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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Meditation and Mindfulness for All of Us: Six Questions with Sharon Salzberg

by Kate Moos, managing producer

People watch the men's Ski Jumping Individual LH at the Whistler Olympic Park during the Vancouver Winter Olympics on February 20, 2010. (photo by: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)
(photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

Sharon Salzberg is one of the pioneering teachers of Buddhist thought and meditation in this country. A co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, she has taught mindfulness for 30 years, and is the author of several books, including Loving-kindness, Faith, and most recently, Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation.

In our show with Jon Kabat-Zinn, Krista cites Sharon Salzberg’s work as an early conveyor of Buddhist and mindfulness practice in this country. We interviewed her in the very early days of this project for a show called "The Meaning of Faith" and in 2008, at the height of the worst economic downturn this country has seen since the Great Depression, to glean her insights into navigating a world of reduced expectations.

Sharon SalzbergSharon Salzberg graciously took my questions as a wanna-be mindfulness practitioner.

I’ve experimented with mindfulness meditation but never managed to develop a consistent practice. Most recently, my insight on this difficulty is that I want mindfulness practice to deliver me some emotional goods, or put me in a better mood, and when that doesn’t happen I get discouraged. What kind of expectations — if any — should I bring to this experience as a beginner?

Meditation is an experiment we are making, bringing us out of our normal habits of intense self-judgment, comparing, and impatience. Mindfulness isn’t about what is happening; it is about how we are relating to what is happening — how much awareness, balance and compassion are bringing to this moment’s experience, whatever it is.

For example, it is very likely you will find your attention wandering, not 45 minutes after you first begin, but probably within a few seconds. You get lost in a fantasy, or fall asleep. That is normal and not a sign of failure. What I emphasize is that the critical moment in your meditation is the moment you see you’ve been distracted; instead of falling into our usual habits of self-condemnation, that’s a time we can practice letting go while being kind to ourselves, and work with the renewing power of beginning again.

Practicing mindfulness sometimes just seems to make my mind race even more than usual. Are there any ways I can prepare for my practice that will help me slow down before I begin?

It can help to do some walking or movement meditation before sitting, to help settle your energy. These are simple techniques that, if walking, involve feeling sensations in our feet and legs — things like heaviness, lightness, hardness. Or if you are lifting your arms instead of walking, it’s the same effort. Simply feel what’s going on in your body.

And once you sit down to begin that part of meditation, you can set an intention that might help frame all the coming experiences in a bigger context, like “I am practicing to learn balance, neither fighting my thoughts or letting them overwhelm me.” That’s like putting the wide-angle lens on the camera, and you can feel some space from the racing thoughts. Also, remember it won’t last forever. That period of agitation is not revealing who you really are, what your life will now look like forever. This too will pass.

Real HappinessThere is almost undeniable evidence that regular meditation brings predictable medical, psychological, and cognitive benefits. Really, it almost appears it makes us smarter and better-looking and it costs nothing. Why do I resist it? Why do I prefer to watch embarrassing television as a way to relax? It seems perverse!

I often say to people, “Isn’t it ironic that if someone said to us, ‘Here is this thing you can do 20 minutes a day, and it will really help your friend,’ we’d probably do it. But to put in that 20 minutes for ourselves is much more difficult.”

It is difficult, but if we really consider the reported benefits, we also see that doing something like meditation isn’t selfish or self-centered. If we become depleted, overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives, perpetually irritable, or disconnected, we are not going to be able to give much to others.

The common difficulty is why I think it is good to be both reasonable and realistic. Try to make a commitment you can keep — even five minutes a day is a good beginning, and a way to cut through the momentum of our busyness and lack of connection to our inner lives.

We have been creating new shows as part of a series called "The Civil Conversations Project," exploring how we can create healthy engagement and deeper listening across some of the deepest and most entrenched divides in American public life. We live in a world of very real conflict — conflict that doesn’t evaporate when we decide to be polite or civil to each other. Does mindfulness have a place in helping us navigate real-world conflicts?

I think mindfulness could have a significant place in that navigation. Clearly it helps us have more self-awareness, including helping us be in closer touch with our intentions and motivations: “What do I actually want out of this encounter? Resolution? Revenge? Vindication? Understanding?” We can see our motives and decide if we want to pursue that stance or not.

