It was wonderful to see Jon Kabat-Zinn talk about mindfulness at the School of Life on the 2nd May 2015. Jon has arguably played one of the most important roles for the promotion of secular mindfulness in society, through the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Programme that he founded. MBSR was originally put together to help patients at the hospital where he worked in Massachusetts manage chronic pain, stress and other suffering related to their chronic illnesses – see http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/ for more details.
Jon covered so much in the session but I wanted to share some of the highlights for me:
Heartfulness. Jon emphasised that compassion and loving kindness are built into the fabric of mindfulness. The awareness that is used to bring acceptance to pain and suffering is kind and compassionate. For this reason he often calls it ‘heartfulness’.
Attending to attention. Mindfulness is connecting with awareness itself, this pure awareness can hold and contain suffering in a way that makes unavoidable suffering more manageable. Negative thoughts and emotions self-liberate in this awareness.
If you find it hard to connect with this pure awareness then by all means use an object to anchor yourself in the present moment like following your breathing.
Rest in Awareness. It is important to try to be soft with our focus, like you are ‘resting’ in the present moment focus.
So be very gentle and relaxed with attention but at the same time focus like your life depends on it. Mindfulness is the balance between deep rest and clear focus.
And finally Jon emphasised become at ease with not knowing. As we train in mindfulness our inquisitive and controlling mind can try to question and understand every little thing. At times we just need to let go as best we can and let the practice take care of the answers.