Cultivating Awareness of Awareness

Jon Kabat-Zinn in conversation with Krista Tippett on Speaking of Faith (April 16, 2009):

How you pay attention in your life actually can change your life and your biology and your brain. So when you don't have any cause to question Opening to Our Liveswhat's going on…and things are going in a direction that you describe for yourself as desirable — in other words, your 401(k) is increasing in value every year and so forth — it just seems like, yes, all is right with the world. And you can pay your mortgage payments and maybe buy a bigger house and on and on and…we tell ourselves that this is the way it's supposed to be. And then there are these rude awakenings that happen sometimes. It doesn't have to be the collapse of the economy or the stock market. It can be as simple as, you know, something happening to one of your family members or yourself.

…But we live in a kind of somnambulant expectation that everything will go on the way it is. Do you know what I'm saying? And that is certifiably absurd. And so that, the stress if we loop it back to stress and the whole thing about mindfulness-based stress reduction, is that the stress really has to do with wanting things to stay the same when they are inevitably going to change. The law of impermanence basically rules the universe and so things are never constant; they're continually changing. And if you want to hold them a particular way, you can do it for short periods of time at tremendous cost, but ultimately things change.

And if you don't recognize that, then you're going to create a lot of suffering for yourself and other people.

…we call ourselves Homo sapien sapiens. That's the species name we've given ourselves. And that means from the Latin sapere, which means "to taste" or "to know." The species that knows and knows that it knows. So that means really awareness and meta-awareness. And it would be nice if that were actually true, but I think it's a little premature to call ourselves that. And now maybe we need to live ourselves into owning that name by cultivating awareness and awareness of awareness itself and let that be in some sense the guide as to what we're going to invest in, how we're going to make decisions about where we live, where we're going to send our kids to school, how we're going to be at the dinner table. Whether we're going to take our bodies and our children and our parents for granted or whether we're going to live life as if it really mattered moment by moment.

And that's not some kind of prescription for more stuff that you need to do in order to be happy. This is getting out of your own way long enough to realize that you already have the potential for tremendous well-being and happiness right here, right now. Nothing else has to change.

…And all the scientific evidence is suggesting that when you choose life in the way I'm talking about, your brain changes in both form and function, your immune system changes, your body changes. I mean, we start to really take care of what's most important and there are very, very tangible results at the level of the body, the mind, and the heart, and most importantly our relationships with the world and with our loved ones and with our own bodies.

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Books by Jon Kabat-Zinn: