When Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts, the use of meditation to control stress was considered a novel concept. Today, mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques have gone mainstream, appearing in hospitals, schools, and even military settings. Kabat-Zinn joins us to talk about his latest book, “Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, author and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

  • Douglas

    Life is relationship. Love, wisdom, truth… is unconditional relationship.

  • Anne

    Michael, Please let Mr. Zinn finish his sentences.

    • test123

       Agreed, and no offense to Michael – your program is great!

    • Noelle

      Agreed. Maybe he’s trying to a journalist and challenge the guests.

  • Hammer_chris

    I’m a little bit of a student of being here and now. But struggle to practice it.  Could you describe at length your vision of the ultimate state we’re working toward? No thoughts at all?  Focused on the taste, smell of coffee I’m drinking (if that’s the current moment)?

    • A Zen flower

      There is no (separate) ‘ultimate state’ you’re supposed to be working toward. If you pose that question, a Zen master would hit you with his stick saying that you are not fully present for now. ‘No thoughts’ means ‘no judgment’ or ‘ no (language-based) conception’ since they are simply artificial and consequently fleeting in their nature (which meditation will show). But challenge is, as you pointed out, that is exactly what our brain is designed to do -supposedly- to protect our body in the life of natural selection. But such evolutionary effects also makes unhappy since it gave us a strong sense of self or selfishness, which the Buddha thought is the main source of human unhappiness (anxiety, fear, worry, stress, etc.). If you drink coffee, just drink coffee and enjoy it – Buddhism does not oppose any type of enjoyment at all – it is actually all about being happy – instead of being “possessed” by your fleeting thoughts at the moment instead of focusing on the experience of drinking coffee itself. You say that you struggle with your “here and now” practice. Of course, you do and will. It is a huge challenge since what you are trying to do is “undoing” the undesirable mechanism of our brain designed by evolution. If it continues to be a struggle, however, you should drop it at some point altogether; in many instances, however, your enlightenment just comes when you simply walk away and drop the whole topic (since it was actually another desire and obsession of yours). If you are sincere, it can be done – albeit gradually. That little bit of gradual removal of evolutionary virus of our brain alone however will make your life much, much more peaceful and joyful – whatever your external life situation might be. Trust me!

  • AnonyMouse

    Krasney’s verbal framing of this conversation belies his struggle to be in control and insist and confirm (to himself?) that he already knows all this stuff…
    Seems he’s missed some salient points of the subject somewhere in his travels. But then he is in the business of being a radio personality so I suppose that comes with the job.

    • Ramin Khayatpoor

      This comment seems unfair.  I heard nothing that showed he wanted to “take control”.  And, this comment seems a bit cowardly…

    • Michelle Moyer

      I notice that in a lot of Forum broadcasts. It drives me crazy, because he has such great guests. It would be nice if he let them talk.

    • Noelle

      with metta/lovingkindness meditation the goal is to start with the self and expand beyond it to those we know, and then to those beings throughout the universe. So, no, they are not supposed to ignore conditions in the outside world.

  • Ramin Khayatpoor

    I must disagree with the thought that, east and west, are automatically emerging into one thought.  Remember that as your guest says, practice makes perfect.  Eastern cultures, many of them, have had millennia of practice in attempts at understanding our human soul.  On the other hand, industrialism is a purely western invention.  To assert that these two destinies will inevitably merge into one line is naive.  Would this merging take much more effort, globally?  And where is the guarantee that at the end, we will have a better world, just because everybody is all of a sudden happier for no external reason?  The danger is that by minding only our own thoughts and not paying attention to the conditions of this planet, that we may inadvertently destroy our own habitats. 

    • Itsallaroundyou

      Not to diminish your efforts, but your comment demonstrates a considerabley uninformed/misinformed and personally inexperienced and merely intellectual understanding of the subject.

      • Ramin Khayatpoor

        I dont think you can even comprehend what comment means.  You seem like an intellectual midget, and I do not waste my time with such idiocy.

        • Tjm402

          You just did…

          • Ramin Khayatpoor

            Nope… we have to defend the legitimacy of our public thoughts.   

      • Ramin Khayatpoor

        This is nonsense.  You have no idea what my comment meant.  You give no evidence of my being “mis-informed”.  And I do not appreciate censorship… as I have replied to this already and it got erased.  Once again, this is a low IQ comment you make, itsallarrou….

        • Itsallaroundyou

          I do understand…sorry.

        • Truth

          Mental understanding and mindful understanding can be quite different. Commenting that someone’s comment is low IQ and nonsensical suggests that you have not made a distinction between the two. Thanks for your effort. It got me to participate.

