“Letting everything become your teacher” – A discussion on Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Photo credit: UW Health.
In October 2010, a colleague and I went to hear Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn speak at UCLA. Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and is a leading figure, researcher, and theoretician in adapting mindfulness for practice in psychotherapy, mental and medical healthcare. He carried a presence that was both knowledgeable as well as wise, extremely articulate while very humble.
Although I attended this presentation 8 years ago now, I jotted down some valuable tidbits that really stuck with me and are worth sharing:
1) “Awareness is like a muscle that we have to exercise – when it is in shape it can help us to heal.” I take this to mean that the practice of being present is not easy, and takes some work, but that it can become both more accessible and more fruitful when we develop a rhythm and discipline of it.
2) “Put out the welcome mat for the good, bad, and ugly because they are already at the door.” I really like this image – it speaks to the non-judging and accepting aspect of being mindful. We are always having thoughts, feelings, and sensations swimming around in us, and we now understand more fully the adaptiveness of having an open minded relationship with all of them, even the unpleasant ones.
3) “Meditation is highly suspect – because it looks an awful lot like nothing.” This remark got a lot of laughs from the audience! I think the intention was to admit that it is easy to be skeptical for someone who has not experienced the touch of healing and growth possible from meditation. Hopefully though, with continued experience, some support, and awareness of how the practice changes us, we can tangibly see that it is far from nothing.
4) “The brain is an organ of experience. We are always generating new neurons in the brain as evidenced by research and technology showing that brains of long term meditators look different on brain scans.” This comment from an anatomical perspective is good news, in that the practice of mindfulness over time can in so many ways change who we are, and how we think and act. We have the capacity to change, grow, and improve our lives – beginning with our brains.
A commonly expressed hesitation about mindfulness and meditation is that it is “New Agey”, abstract, or perhaps too removed from every day reality. However, personally and professionally, my understanding of mindfulness is actually quite down to earth and accessible. I also hope the increasing body of research supporting the value of mindfulness to emotional and physical health continues to revise this myth. Research and literature being put out by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn and the growing mindfulness community are steps in this direction.
Martin Hsia, Psy.D. is the Clinical Director of CBT SoCal, and specializes in helping people with OCD, Anxiety, and Insomnia in Glendale, CA.