In a Nutshell: The cultivation of mindfulness is not only an invaluable means of appreciating the present moment and healing the body; it is a discipline that opens our senses and gives us a way to cope with the distress and dissatisfaction of our lives and move toward the creation of a better world.
About the Author: Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as well as a Professor of Medicine emeritus. He leads workshops on stress reduction and mindfulness for doctors and other health professionals and for lay audiences worldwide. He was featured on the PBS series Healing and the Mind with Bill Moyers as well as on Oprah. He lives in Massachusetts.
Sum and Substance: The opening sentence of the brochure about the mindfulness retreats and training programs of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society (CFM) states: "Meditation is not for the faint-hearted nor for those who routinely avoid the whispered longings of their own hearts." Jon Kabat-Zinn is convinced that the source of much of the stress and dis-ease of our times results from people's inability to live in the present moment. As Buddhists point out, another source of restlessness is the stories we spin that distance us from what is actually happening right in front of us. In the eight sections of this ambitious work, one of the pioneers of mind-body medicine shares the riches that accrue to those who cultivate mindful awareness.
In an excellent section on the power of attention, Kabat-Zinn charts the ways in which cell phones, beepers, e-mail, and other technological devices have impaired our ability to be truly present with one another. The dire effects of partial attention are already noticeable in intimate relationships and in the way we go about our jobs. Further, without mindfulness, we lose our ability to savor the senses, which the author calls our "wild and precious life." In two successive sections, Kabat-Zinn explores formal mindfulness practices such as sitting, standing, walking meditation, and yoga, and then moves on to a wide-ranging look at the latest findings in mind-body interactions along with a personal account of his father's battle with Alzheimer's disease.
Kabat-Zinn asserts that the main challenge of our era is to put a halt to "a kind of auto-immune disease of the earth" whereby we have lost our ability to see the dangerous and devious ways we are destroying our home and hearth for ourselves and other species. Moment-by-moment awareness is a gift of the many poets quoted in the book. Their kind of sentience can heal the world as we all become more whole.
A Teaching Story: "A mother was teaching her young child to tell time. They reviewed together: 'When the hands of the clock are together like this, both pointing straight up, it is twelve o'clock, time for lunch. When they make a straight line, like this, it is six o'clock, time for dinner. When they are like this, it is nine o'clock, time to go to your play group. When they are like this it is three o'clock, time for your bath.' The child responded: 'And Mommy, where is plenty of time?"
Quotes To Go:
• "To be present is far from trivial. It may be the hardest work in the world. And forget about the 'may be.' It is the hardest work in the world at least to sustain presence. And the most important. When you do fall into presence healthy children live in the landscape of presence much of the time you know it instantly, feel at home instantly. And being home, you can let loose, let go, rest in your being, rest in awareness, in presence itself, in your own good company."
• "With our cell phones and wireless palm devices, we are now able to be so connected that we can be in touch with anyone and everyone at any time, do business anywhere. But have you noticed that, in the process, we run the risk of never being in touch with ourselves? In the overall seduction, we can easily forget that our primary connection to life is through our own interiority the experiencing of our own body and all our senses, including the mind, which allow us to touch and be touched by the world, and to act appropriately in response to it. And for that, we need moments that are not filled with anything, in which we do not jump to get in one more phone call or send one more e-mail, or plan one more event, or add to our to-do list, even if we can. Moments of reflection, of mulling, of thinking things over, of thoughtfulness."
• "Just intentionally assuming the corpse pose, on our backs, with our feet falling away from each other and our arms alongside the body but not touching it, the palms open to the ceiling or sky, affords ongoing opportunities to practice dying before we die. Lying stretched out in this way, utterly still except for the breath flowing as it will, we let the whole world be just as it is, unfold just as it is unfolding, as if, having died, it is simply going on its way, but without us. All attachments sundered, already dead, so that there is nothing to cling to any further, we see, feel, and know that clinging itself is futile and our fears ultimately irrelevant. All we know is now and that is spectacularly sufficient."
Other Books and Audios by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
• Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness
• Wherever You Go, There You Are
• Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting with Myla Kabat-Zinn
• Pebbles and Pearls (audiocassette)
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• Consciousness and Healing: Integral Approaches to Mind-Body Medicine by Marilyn Schlitz and Tina Amorok with Marc S. Micozzi