    • Shawn

      I think Ramin misunderstood Dr. Zinn’s points. Dr. Zinn is not talking about merge of the thoughts or cultures of Eastern and Western.  He is talking about existence of the human nature and how to discover and take advantage of the very physical nature of the brain and mind. 

      Based on that misunderstanding, Ramin goes to the confused directions and conclusions.

      • Ramin Khayatpoor

        Incorrect.  I actually disagree with the fundamentals of “living at the moment”.  One needs a balance of being aware of the future, at the same time as being in the present.  Mr. Zinn is fundamentally incorrect in that, in my opinion.   Unless you WORRY about the future of our species.  Eastern thought has so much experience in this topic, and yet, evidence shows that these cultures have not done well, historically.  You MUST understand history.

        • Elizabeth

          I don’t believe that you need to ignore the past and future in order to be mindful and I don’t think Zinn does either.  Mindfulness is much more nuanced than, as you say, “living in the moment.” It’s true you must understand history, and you seem to need to be reminded that Rome fell too.

          • Ramin Khayatpoor

            Rome broke apart to yield all of the modern day european countries.  I was not referring to empires, at any rate. I was referring to individuals that live within the bounds of eastern versus western philosophies.  If you truly want to be mindful, you need to be mindful of now, the past as well as the future, assuming such things exist.  And you may find that that would not be plausible for ordinary humans, and those who preach otherwise are perpetuating the agenda of suppression of what needs to be done, which is a global revolution.    

    • Noelle

      see my metta comment I was supposed to put here..

    • progressivetruth

      he’s not negating past or future: he is saying that if we pay attention to the present moment by his definition of mindfulness, we can deal with the future more skillfully because as each moment arises it also passes, so live in the present so that you don’t regret having not met the future in the moment when the opportunity to act slips through your hands, which is in the present moment.

  • Augusta

    Thank you.  I am enjoying this interview very much.  I’ve just begun teaching the 8-week MBSR course here in San Francisco and at the David Brower Center in Berkeley in January.  ~Augusta Hopkins

  • Mary

    Does Dr Kabat-Zinn know about any research on the  effectiveness of mindfulness in the treatment of OCD?

  • Deborah Brecher

    A great resource in the North Nay is Dr. Thynn Thynn, a retired Burmese doctor who teaches Mindfulness in Daily Life  classes the Sae Taw Win in Graton, CA.

  • Jjc2344

    “Mindfulness for Beginners” is available as an audio CD.  Does Jon recommend the audio version for beginners to maximize the value of his work?

  • Fmsquagliaco

    Are there any mindfullness techniques that work better or worse? Have there been many studies on relative results between techniques?

  • Ramin Khayatpoor

    Max Plank was NOT a quantum physicist.  Even though he invented the ASSUMPTION of quanta, he, himself, did NOT believe in quantum mechanics.  He was with Einstein school on that… 

  • Dude

    One of the best programs, hands down. Thank you to all involved!

  • Sairam

    Thanks for the great program. 

    If the science of meditation is still in its early infancy, isn’t it also true that the  detrimental effects of meditation to the brain chemistry, if any, may also be not well understood?  

    • A Zen flower

      You are absolutely right; we understand meditation very little – scientifically. In order to discuss what could be positive or detrimental, however, we have to begin with our fundamental perspective on the issue, which inevitably will take us into the perilous realm of philosophy. Contrary to a popular notion, meditation is not a form of relaxation; it is rather a “radically” different way of approaching to human life. Therefore, one should not start meditating without proper understanding the fundamental philosophy behind such practice. Meditation beyond simple mindful awareness can alter your personality, general mood, induce withdrawal from everyday life and even change the dynamics of your family relationship. We know that it has been “abused” by cult leaders to control their followers – partly because meditation does bring forth an altered state of consciousness (which people may mistake as “spiritual” experience). In East Asia, meditation has been what only (professional) monks do; they did not and still do not recommend it to lay believers (a practice I personally do not endorse, however). Many Western (commercial) spiritual gurus sell meditation as some kind of panacea while emphasizing it as living “here and now” while dispensing with the history and Eastern metaphysics behind it. Although I am a long-time Zen practioner, I often hesitate to recommend meditation to those who are only casually interested in reducing their stress. I would caution them against “commercial” teachers our there although some of them are sincere and good. James Austin’s “Zen and the Brain” is where you can find a good source of scientific papers on the topic. From a Zen perspective, however, science is a study of “forms,” the material appearance of the universe while Zen is simply recognizing the other side of the universe, our inner consciousness which contains it all (Buddhists call it “emptiness”). They are two sides of the same coin. 

