Mindfulness involves cultivating familiarity and intimacy with aspects of everyday experience that we often take for granted.
Excerpt from "In Meditative Mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan Sees a Cure for Many American Ills," by Neely Tucker, The Washington Post, Apr. 4, 2012:
Rep. Tim Ryan (D) is a five-term incumbent from the heartland. His Ohio district includes Youngstown and Warren and part of Akron and smaller places. He’s 38, Catholic, single. He was a star quarterback in high school. He lives a few houses down from his childhood home in Niles. He’s won three of his five elections with about 75 percent of the vote.
So when he starts talking about his life-changing moment after the 2008 race, you’re not expecting him to lean forward at the lunch table and tell you, with great sincerity, that this little story of American politics is about (a) a raisin and (b) nothing else.
“You hold this one raisin right up to your mouth, but you don’t put it in, and after a moment your mouth starts to water,” he says, describing an exercise during a five-day retreat into the meditative technique of mindfulness, developed from centuries of Buddhist practice. “The teaching point is that your body responds to things outside of it, that there’s a mind-body connection. It links to how we take on situations and how this results in a great deal of stress.”
For Ryan, the raisin was the beginning of a transformation. The retreat, conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, led Ryan on a search into how the practice of mindfulness — sitting in silence, losing oneself in the present moment — could be a tonic for what ails the body politic.
In “A Mindful Nation,” published last week, Ryan details his travels across the country, to schools and companies and research facilities, documenting how mindfulness is relieving stress, improving performance and showing potential to reduce health-care costs. It is a prescription, he says, that can help the nation better deal with the constant barrage of information that the Internet age delivers.
“I think when you realize that U.S. Marines are using this that it’s already in the mainstream of our culture,” he says. “It’s a real technique that has real usefulness that has been scientifically documented. . . . Why wouldn’t we have this as part of our health-care program to prevent high levels of stress that cause heart disease and ulcers and Type 2 diabetes and everything else?”
"I like mindfulness because it helps people with peacefulness and self-control. Sitting still and quiet, you learn to notice your body, your feelings, and your breathing. When you notice your body, your feelings, and your breathing, you make a space for deciding how you want to behave. I can use mindfulness if I need to relax or calm down -- like if I'm angry or really excited. Before tests or very special events, I will take a few minutes to be quiet and listen to myself. Taking slow deep breaths and closing my eyes can help me control myself. Being calm helps me do better on tests and control my emotions...It's not easy for some people, but the more we practice, the better it gets."
~ Christian, fourth grade, speaking at a fundraising banquet for Mindful Schools
Excerpt from "Mind Reading: Jon Kabat-Zinn Talks About Bringing Mindfulness Meditation to Medicine," by Maria Szalavitz, Time Magazine, Jan. 11, 2012:
Mindfulness is often spoken of as the heart of Buddhist meditation. It’s not about Buddhism, but about paying attention. That’s what all meditation is, no matter what tradition or particular technique is used.
In Asian languages, the word for mind and the word for heart are same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you’re not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention...
Any way you feel like beginning it is good. The important thing to understand is that it’s not about a particular method or technique.
The real way to start is to be open to experimenting or playing with the possibility of noticing what you’re experiencing in this moment and not to try to feel differently. Most people think that to meditate, I should feel a particular special something, and if I don’t, then I must be doing something wrong.
That is a common but incorrect view of meditation. Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else — it’s about being where you are and knowing it. We are talking about awareness itself: a whole repertoire of ways of knowing that virtually all come through the senses.
My working definition of mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment — non-judgmentally. And the non-judgmental part is the kicker, because we’ve got ideas and opinions about virtually everything. Our consciousness is almost always colored by our likes and dislikes. All highly conditioned, habitual behaviors really comes down to this: do I like it or not, do I want more or do I want to escape? That’s all going on below the surface of awareness and it runs our lives.
"Mindfulness simply means being aware — seeing clearly what is happening in our minds and in the world, from moment to moment, bringing a sense of kindness to our experience rather than getting caught in judging it."
~ Mark Williams
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):
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.
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…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.
“Everything supports wakefulness if you are willing to let yourself be awakened by tenderly yet consistently connecting though your senses. Everything. But it requires a brave heart, and a mind that sees the folly in clinging…to anything.
As an experiment, see if you can be here in the pure awareness of hearing, surrendering over and over, again and again, to a hearing that is always happening without your having to do anything or exert yourself at all…opening to sounds and the spaces between them, and to the silence lying inside, underneath, and in between all sound.”
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, from Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness
"When we start to pay attention in an intentional and nonjudgmental way, as we do when we cultivate mindfulness, and thus bring ourselves back into the present moment, we are tapping into very deep natural resources of strength, creativity, balance, and yes, wisdom—interior resources that we may never have realized we even possess."
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 what'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:
"Mindfulness is moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, cultivated by paying attention. Mindfulness arises naturally from living. It can be strengthened through practice. This practice is sometimes called meditation. But meditation is not what you think.
Meditation is really about paying attention, and the only way in which we can pay attention is through our senses, all of them, including the mind. Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience. Of course, our experience is vast, and includes our own body, our mind, our heart, and the entire world."
~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness (Excerpts from Coming to Our Senses)