Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to’ (The Guardian)

Kabat Zinn

By taking the Buddhism out of the practice, Kabat-Zinn pioneered a meditative approach used all over the world to treat pain and depression. He talks about Trump, ‘McMindfulness’ and how a 10-second vision in 1979 led to a change in the world’s consciousness

Interview by Robert Booth
The Guardian
Sun 22 Oct 2017

The police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed no mercy to Jon Kabat-Zinn in May 1970. The man now considered the godfather of modern mindfulness was a graduate student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an anti-Vietnam-war protester, agitating alongside the Black Panthers and the French playwright Jean Genet.

“I got my entire face battered in,” he recalls. “They put this instrument on my wrist called the claw, which they tightened to generate enormous amounts of pain without leaving any marks. But they certainly left a lot of marks on my face. They pulled me into the back of the police station and beat the shit out of me.”

Today, at 73, Kabat-Zinn’s restful, lined face shows no scars from that protest outside a police station, when a trip canvassing support for a nationwide university strike boiled over into violence,leaving him with stitches.

He sits beneath the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Parliament Square in London taking a breather after going straight from an overnight flight out of Boston into a 90-minute talk to a gathering of international parliamentarians about how he thinks mindfulness could – to put it bluntly – change the world.

The once “very macho” anti-war activist who raged against MIT’s role in nuclear weapons research is the catalyst behind the west’s mushrooming interest in mindfulness meditation, having reimagined Buddhist contemplation practices for a secular age almost 40 years ago.

With others, he pioneered an eight-week mindfulness-based stress-reduction course at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for patients with chronic pain, harnessing the fundamentals of mindfulness meditation as taught by the Buddha, but with the Buddhism taken out. “I bent over backwards to structure it and find ways to speak about it that avoided as much as possible the risk of it being seen as Buddhist, new age, eastern mysticism or just plain flakey,” he says.

Kabat-Zinn had been meditating since 1965, but had no compunction in playing the Buddhism right down. “I got into this through the Zen door which is a very irreverent approach to Buddhism,” he says. He talks a lot about dharma, the term for the Buddha’s teaching, but he’s not a Buddhist and remarks that to insist mindfulness meditation is Buddhist is like saying gravity is English because it was identified by Sir Isaac Newton.

The UMass Stress Reduction Clinic opened its doors in 1979 and taught people with chronic back pain, victims of industrial accidents, cancer patients and sometimes paraplegics. Kabat-Zinn has defined mindfulness meditation as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. By focusing on the breath, the idea is to cultivate attention on the body and mind as it is moment to moment, and so help with pain, both physical and emotional.

“It often results in apprehending the constantly changing nature of sensations, even highly unpleasant ones, and thus their impermanence,” he says. “It also gives rise to the direct experience that ‘the pain is not me’.” As a result, some of his patients found ways “to be in a different relationship with their pain” while others felt it diminish. The title of his 1990 bestseller about the clinic captures his approach to accepting whatever life throws at you: Full Catastrophe Living.

Now, in 2017, Kabat-Zinn vibrates with an urgent belief that meditation is the “radical act of love and sanity” we need in the age of Trump, accelerating climate change and disasters such as the Grenfell Tower fire.

He has a platform to build on. Mindfulness courses ultimately derived from his work are now being rolled out in the UK to school pupils, convicts, civil servants and even politicians. It is prescribed on the NHS in some areas to prevent recurrent depression, with 2,256 people completing eight-week courses last year. The course reduces the likelihood of relapse by almost a third, according to an analysis of nine trials. In the US, the NBA basketball champions, Golden State Warriors, are the latest poster boys for the practice after their coach, Steve Kerr, made mindfulness one of the team’s core values.


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Research and Science of Mindfulness

According to Mindfulness Research Monthly (Black, 2010), neuroscience research on the benefits of mindfulness has become more prolific. In recent years there has been a surge in NIH-funded research trials in the U.S. In 2008, even the U.S. Department of Defense began using mindfulness practice as part of its treatment for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to Black (2010), a meta-analytic review by Sawyer, Witt and Oh in 2010 found that mindfulness-based therapies had a dramatic effect on improving both depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness-Based Training for Adults

Research among the scientific community has grown exponentially with researchers from leading institutions around the world including – Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, University of Wisconsin at Madison, Oxford, Cambridge, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and others – leading the way. Numerous studies now show that mindfulness practice can have a profound impact on our emotional wellbeing, physical health, ability to cope with stress and challenges, relationships, and performance.

Brain scanning technologies reveal that not only does the activity of the brain change from moment to moment but the actual structure of the brain itself can change. New synaptic connections can form among brain cells and new brain cells can develop. Practice has been shown to lead to growth of key brain regions associated with emotional regulation, concentration and self-control, as well as reductions in grey-matter density, the area of the brain central to the stress response, fear and anxiety.

Mindfulness-Based Training for M-DCPS Teachers and Counselors

In the 2015-2016 school year a research study was conducted on a Professional Development Pilot Program for Miami-Dade County Public School Teachers and Administrators based on the Inner Journey ~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Program, the MBSR adaptation developed and taught by Valerie York-Zimmerman beginning in 2002.