One of the functions of mindfulness is to give us options. We can see our reactions building early, and not just after we have already pressed “send” on that nasty, hostile email or closed a door we actually hope could remain open. We see what is happening within, without panic or getting lost in the reaction. We know we can follow it out or let it go. And because mindfulness helps us be in touch with a big range of feelings, thoughts, and reactions, we know from experience that we can take a strong, principled stand on something while not demonizing someone else for their views or even their actions. We learn that we can be fierce without hating.

You are one of the early interpreters of Buddhism in this country and have been meditating and teaching for decades. You’re also fairly wired; I first reached out to you about this interview on Twitter, for example. Some people predict that new technologies and mobile communication devices will just make us more anxious and distracted, but you seem to find them very useful. Do you experience a contradiction in this?

I think of myself as not particularly technologically savvy. My iPhone has few apps aside from The Weather Channel and a flashlight (though I think I am on a meditation app myself), and there are probably a thousand things my computer can do to make my life easier that I haven’t yet learned. But from the first time I did a tele-teaching, and heard that someone was calling in from Moscow, I loved the idea of our being able to connect to each other so easily.

I do spend quite a bit of time on Twitter (I confess), have done a tweet chat and have more coming. I do find these things quite useful. What’s sad is sitting in a hotel lobby somewhere and seeing every single person in there constantly on a cell phone or PDA, seemingly not noticing where they actually are. And since I do it myself, I try to remember to bring my attention back to my breath and the present moment.

Any final words for someone starting out?

The proof of the benefit of meditation comes in your life. You might not have a great breakthrough experience sitting this Thursday morning, though of course we would like that. It might show itself in your greater ability to begin again once you’ve made a mistake, or really listening to someone rather than mostly contemplating all the other things you need to do as they converse.

There needs to be a critical look at whether meditation is worth your pursuing, but we need to practice it for a while before evaluating, and then evaluate on the basis of your life. After all, we don’t practice mindfulness meditation to become a great meditator; we practice to have a more balanced, aware, and connected life.

Photo of the author by Liz Matthews.

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A Necessary and Vital Moment for Jon Kabat-Zinn and Being Mindful in All of Our Senses

by Krista Tippett, host

» audio-only download (mp3, 51:09)

I’m listening with new ears this week to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s practical approach for calming ourselves, and also being a nourishing presence in the world. Before this interview, I had read and heard of Jon Kabat-Zinn for years. But I hadn’t really grasped that he is first a scientist — a molecular biologist — and second one of the world’s leading experts on meditation. And it was when I listened to talks he’d given at Google and MIT that I really wanted to have this conversation with him.

He is the real thing — a teacher — with a personal combination of erudition, warmth, wit, and wisdom.Jon Kabat-Zinn As we began to speak, he told me that the seeds were planted in his earliest life with his microbiologist father and painter mother to pursue the nature of the human condition in its fullest sense.

In more than three decades of work at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn has contributed mightily to demystifying meditation — taking it out of a box that says it is only for Buddhists or special practitioners, then studying its effects clinically and bringing the fruits of his research into life-changing work with the ill and dying, with leaders, and with Olympic athletes. He has followed a conviction that began to grow in him after he began to meditate while a doctoral student at MIT in 1966: that if the deepest insights behind mindfulness meditation are true, they must be true for everyone, in every circumstance. That is, the facts of impermanence and imperfection as a commonplace part of life apply to us all; we all struggle to live gracefully with those realities, and we all create suffering for ourselves and those around us as we resist and deny them.

The real challenge that defines our humanity is this: how do we take on reality as it unfolds, navigate it, and truly stay awake and alive in this moment of life, whatever its contours. And here is the silver lining, if you will, of Buddhism’s frank insistence on suffering as a feature of life: a parallel insistence that equanimity and even joy are within our grasp in every moment, without anything at all needing to change. The stakes for getting this right are high. As Thoreau said, in one of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s favorite lines, “Only the day dawns to which we are awake.”

