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Mindful : February 2014
36 mindful February 2014 health Mindful: Did you ever think the work that started in a modest clinic in a spare room of a hospital in Central Massachusetts would become so influential? Jon Kabat-Zinn: In a word, yes. I never thought of this work as a small thing. I don’t think of myself as a big deal, but I always thought of this work as a very big deal. It wasn’t just about thinking that medita- tion had a modest contribution to make to Western medicine. MBSR was built on the conviction that the insights, wisdom, and compassion of the meditative traditions were equal in import and mag nitude to the great discoveries about human life we’ve made in the West. If there’s an instruction manual for being human, then Western science and medicine have supplied one par t of it, and the contemplative traditions have supplied a nother, the part that has to do with discovering and cultivating our deep interior resources. My hope was that by sta rting a stress-reduction clinic based on relatively intensive training in mind- fulness meditation and yoga—and their applications in everyday living—we could document how these practices might have a profound effect on the health and well-being of individuals. The larger purpose was to effect a kind of public-health intervention that would ultimately move the bell curve of the entire society. And it grew to the point where we now talk about mindfulness-based interventions in all sorts of areas— depression, childbirth, education, addiction, to name just a few. We didn’t have a specific blueprint, but I am very gratified that so many developments have been happening on so many different fronts. It’s really a mat ter of pla nting seeds. You never really know what will sprout from these seeds and how they will spread. That’s the beauty of it. It’s based on not-knowing—approaching the world inquisitively, with a fresh mind. If we had come in with a plan, with an ideology, with all the answers, I think it would have remained small. Instead, those of us involved in this work have paid close attention to just a few essential elements. One is that mindfulness is not a special state you achieve through a trick or a technique. It is a way of being. I have a lot of faith that if people just learn how to be in the present through simple mindfulness meditation, then the practice does the work of transformation a nd healing. We do not need to do it for them. People are so creative and intrin- sically intelligent that given a chance, they perceive the truth within their own experience. “ When I get at tached to something, I suffer,” they realize, “and when I don’t get attached, I don’t .” What else makes MBSR work? In early 2005, I met Jon Kabat-Zinn at his home in Massachusetts. I came as a meditation practitioner and journalist with a bit of skepticism about MBSR. I was curious whether the attempt to bring secular mindfulness to the broader society could be effective. In a lengthy, impassioned conversation, I began to be persuaded of its validity and power, and as a result we star ted down on a path of further investigation that led us to Mindful and mindful.org. Since then, we’ve met scores of people who are bringing this approach to mind- fulness into many different contexts and helping all sorts of people. And Jon and his many colleagues have just kept on going, bringing mindfulness into ever y corner of life. I returned to Jon’s home recently, on the occasion of the publica- tion of a revised and updated edition of his groundbreaking book Full Catastro- phe Living, to talk about his work. Fit- tingly, we began with a little bit of silence and then embarked on a stimulating con- versation about the present and future of the practice he has devoted his life and heart to. — Barr y Boyce Editor-in-Chief, Mindful “If there’s an instruction manual for being human, then Western science and medicine have supplied one part of it, and the contemplative traditions have supplied another—the part that has to do with discovering and cultivating our deep interior resources.”