As Founder of, Executive Director, and Senior Trainer for Mindful Kids Miami, from its inception through 2016, Valerie taught the 200 teachers and mental health school counselors from 100 schools who participated in the Pilot Program during the 2015-2016 school year. Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS) is the 3rd largest and one of the most diverse districts in the U.S.

The study was a research collaboration led by David J. Lee, Ph.D., University of Miami’s Department of Public Health Sciences, Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D., Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, and Tarek Chebbi, Ed.D., Chair, Research Review Committee of M-DCPS.

Study description and conclusions were included in a project supervised by Dr. David Lee in the UM – UMass REDCap System collaborative study entitled “Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on the Well-Being of Educators.”  It was a UM Medical School IRB and Miami-Dade County Public Schools approved study, which objective was to evaluate the effectiveness of mindfulness training on teachers and administrators that participated in the 8-week  Inner Journey ~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Program training.  The “Effectiveness of Mindfulness Training on the Well-Being of Educators” study was embedded in the IJ-MBSR Program as a pilot program for Miami-Dade County Public Schools Professional Development and Evaluation.

These results suggest improvements in self-compassion and mindfulness, and decreased levels of anxiety in individuals that participated in the IJ-MBSR 8 week program. These findings are consistent with previous research on the benefits of mindfulness practice.

Other Research Studies on the IJ-MBSR Program for Adults

During the two years prior to the M-DCPS IJ-MBSR Pilot Program, research studies with adult participants in all of the Inner Journey~ Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (IJ-MBSR) Programs taught by Valerie York-Zimmerman were overseen and evaluated by Sharon Theroux, Ph.D., neuro-psychologist and founder of the South Florida Center for Mindfulness.  Pre- and Post- Surveys which included the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), Zung Anxiety Scale, and Self-Compassion Surveys were conducted.

Analysis of the data from all adult participants in the IJ-MBSR trainings resulted in significant improvements in each area: reduced anxiety, increased compassion, and improved mindfulness.

The Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ) measures improvements associated with positive well-being something that is necessary to help reduce burnout. Higher scores in the “observing” facet are associated with good psychological adjustment. (Baer, 2008).  The five facets are:

1. Observe surroundings
2. Describe thoughts and emotions
3. Act with awareness
4. Be non-judgmental
5. Be non-reactive in day-to-day life

Mindfulness-Based Training for Children

The body of research on mindfulness training for children and teens continues to grow. There is now evidence to show the impact which mindfulness has on the prefrontal cortex and interconnections involved in attention, working memory, executive function, emotional and behavioral regulation, all of which are relevant to academic, psychological and social well-being and the success of youth today.

Several more prominent school-based interventions (Napoli, 2002; Napoli, 2004; Napoli, Rock Krech, and Holley, 2005; Flook et al. 2010;  Rechtschaffen and Cohen, 2010) focused on mindfulness training for elementary school students. Linda Lantieri’s work in New York City after 9/11 with children in crises culminated in interventions for students and teachers (Lantieri and Goleman, 2008). Willingham (2011) notes that teachers who use emotion regulation skills in their classrooms can improve the self-control capacities of their students.

In the 2011-2012 school year, Mindful Schools partnered with the University of California at Davis to conduct the largest randomized-controlled study to date on mindfulness involving 915 children and 47 teachers in 3 Oakland public elementary schools in a high crime area.  Substantive behavioral improvements were apparent after just six weeks of training.

Mindfulness teachers in the study had a strong mindfulness background, which is a key determinant of success when teaching mindfulness.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn stated in an article in Mindful, February 2014,

“The brain science has become very rigorous. A lot of credit obviously goes to Richie Davidson in his lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds. Their work is unique and focuses on both basic science and translational research, which takes place in real-life settings such as Madison’s public schools.”

No Blueprint, Just Love (

When he started MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn didn’t have a detailed plan—just passion and an inkling that lots of good would come of it.


In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn recruited chronically ill patients not responding well to traditional treatments to participate in his newly formed eight-week stress-reduction program. Now, more than 35 years later, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and its offshoots have entered the mainstream of health care, scientific study, and public policy.

We talked to the health and well-being pioneer about why mindfulness has attracted so much attention and why it will continue to do so.

In early 2005, I met Jon Kabat-Zinn at his home in Massachusetts. I came as a meditation practitioner and journalist with a bit of skepticism about MBSR. I was curious whether the attempt to bring secular mindfulness to the broader society could be effective. In a lengthy, impassioned conversation, I began to be persuaded of its validity and power, and as a result we started down on a path of further investigation that led us to Mindful and

Since then, we’ve met scores of people who are bringing this approach to mindfulness into many different contexts and helping all sorts of people. And Jon and his many colleagues have just kept on going, bringing mindfulness into every corner of life. I returned to Jon’s home, on the occasion of the publication of a revised and updated edition of his groundbreaking book Full Catastrophe Living, to talk about his work. Fittingly, we began with a little bit of silence and then embarked on a stimulating conversation about the present and future of the practice he has devoted his life and heart to.

