Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn spends an evening sharing his secrets in the legendary London Euston
Friends Meeting House
Mindfulness is getting very popular. Jon Kabat-Zinn, MIT Molecular Biologist turned mindfulness advocate, first began researching mindfulness in the west, back in 1979 in Massachussetts. He gave a rousing lecture to a captive audience in London yesterday.
The talk was simply titled ‘An evening with Jon Kabat-Zinn’ and he honoured and valued the 1200 packed venue for showing up, despite the bitterly cold weather and the fact that there’s always something else we could be doing. The talk turned into a guided meditation seamlessly and before we knew what was happening, we were all feeling our breath and watching our thoughts. He gently brought us back in the room and shared some beautiful poems, which he recited by heart, and from the heart.
Kabat-Zinn is on a mindfulness tour of the UK. He ran a one-day guided mindfulness workshop at the ‘Mindfulness in Society’ conference in Chester, England. He was also a keynote speaker at the annual conference ‘Mindfulness in Education’ in London.
I enjoyed listening to Kabat-Zinn’s lecture. Here’s the five priniciple take home messages that I felt he emphasized for us all:
1. Be mindful rather than do mindfulness
‘Mindfulness is not a technique, it’s a way of being’. Kabat-Zinn continuously emphasised this point. As mindfulness continues to roll out into different areas, people are more likely to use the approach as a tool kit of ways of dealing with difficulties. But the power of mindfulness comes from living with awareness, moment by moment, in everything you do.
2. Meditate to be mindful
‘You won’t reach the door of this hall without forgetting to be mindful without a practice’. Although mindfulness is more than just meditating, Kabat-Zinn wanted to convey the importance of a daily practice. ‘Before I check my email or deal with my family details, I get on the cushion and mediate. That’s what I do anyway. You can do what you want’. That sounds wise to me - you can't beat a good cushion.
3. Remember, you’re already perfect
You don’t need to try and improve or change or endlessly develop yourself. Because you’re perfect already. Your inner essence is whole, pure, perfect and complete as it is. Just as a young baby is perfect just as she is, so are you perfect just as you are.
I think this is an important point. Nowadays, pretty much every book in the self-help and personal development field is about improving and changing. With mindfulness, the tide is changing. The key is acceptance rather than constantly trying to change. Acceptance first, change may or may not come later. In my opinion, once you accept your inner self is whole and complete, the constant chasing after, and addiction to too much food, drugs, alcohol, relationships, work can begin to diminish. I'm not saying this is easy, but that's the invitation and mindfulness is a great way to that.
4. Embrace the research
‘The level of research continues to grow exponentially and that’s why we’re seeing mindfulness in all sorts of new places’ he stated. Kabat-Zinn shared his love of London because it’s the ‘birthplace of neuro-plasticity’. He explained how the medieval streets of London meant taxi drivers have to spend years learning the roads of the ancient metropolis. This meant, scientist were able to do brain scans of the drivers before and after the ‘Knowledge’ (the test the drivers study for) and found the brain changes through learning and experience. The area of the brain to do with spatial awareness and memory grew bigger. The brain is not static and fixed but changes more than any other organ in the body. And with later studies of meditators, scientists found you can change your brain using mindfulness, in very healthy ways. Other key research has shown how mindfulness can slow the rate of ageing by reducing stress, right at the level of your genes. This research was first done by Elizabeth Blackburn, who won a noble prize for her efforts in physiology.
5. Discover that mindfulness is almost nothing and, yet, everything
Mindfulness looks like you’re doing nothing. But it can be the hardest process in the world, because it’s not doing nothing, it’s non-doing. And non-doing, or being, is not easy for us nowadays in our fast-paced, result-driven world. And although mindfulness may look like nothing, it’s your life. Mindfulness is everything. Without awareness, there’s no world, no people and no you. Wake up and smell the roses folks!
The event was beautifully organised by the non-profit group, Action for Happiness. Join their movement encourages Jon (and me!) – I think they’re great. The online video of the lecture will be posted here once available.
Any comments or questions, please feel free to share below. I'm happy to answer any questions.