He also points out that our wondrous, seductive, addictive new generations of technologies — at once liberating and stress-inducing — are themselves changing us. And they will force us to re-examine the deepest meaning of what it means to be human. Part of this work, surely, will be in living into our understanding of that second level of knowing that we know — of sovereignty over our minds, of awareness that encompasses “thinking” but also transcends it and can galvanize it towards greater sanity, creativity, and healing.

Coming to Our Senses by Jon Kabat-ZinnThere is a paradox here that I love, and that I explore with delight with Jon Kabat-Zinn in this conversation. That second level of knowing — being mindful — is not about being in one’s head, just as meditation is not about sitting with one’s thoughts. It is first and foremost about rooting in the whole of experience. In the first instance, this means rooting ourselves in our own bodies, in all of our senses, in breath, in the mind itself as a “sense” and not just a cognitive realm. There are a couple of minutes in this hour in which we hear Jon Kabat-Zinn conduct an introductory meditative experience for employees at Google, which we also partake of by way of radio. This spiritual technology or way or living, however you want to name it, is immediately effective and at the same time an engagement for a lifetime. It is about “coming to our senses” in the fullest sense of that phrase.

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French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.
In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)
French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.
In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)

French Buddhist Community Plums the Depths of Social Networking for Mindfulness Seekers

by Shubha Bala, associate producer

A year after Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village started its social media plan, the French Buddhist community reflects on what they have accomplished and what are their next steps. I found it particularly interesting that, using Facebook and Twitter, an entirely new demographic has become exposed to the practice of mindfulness:

"The online audience for the Thich Nhat Hanh branded accounts grew in ways that were unexpected, and it grew fast. The initial demographics represented groups not typical of those who came to retreats. Many more young people and also a more equal balance of male and female followers."

Appropriately, we discovered this article through Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter feed.

In the photo above, Sister Chan Khong is trained on writing a blog at Plum Village in France. (photo: Geoff Livingston)

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We don’t have to schedule a trip to the monastery to enjoy the benefits of stopping for bells of mindfulness. We can use many ‘ordinary’ events in our daily lives to call us back to ourselves and to the present moment. The ringing of the telephone, for example: many of my students pause to breathe in and out mindfully three times before they pick up the phone, in order to be fully present to themselves and to the person calling them. Or when we are driving, a red light can be a wonderful friend reminding us to stop, relax, let go of discouraging thought patterns and feel more space inside.
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—Thich Nhat Hanh, from his interview in Friday’s Huffington Post.

I greatly appreciate Marianne Schnall’s line of questioning here. She could’ve gone philosophical on us, but she didn’t. She’s seeking advice on how to better understand and operate in this frenetic, always-connected world we live in. How do we vacation and relax? How do we prioritize our relationships with people and our electronic gadgets? These are real questions we are all struggling with in the most ordinary of ways. Which reminds me of this quote that I almost featured:

"Relationships are like a forest: it takes a long time to build up precious trust, but one really thoughtless act or remark can be like a lighted match that destroys everything."

Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Prayer, Attention, and Will
Andy Dayton, associate web producer

As I was listening to last week’s program, one part that stood out to me was Krista’s question to Stephen Mitchell about the last line in his book, The Enlightened Mind, “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.” A quote from the French philosopher Simone Weil, Mitchell responded:

Well, that’s a marvelous definition. I love that. I think that could be as close as someone can get to a wonderful definition of prayer. In that sense, prayer has nothing religious about it. A mathematician working at a problem or a little kid trying to pick out scales on the piano is a person at prayer.

Weil has come up before at SOF, as a potential candidate in another run of programs about historical figures (we just finished the first series with our program about Sitting Bull). Intrigued, I did a bit of searching an found the quote in an essay by Weil titled “Attention and Will,” from Gravity and Grace, the first collection of her essays to be published in book form. Here’s the same quote with a bit more context:

We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them. To beg for them is to believe that we have a Father in heaven. Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem.  Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

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Download

Dharma Talking with Cheri Maples
» download (mp3, 12:53)
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

I recently caught up with dharma teacher Cheri Maples, who appeared in our 2003 program "Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hahn." Back then, Maples was a police captain (later an assistant attorney general) in Madison, Wisconsin. She spoke with Krista about what it means to be a compassionate cop who practices mindfulness awareness on the job.

