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…
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.
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.
(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.
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.