—Barry Boyce,
Editor-in-Chief, Mindful

Mindful: Did you ever think the work that started in a modest clinic in a spare room of a hospital in Central Massachusetts would become so influential?

Jon Kabat-Zinn: In a word, yes. I never thought of this work as a small thing. I don’t think of myself as a big deal, but I always thought of this work as a very big deal. It wasn’t just about thinking that meditation had a modest contribution to make to Western medicine. MBSR was built on the conviction that the insights, wisdom, and compassion of the meditative traditions were equal in import and magnitude to the great discoveries about human life we’ve made in the West. If there’s an instruction manual for being human, then Western science and medicine have supplied one part of it, and the contemplative traditions have supplied another, the part that has to do with discovering and cultivating our deep interior resources.

My hope was that by starting a stress-reduction clinic based on relatively intensive training in mindfulness meditation and yoga—and their applications in everyday living—we could document how these practices might have a profound effect on the health and well-being of individuals. The larger purpose was to effect a kind of public-health intervention that would ultimately move the bell curve of the entire society.

Read the full interview at

Copyright © 2016

When Mindfulness Meets the Classroom (The Atlantic)


Read the original 2015 article at The Atlantic


Many educators are introducing meditation into the classroom as a means of improving kids’ attention and emotional regulation.

A five-minute walk from the rickety, raised track that carries the 5 train through the Bronx, the English teacher Argos Gonzalez balanced a rounded metal bowl on an outstretched palm. His class—a mix of black and Hispanic students in their late teens, most of whom live in one of the poorest districts in New York City—by now were used to the sight of this unusual object: a Tibetan meditation bell.“Today we’re going to talk about mindfulness of emotion,” Gonzalez said with a hint of a Venezuelan accent. “You guys remember what mindfulness is?” Met with quiet stares, Gonzalez gestured to one of the posters pasted at the back of the classroom, where the students a few weeks earlier had brainstormed terms describing the meaning of “mindfulness.” There were some tentative mumblings: “being focused,” “being aware of our surroundings.”Gonzalez nodded. “Right. But it’s also being aware of our feelings, our emotions, and how they impact us.”

Arturo A. Schomburg Satellite Academy is what is known in New York City as a transfer school, a small high school designed to re-engage students who have dropped out or fallen behind. This academy occupies two floors of a hulking, grey building that’s also home to two other public schools. For the most part, Gonzalez told me, the kids who come here genuinely want to graduate, but attendance is their biggest barrier to success. On the day I visited, one of Gonzalez’s students had just been released from jail; one recently had an abortion; one had watched a friend bleed to death from a gunshot wound the previous year. Between finding money to put food on the table and dealing with unstable family members, these students’ minds are often crowded with concerns more pressing than schoolwork.

Still holding the bowl, Gonzalez continued with the day’s lesson. “I’m going to say a couple of words to you. You’re not literally going to feel that emotion, but the word is going to trigger something, it’s going to make you think of something or feel something. Try to explore it.”

Read the original 2015 article at The Atlantic

Copyright © 2015 The Atlantic

60 Minutes: What it’s like to try to achieve “mindfulness,” by Anderson Cooper

This article is cross-posted from 60 Minutes on CBS News.

Anderson Cooper reports on what it’s like to try to achieve “mindfulness,” a self-awareness scientists say is very healthy, but rarely achieved in today’s world of digital distractions

The following is a script from “Mindfulness” which aired on Dec. 14, 2014. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Denise Schrier Cetta, producer. Matthew Danowski , editor.

Our lives are filled with distractions — email, Twitter, texting we’re constantly connected to technology, rarely alone with just our thoughts. Which is probably why there’s a growing movement in America to train people to get around the stresses of daily life.

It’s a practice called “mindfulness” and it basically means being aware of your thoughts, physical sensations, and surroundings.

Tonight, we’ll introduce you to the man who’s largely responsible for mindfulness gaining traction. His name is Jon Kabat-Zinn and he thinks mindfulness is the answer for people who are so overwhelmed by life, they feel they aren’t really living at all.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: There are a lot of different ways to talk about mindfulness, but what it really means is awareness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Anderson Cooper: Is it being present?

Jon Kabat-Zinn: It is being present. That’s exactly what it is.

Anderson Cooper: I don’t feel I’m very present in each moment. I feel like every moment I’m either thinking about something that’s coming down the road, or something that’s been in the past.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: So ultimately all this preparing is for what? For the next moment, like the last moment, like, and then we’re dead (laugh) so in a certain way…

Anderson Cooper: Oh God, this is depressing.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Are we going to experience while we’re still alive? We’re only alive now.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, is an MIT-trained scientist who’s been practicing mindfulness for 47 years. Back in 1979, he started teaching mindfulness through meditation to people suffering from chronic pain and illness. That program is now used in more than 700 hospitals worldwide.

Anderson Cooper: So how can you be mindful in your daily life?

Read the full text at CBS News.

Content Copyright (c) CBS News.