We’ve re-aired “Brother Thay” seven times (!) since its inaugural broadcast, and noticed that people consistently resonate with Maples and her personal story. Maples was in town recently to deliver a dharma talk (PDF) so I decided to go and see what’s changed in her life since she and Krista last spoke.

Maples reflected on the surprising ways in which her life changed course after she accepted an invitation from Thich Nhat Hahn to travel together to Vietnam in 2007. The following year, the Zen master formally ordained her as a dharma teacher through a ceremony called "The Transmission of the Lamp." She is no longer employed by the state, but she’s still involved with the criminal justice system through a new organization she co-founded called The Center for Mindfulness and Justice.

Maples drew a standing-room only crowd for her dharma talk that evening. She spoke about gratitude, joy, wonder, tenderness, and mystery. Here’s something I jotted down that stuck with me: “The hell in your life is the compost of your enlightenment.”

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Producing, Mindfully
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

Shortly before I dove into production on the Web site for this week’s program, Shiraz popped up in my Twitter feed with a little note:

is appreciating Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness presentation at Google. I wish I had heard of him 1,000 days ago.

This is how it often works. As the production process works its way forward, the material we’re covering hits us at different times. Krista watched this video even earlier during her interview preparation, and she brought it up in her conversation with Kabat-Zinn — asking him to do a guided meditation like the one in his presentation. (We actually ended up going with a clip from the video instead, but you can download an mp3 of the unedited interview if you’d like to hear his impromptu version.)

Kind of like Seane Corn’s demonstration of “body prayer” in our yoga program, it seemed necessary to give a sampling of meditation and mindfulness in practice, not just in theory. The necessity of this was pretty well articulated in the cuts & copy session last week; we had made it about halfway through the script, and most of us were soaking up Kabbat-Zinn’s words of wisdom when Trent stepped forward as a voice of dissent. His point was worth considering, which I’ll attempt to paraphrase: What’s the point of spending all of this time talking about mindfulness, rather than just doing it? The hope is that the clip from this video in the program gives listeners at least a little taste of the doing.

We all absorb things differently here — at different times, in different ways, and to different degrees. And sometimes there’s a bit of dissonance as well. Earlier this week I found myself stressed out while writing some language for the script, and very “mindful” of the irony of my situation. What to do when you’re producing a program that discusses tools for relieving stress and anxiety, and it’s causing you to experience stress and anxiety? Well, for starters, breathe…

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The Ceaseless Society
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

I’m not going to lie. I’m really enjoying Jon Kabat-Zinn. His Google talk introduced me to some very simple techniques that I’ve been using lately to help me fall asleep faster. Bedtime is when my mind is freed from all restraints, unfortunately. That’s when the hamsters go nuts, and it usually takes me an hour to fall asleep, on average. But just breathing the way Jon Kabat-Zinn shows has helped me bring my ETA to sleep down to about 15 minutes. Joy.

He jokes about how, in the 1960s, while some Westerners were heading off to forest refuges in India to learn to meditate, counterintuitively, he discovered meditation at perhaps the most accomplished technical institute in the world, MIT. Here he is back at MIT in 2006 to talk about the increasingly hectic pace of life in the 21st century. (He gets on stage around the 18:00 minute mark.)

In his conversation with Krista, Jon Kabat-Zinn talks about one aspect of that hectic life: our 24/7 networked reality and the difficulty it poses. In some sense, I think this is going to be a generational thing, a matter of conditioning. But one worthwhile question he asks is, “Who are we going to be without the technology?” I’ve been thinking about this alongside my recent discovery of Ray Kurzweil and his thoughts on the future of human evolution, A.I., and digital networks. I’ll be set to retire around the time the singularity happens in 2045, and by that time, apparently, we might be living in some kind of Matrix society (i.e. lots of trench coats and sunglasses?).

Here I am blogging on the Web about how networked we all are and will continue to be. Well, fine, I can’t escape. The machines have me. OK, time to take a breath. I could choose to be paralyzed by the immensity of the big problems of civilization or the little ones in my life, or I could just…whew…relax a little bit, stop freaking out, and start each day fresh.

