Mindfulness is, basically, being in the present moment, without judgement. The point is that the present moment is the only one we have.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment and Your Life, defines it as “…paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, as if your life depends on it – because it does.”
He is also the author of a book with a title that, in a way, describes mindfulness - Wherever You Go, There You Are.
There’s no magic pill to get rid of the stresses of daily life. The nature of being human is that at times we have to deal with sickness, deception, loss, grief, disappointment and physical pain.
Advocates of mindfulness claim that it helps a person confront those challenges with a deeper sense of peace and to make changes that make us healthier and happier.
Kabat-Zinn is considered the spark of what’s become a global interest in mindfulness that crosses the boundaries of psychology, medicine and philosophy.
Although mindfulness meditation is often considered a Buddhist practice, the religious thread has tended to recede as it has gained popular acceptance. Kabat-Zinn has focused on the scientific side of mindfulness, and research at universities and medical centers has documented positive results in a wide range of conditions, including psoriasis, pain, anxiety and strength of the immune system.
Kabat-Zinn said he started researching basic mindfulness and mediation techniques after doctors told him they estimated they only helped about 20 percent of their patients. Kabat-Zinn, who holds a PhD. in molecular biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began to delve into whether a connection between the mind and body could help more people heal, lessen their pain, or maintain some degree of optimism and hope in the midst of tremendous physical and emotional challenges.
Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979. Since then, he has spoken about mindfulness and worked with medical and mental health professionals around the world. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction developed a wide following, with its combination of meditation, dialogue, reflection and mindful yoga and movement. It has shown positive results on psychological outlook and health in prisons, inner city neighborhoods and among a wide range of populations.
Consider worry. It’s a simple example of the mind not being in the moment.
“Many times people are trapped in the past, maybe who’s to blame or wishing for the good ole days,” said Kabat-Zinn. “Or they might be thinking about the future. We can drive ourselves crazy worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.”
Just allowing everything to be as it is, for a moment, “…that’s a form of freedom” said Kabat-Zinn. Being present, being mindful, doesn’t mean ignoring issues or concerns, but stepping back, acknowledging them and not being overwhelmed by them. That can allow those conditions or challenges to be dealt with, often in a more positive way, one moment at a time.
Kabat-Zinn said, “Society has reached a point where we’re beginning to understand that the increasing level of stress requires some kind of shift that’s not in the form of taking some pill to get away from it. It’s more about a way of being.”
Research by Kabat-Zinn and others found that calming the mind and being in the present moment can encourage developments like positive self-esteem, healthy eating habits or the patience to de-escalate anger.
You don’t have to go anywhere or buy anything to begin mindful awareness or meditation. Don’t try to meditate and expect some “special” experience, said Kabat-Zinn. Just be in the present moment, accepting all that life is, in the “now.”
These are just a sampling of free guided mindfulness meditations that can be found online, including several others with Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Mindfulness for Beginners with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness of Breath with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Oneness Meditation on “Being” with Jon Kabat-Zinn
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, “Mindfulness for Beginners,” audio excerpt from book, Sounds True, October 2014.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, “How Can Mindfulness Change Your Life,” Center for Mindfulness, Worcester, Mass., Aug. 20, 2013
Kabat-Zinn, Jon, “The Healing Power of Mindfulness,” Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, April 3, 2011
Tippett, Krista, “Opening to Our Lives, with Jon Kabat-Zinn,” On Being, Dec. 27, 2012