Symposium: Jon Kabat-Zinn on stress reduction

By Fleet Maull:

What follows here is myparaphrasing of Joh Kabat-Zinn’s presentation: he
is interested in strategies for change that do not lead to
polarization, burnout and further conflict. While he has deep respect
for the teachings and practices of the Buddha and feels connected to
this tradition and its wonderful lineages, teacher and practitioners, he
also feels the need to not personally identify himself as a Buddhist or
with any particular religious identity and a need for us to move to a
universal Dharma that can reach and/or include all people rather than
being tied to Buddhism or Buddhadharma as a more limited identification
alone.

His work has largely focused on bringing mindfulness-based interventions into the fields and practice of medicine and psychology:
mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), mindfulness-based
cognitive-behavioral therapy (MBCB), mindfulness-based relapse
prevention and so on.

When he was a graduate student at MIT in molecular biology he was very aware that MIT was involved in all kinds
of high tech weaponry development, he spent a lot of time not being in
the laboratory but trying to bring a mirror of awareness to what was
going on at MIT.

As a graduate student and going forward he felt there must be another way to do science. He wrote a piece for the
newspaper there at MIT about the need for an orthogonal institutions,
institutions rotated 90 degrees in consciousness, meaning a 90 degree
shift in consciousness and view that would move the work at MIT in a
new, healthier direction. A 90 degree shift where everything is the same
as it was before and nothing’s the same at the same time. This led to
deciding to make this orthogonal shift his work and leading to the
development of MBSR.

After practicing mindfulness meditation for many years, beginning in 1966, thought why not create a clinic in a
hospital, which are “dukkha magnets” (magnets of suffering). Called the
clinic initially simply, beginning in 1979 at the UMASS Medical Center, a
stress reduction clinic, so that it would not appear as something
foreign, strange or esoteric to patients or the the medical staff.

What meditation is … is paying attention and being kind to yourself.
Working with referrals from physicians at the hospital, enrolled
patients in an 8 week training program in mindfulness meditation. Began
enrollment process with an interview in which the clinician asked people
about their interest in the stress reduction clinic and mindfulness and
the remained silent, listing to the other person’s entire story without
interrupting. This lead to strong enrollment.

Shifted is view about not wanting to work with the military due to research showing the
mindfulness training allows soldiers to be less reactive and
destructive, it prevents deterioration of “working memory” that part of
the brain allowing us to make accurate decisions. Soldiers involved in
many actions today are involved with very complex situations where
accurate decisions prevent harm.

Funding for research into mindfulness-based interventions is growing exponentially. Working to
create highest possible standards for this research. Science now able to
accurately see the power of moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness
has very significant and positively trans-formative impacts on the
brain. The whole discovery of neuroplasticity and our ability to
positively train and transform our brains through various kinds of mind
training, awareness training and so forth.

Feels we are embarking on a new renaissance with this explosion of interest in the power of
mind training and our scientific ability to measure and understand the
impact of these practices and the profound possibilities for healing.

Other dukkha (suffering) magnets: prisons, schools. All the work being done
in prisons to bring mind training to prisoners and prison staff …
Fleet Maull and others, we had an MBSR project at Walpole prison for a
number of years.

When we go into a prison we have just a few seconds to connect authentically with people and our own mind and heart
training is critical to our ability to connect genuinely with others and
bring authentic dharma into the prisons, bring what we ourselves have
deeply practiced. Seeing how mindfulness training has help prisoners
become less hostile while not being more victimized.

Note: The above is my paraphrased notes on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s presentation and may
not be entirely accurate and are not comprehensive of his presentation.

http://www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252

Fleet Maull
Reporting for the Peacemaker Institute
at the Zen Peacemakers
Montague, MA

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