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Exploring Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Quaker Connections Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
During Krista’s recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was surprised to hear that he attended Haverford College, a small Quaker liberal arts school located just outside of Philadelphia. I helped with some of the Kabat-Zinn research prep and in the rush to compile links for Krista and get library books (in a state more skittish than mindful I should say), I completely missed Kabat-Zinn’s Haverford connection.
You see, I am also a Haverford graduate and, as I listened to Krista’s interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Haverford’s Quaker roots may have influenced Kabat-Zinn’s later study of mindfulness meditation. During my time at Haverford in the early 90s, students were not required to attend Quaker meeting, but there was a spell of about a year when I went pretty regularly on Sunday mornings. There I experienced what it’s like to sit in silence with others (on hard wooden benches no less).
After some unsuccessful Google searches, I contacted Haverford this week to see if they had any insights to share about Kabat-Zinn and a possible Quaker connection. Coincidentally, Haverford is putting the final touches on a feature article about Kabat-Zinn that will appear in the spring 2009 alumni magazine. Writer Gloria Hochman Eils Lotozo, from Haverford’s communications office, commented:

"He didn’t say there was a direct correlation between Haverford and meditation, but that his time there in that kind of intense, philosophical environment set the groundwork for his later excursions into meditation."

I also learned that he lived in French House, which at that time looked out over the college’s iconic duck pond (I’ve posted a picture above so you can see the kind of view Kabat-Zinn may have enjoyed from his dorm room). He studied German, French literature, and Italian opera in addition to majoring in chemistry. Kabat-Zinn — known as Jon Kabat back then — graduated in 1964 when the college was still all-male and students were required to attend fifth day meeting. The yet-to-be published alumni magazine article reports that philosophy professor Douglas Steere had a big influence on him. Kabat-Zinn is quoted describing Steere’s legacy as “a kind of ethics and ethos that had to do with truthfulness and authenticity.”
If we can get an advance copy of the article, we’ll post it here in the coming weeks.
(photo: VictoryGrey/Flickr)
(ATTRIBUTION UPDATED 4/17/09)

4/28/09 Update: Haverford has released a profile on Jon Kabat-Zinn entitled “Mediator in Chief” in their spring 2009 alumni magazine. You can link to it here.
Exploring Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Quaker Connections Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer
During Krista’s recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was surprised to hear that he attended Haverford College, a small Quaker liberal arts school located just outside of Philadelphia. I helped with some of the Kabat-Zinn research prep and in the rush to compile links for Krista and get library books (in a state more skittish than mindful I should say), I completely missed Kabat-Zinn’s Haverford connection.
You see, I am also a Haverford graduate and, as I listened to Krista’s interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Haverford’s Quaker roots may have influenced Kabat-Zinn’s later study of mindfulness meditation. During my time at Haverford in the early 90s, students were not required to attend Quaker meeting, but there was a spell of about a year when I went pretty regularly on Sunday mornings. There I experienced what it’s like to sit in silence with others (on hard wooden benches no less).
After some unsuccessful Google searches, I contacted Haverford this week to see if they had any insights to share about Kabat-Zinn and a possible Quaker connection. Coincidentally, Haverford is putting the final touches on a feature article about Kabat-Zinn that will appear in the spring 2009 alumni magazine. Writer Gloria Hochman Eils Lotozo, from Haverford’s communications office, commented:

"He didn’t say there was a direct correlation between Haverford and meditation, but that his time there in that kind of intense, philosophical environment set the groundwork for his later excursions into meditation."

I also learned that he lived in French House, which at that time looked out over the college’s iconic duck pond (I’ve posted a picture above so you can see the kind of view Kabat-Zinn may have enjoyed from his dorm room). He studied German, French literature, and Italian opera in addition to majoring in chemistry. Kabat-Zinn — known as Jon Kabat back then — graduated in 1964 when the college was still all-male and students were required to attend fifth day meeting. The yet-to-be published alumni magazine article reports that philosophy professor Douglas Steere had a big influence on him. Kabat-Zinn is quoted describing Steere’s legacy as “a kind of ethics and ethos that had to do with truthfulness and authenticity.”
If we can get an advance copy of the article, we’ll post it here in the coming weeks.
(photo: VictoryGrey/Flickr)
(ATTRIBUTION UPDATED 4/17/09)

4/28/09 Update: Haverford has released a profile on Jon Kabat-Zinn entitled “Mediator in Chief” in their spring 2009 alumni magazine. You can link to it here.