      • Prdp

        Where should we start first? I bought the book you suggested

        • Pete

          Zen and the Brain is far too esoteric for a beginner. Just follow any of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s guidelines/books/cd’s Youtube videos. Sharon Begley’s “Train Your Mind  Change Your Brain” gives you a little more basic understanding of the process.

          • Prdp

            thanks Pete

      • Sairam

        >>” Meditation beyond simple mindful awareness can alter your personality, general mood, induce withdrawal from everyday life and even change the dynamics of your family relationship. We know that it has been “abused” by cult leaders to control their followers – partly because meditation does bring forth an altered state of consciousness (which people may mistake as “spiritual” experience).”

        You hit the nail right on the head. This is exactly the reason that made me nervous when I was studying an intense meditation technique but wasn’t ready to practice it. I couldn’t know for sure what the effects would be, what kind of personality alteration it could result in if I practiced it. Aren’t we conditioned for our own good, to live our lives the way we naturally live – with joy, sorrow, mix of emotions, ups and downs? Is it even necessary to change/alter it?  

        • progressivetruth

          ex. of misuse of meditation is when samurais were trained to use it for concentration.  when meditation is used without the teachings of ethics, as any tool created to be used without ethics, i.e., when science understood nuclear fusion, the practice will go awry.  if one truly understands the practice of meditation, one understands that ethics is deeply interwoven in siddhartha’s teachings of meditation.  mbsr looks at meditation through a scientific lens, and ethics is another lens in western culture.

        • A Zen flower

          Your concern is legitimate, few “gurus” would however warn you. If “natural’ is how most people live and think without trained self-awareness, a meditative way of living is certainly not natural (since it has to be consciously learned and practiced – often for one’s life-time); and enlightenment may mean delusion.  But your question – “aren’t we conditioned to live with joy, sorrow, etc.?” – somehow implies to me – or you may acknowledge – that you ALREADY have a certain realization of your own, which I have to say is consistent with Zen or Buddha’s awakening. You’re right; it is not necessary to change or alter anything (and we really can’t when it comes to the external human conditions we find ourselves in). What changes everything however – and this is certainly powerful and quite paradoxical – is “that realization” itself. You may not need to meditate at all since you’ve already arrived – from my Zen perspective if your “that realization” is indeed powerfully embodied, not mere intellectual  articulation. Your perspective also smacks of Daoism, I have to point out, which was heavily infused into Zen by the East Asians when they rewrote (Indian) Buddhism (there was simply too much mysticism and spiritualism of Indian origin for the East Asian minds). You live your life as found – that is Dao; there is nothing to change or alter. Daoists (who are completely invisible since they are just one of us, not organized and never “show off” in any manner whatsoever) look down on Buddhist monks for shaving their heads, meditating all the time, etc., since it is all nothing but another kind of human vanity from their perspective. I fully support your position (although I have been and will continue meditating myself). 

    • progressivetruth

      in my experience with meditation, it has only been beneficial. i believe   it’s very important to receive proper instructions. meditation is not a panacea.  depending on how one wants to understand hyper-sensitivity, the framework or lens that one chooses may lead to a misunderstanding.  

  • Noelle

    His father-in-law was Howard Zinn. My condolences to his family.

  •  I just want to add that I was taught to pay attention to what’s going on in my mind about 2 years ago, and I started paying attention to what goes on in my mind. I found all sorts of unskilful things, so I kept trying to keep an eye on my mind and now, 2 years later, I’m proud to say that this work gradually resulted in what’s now a big improvement! It’s hard to describe how good it feels to have the blessing of mindfulness.

  • Ctoc1

    Mr. Krasny, you were extremely aggressive this morning. Rabbi Lerner was unable to finish his sentences.

  • Ctoc1

    My comment below was about the show with Rabbi Lerner. Sorry about that.

  • If you’re like to learn more about “The Role of Mindfulness in Education”, a benefit Dr. Kabat-Zinn is giving on behalf of Mindful Schools on Feb. 17, 2012, please visit http://www.mindfulschools.org.

  • Neil Gendel

    Kabat Zinn is great. Krasny’s long-time habit of interrupting great guests that we want to hear is not. Too bad. A major flaw in an otherwise interesting program that could be so much better if Krasny would relax and not worry so much about his “me, mine and I”–which Kabat Zinn talks a lot about.

  • elizaio

    I would love to get an audio version of this book narrated by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Do you know if this is in the works?

  • Greg

    Thank you for quickly correcting Mr. Kabat-Zinn about Eliot’s relationships.

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