ’s really interesting it comes the notion that you are not okay right now. “If only I were calmer, or more intelligent, or a harder worker, or more this or more that, if only my hear t were healthier or my knee were better, then I would be okay. But right now, I am not okay.” This attitude undermines the cultivation of mindfulness, which involves simply paying attention to whatever is hap- pening. If you are tense, then just pay attention to the ten- sion. If you are in pain, then be with the pain as best you can. If you are criticizing yourself, then obser ve the activity of the judg- ing mind. Just watch. We are simply allowing anything and every thing that we experience from moment to moment to be here, because it already is. Excerpt from Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, copyright © 1990 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Used by permission of Dell Publishing, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. Non-striving