Exploring Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Quaker Connections
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

During Krista’s recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was surprised to hear that he attended Haverford College, a small Quaker liberal arts school located just outside of Philadelphia. I helped with some of the Kabat-Zinn research prep and in the rush to compile links for Krista and get library books (in a state more skittish than mindful I should say), I completely missed Kabat-Zinn’s Haverford connection.

You see, I am also a Haverford graduate and, as I listened to Krista’s interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Haverford’s Quaker roots may have influenced Kabat-Zinn’s later study of mindfulness meditation. During my time at Haverford in the early 90s, students were not required to attend Quaker meeting, but there was a spell of about a year when I went pretty regularly on Sunday mornings. There I experienced what it’s like to sit in silence with others (on hard wooden benches no less).

After some unsuccessful Google searches, I contacted Haverford this week to see if they had any insights to share about Kabat-Zinn and a possible Quaker connection. Coincidentally, Haverford is putting the final touches on a feature article about Kabat-Zinn that will appear in the spring 2009 alumni magazine. Writer Gloria Hochman Eils Lotozo, from Haverford’s communications office, commented:

"He didn’t say there was a direct correlation between Haverford and meditation, but that his time there in that kind of intense, philosophical environment set the groundwork for his later excursions into meditation."

I also learned that he lived in French House, which at that time looked out over the college’s iconic duck pond (I’ve posted a picture above so you can see the kind of view Kabat-Zinn may have enjoyed from his dorm room). He studied German, French literature, and Italian opera in addition to majoring in chemistry. Kabat-Zinn — known as Jon Kabat back then — graduated in 1964 when the college was still all-male and students were required to attend fifth day meeting. The yet-to-be published alumni magazine article reports that philosophy professor Douglas Steere had a big influence on him. Kabat-Zinn is quoted describing Steere’s legacy as “a kind of ethics and ethos that had to do with truthfulness and authenticity.”

If we can get an advance copy of the article, we’ll post it here in the coming weeks.

(photo: VictoryGrey/Flickr)

(ATTRIBUTION UPDATED 4/17/09)

4/28/09 Update: Haverford has released a profile on Jon Kabat-Zinn entitled “Mediator in Chief” in their spring 2009 alumni magazine. You can link to it here.

Comments

A Culture of Availability to Everybody But Yourself?

by Trent Gilliss, online editor

Perhaps this TEDtalk gets at the heart of the matter. In the second half of our upcoming show with Jon Kabat-Zinn (first available in podcast on Thursday morning), he argues, to some degree, that the accelerated pace of technology and its significance in our lives doesn’t allow us to be mindful, to live in the present. All this communication and digital connectedness actually creates an inner dissonance — a disconnectedness with our own selves.

One memorable moment in Krista’s interview: Kabat-Zinn describes a person viewing a sunset. Instead of simply taking it in, he says, we either are thinking about how we might write about it (or perhaps tweet or blog it), or, that certain somebody standing next to you actually has to gab away and tell you how gorgeous it is — which completely removes you from the moment of recognition and contemplation. In other words, we have this compulsion to do something with the moment in order to make it meaningful. We are not being mindful.

In the video above, the presenter includes a couple images that capture something that Kabat-Zinn is getting at. In one photo, a girl is actually extending her arm with her camera while kissing her boyfriend. But, it looks awkward, inauthentic, dispassionate because you can tell her real interest is in telling the later story. Her body, her eyes, her lips are oriented more toward the iris of the lens than the irises of the boy. And, in another intimate setting of a public nature, a crowd of onlookers are almost all holding up their devices capturing the moment while the Obamas stand on stage in celebration.

I’m guilty of both, and then some. You?

Renny Gleeson wraps it up quite succinctly in his post-event blog post:

With all this connection comes the danger that in our mad rush to be everywhere, we end up nowhere. That the technology we use to connect, actually separates and isolates.

Kabat-Zinn isn’t necessarily gloomy about the technology onslaught though. He notes that the steep learning curve in learning how to deal with and incorporate this availability into our lives will be achieved. We, as individuals and as a society, just may have to bottom out first in order to create the balance within.

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