Training to Become Intimate with the Workings of One’s Own Mind

Excerpts from “Toward a Mindful Society,” an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn by Barry Boyce, Shambhala Sun, March 2010 (Dr. Kabat-Zinn is giving a talk on behalf of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation on October 6, 2010 at UCLA):

Jon Kabat-Zinn I am not really interested in “spreading” mindfulness, so much as I am interested in igniting passion in people for what is deepest and best within all of us, but which is usually hidden and rarely accessible. Science is a particular way of understanding the world that allows some people to approach what they would otherwise shun, and so can be used as a skillful means for opening people’s minds. By bringing science together with meditation, we're beginning to find new ways, in language people can understand, to show the benefits of training oneself to become intimate with the workings of one’s own mind in a way that generates greater insight and clarity.

The science is also showing interesting and important health benefits of such mind–body training and practices, and is now beginning to elucidate the various pathways through which mindfulness may be exerting its effects on the brain (emotion regulation, working memory, cognitive control, attention, activation in specific somatic maps of the body, cortical thickening in specific regions) and the body (symptom reduction, greater physical well-being, immune function enhancement, epigenetic up and down regulation of activity in large numbers and classes of genes). It is also showing that meditation can bring a sense of meaning and purpose to life, based on understanding the nonseparation of self and other. Given the condition we find ourselves in these days on this planet, understanding our interconnectedness is not a spiritual luxury; it’s a societal imperative.

Three or four hundred years ago, not so long in the scheme of things, people practicing meditation did so under fairly isolated conditions, mostly in monasteries. Now meditation is being practiced and studied in laboratories, hospitals, and clinics, and is even finding its way into primary and secondary schools. The people teaching and researching it have in many cases been involved with mindfulness for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years by now.


The line segments AB and CD are orthogonal to each other.

They are not just jumping on some new mindfulness bandwagon. And their work has resulted in many professionals being drawn to mindfulness for the first time. That in itself is a wonderful phenomenon, as long as it is understood that mindfulness is not merely a nice “concept” but an orthogonal way of being that requires ongoing practice and cultivation.

…There's nothing wrong with thinking. So much that is beautiful comes out of thinking and out of our emotions. But if our thinking is not balanced with awareness, we can end up deluded, perpetually lost in thought, and out of our minds just when we need them the most.