The Deeper Dimensions of Mindfulness: An Interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn
In October 2015, I hosted the world’s largest mindfulness conference, the mindfulness summit, with over 250,000 people in attendance online.
This interview below with Jon Kabat-Zinn aired on the last day of the summit and was the peak of the whole summit for me. In this interview, Jon chats with me about the deeper dimensions of a mindfulness practice and the ‘self-realisation’ that unfolds as a result of the practice. He also clears up some common misconceptions about mindfulness and invites us to know for ourselves the sacredness that is inherent in the present moment. He also answers the question, ‘Is there a right way to practice?’ or ‘a right tradition?’ and gives wise advice on dealing with one of the biggest challenges in awakening.
Click the video below to watch. I have also included the transcript of the interview below the video. You can watch more of the mindfulness summit @ www.themindfulnesssummit.com
Melli: Welcome or welcome back to the Mindfulness Summit, the not-for-profit online conference teaching you how to practice mindfulness and showing you how mindfulness can change your world from the inside out. I’m your host, Melli O’Brien and this is day 31. The last day of this month of mindfulness that we have shared together. It’s been the most incredible journey, the most amazing adventure of learning and growth and insight and community. It’s been an amazing experience watching this community grow, there are a quarter of a million of us here on this journey together now.
We are truly blessed in this last day of the summit to be joined by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Jon, if you haven’t heard of him already, is Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where he was the founder of the Center for Mindfulness. Jon is a bestselling author, a mindfulness teacher and creator of the groundbreaking MBSR Program. MBSR stands for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Jon has really been a pioneer in making mindfulness more accessible especially in the West.
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Here’s my chat with Jon Kabat-Zinn and I just wanted to tell you also that, before every single chat that I had with anyone during this summit, we always would sit for one minute of mindfulness before the interview begun. Jon didn’t want to leave you out of our minute of mindfulness together. He invites the whole community in for all of us to ground and center before the chat begins. Enjoy your minute of mindfulness and my chat with Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Jon: Wherever you are, whoever you are, if you are watching this, just … We invite you to just follow the sound into the silence and stillness of your own heart as the sound dissolves. We’re actually cultivating deep listening, deep hearing. Hearing only what’s here to be heard.
Allow yourself to actually settle into this moment. Of course there’s a degree of anticipation because, for one, you are in front of your computer. For two, you are in front of your computer so that you can tune in to this episode of the Mindfulness Summit. There’s a lot of intentionality here and perhaps a little anticipation because you probably all have better things to be doing. Just settling into being on the threshold of this unfolding. It’s part of the larger unfolding of all the conversations that have gone on during this wonderful month under Melli’s careful shepherding. Just being fully awake no matter what time this is for you and as best as you can, fully present in your body. Even if you are new to the practice or maybe even if you are not, can’t hurt to simply see if you can ride on the waves of your own breaths’ sensations as they come in and out of the body, as the breath itself moves in and out of the body without any effort to force or pull or constrain or manipulate this breathing.
It does very well without your intervention which means that you are still alive and so just luxuriating, so to speak, as you ride on the waves of this vital rhythm. That’s deeply intrinsic to life itself. Resting here and hearing the silence in between and underneath my words. A silence that’s never not here. Never broken, infinitely and always available to you. That it possibly is not only to be friend but to inhabit. Moment by moment, by timeless moment, as we sit here with life unfolding exactly the way life is unfolding in this moment.
You don’t have to try to achieve any special feeling or state, pursue anything but they just put the welcome mat out for whatever is already here. Whatever is here, including the unwanted, the unpleasant, the full catastrophe so to speak. In resting, in awareness. Fully embodied and fully awake.
Melli: Thank you for that.
Jon: It’s nice to think that there are people all around the world tuning into this program and I think it’s one signature if you are a genius to have thought of, doing something like this. That we can all tune into and share and hear each other and hear new people that we haven’t heard of before and experience the diversity of the teachers and the teachings and the sources of it all … It feels like kindergarten, like we are back to school and maybe with the true beginner’s mind and inquiring as to what mindfulness is, it’s out there an awful lot nowadays. What does it actually mean? What is it really beneath all of the hype and the sort of fanfare about it that’s very, very recent?
Thank you for conceiving of this and then shepherding it, mothering it, so to speak, along. I have a feeling this is only, this month of October is only at the beginning.
Melli: I’m starting to get that feeling too Jon and I think … I just want to take this opportunity actually to acknowledge all of the people who are tuning in knowing that this is the last day of the 31 days of this particular part of the summit. There may be a continuation but I really want to take this moment to extend my deep respect, for all of the people who have continued to sit every day or you might have had a day off here and there and many of you have been practicing for maybe decades before this summit. Many people are probably coming back to this practice after sometime off. Or you might have started doing this on the first of October for the very first time, but either way you are still here with us on this journey. I just want to congratulate you for that because I’m sure there’s been times when it’s been easeful and other times when the mind is busy or it’s just challenging to see and you’ve stuck with it and you’ve stuck with this summit.
My deepest respect and also my gratitude to all of you because, sitting in this way is never just about us. It’s always an act of self nourishment and self care. It can’t help when we take our seat or however you practice, that capacity to have more wise and compassionate and kind lives, it can’t help but ripple out to the rest of the world, so I thank you for your practice.
Perhaps the realization is also unfolding that this summit was never about you changing yourself. It was never about you becoming better and it was always about you knowing yourself and being yourself more fully.
Jon: I’m very happy you are saying that by the way. Because one of the misconceptions about meditation and in particular mindfulness is that it’s a hot shot mode of self improvement so to speak. Or achieving some imagined state of well-being that’s permanent and that’s going to last forever and that’s going to basically immunize you against any bad feelings, and you will just be relaxed for your entire life. It’s really and in a profound misconception of the beauty and the power and the wisdom of mindfulness or any form of meditation. Because it’s really not trying to achieve some special state. Mindfulness is not a special state that if you just sit in a certain way and breathe in a certain way then you’ll have this, “Ah- ha” moment and you’ll say, “That’s what I have been looking for my whole life,” and then cling to it for the rest of your life to try to get back. That’s not really what it’s about at all, it’s the, as I was trying to suggest in the beginning few moments of the meditation, just to be with things as they are But it turns out that just is enormous, because we don’t really want to be with things that we don’t like that are unpleasant that aren’t, that we didn’t sign up for in this life. Yet that is the nature of it and this is where the wisdom lies, this is where the compassion lies for oneself as well as others. This is really where any potential for healing and transformation, whether, we are talking about ourselves as individuals or we are talking about a society or the entire planet. Really, I think it rests on that capacity that non-dual wisdom that knows that we don’t have to force things to change or to try to cling to a special state. Because every moment, every experience that you are having, including the unpleasant ones, is unbelievably special. When you can hold it in awareness then you have new degrees of freedom to be in wise relationship to it and then act on it.
There’s nothing passive about this but you are acting out of wisdom instead of, “I’m rejecting this and grasping on to that”, which is really a source of enormous ignorance and delusion and suffering. That’s easy to say but this is really the hardest work in the world and I too want to bow to everybody who’s tuned in over this past 31 days. I myself started out just fine but my life is complicated. There were evenings that I just missed and then I missed too many to totally catch up. I’ve seen maybe half or a little more than half of them and I just feel like that’s the way it goes. We can’t be everywhere for everybody in every moment.
We have to, in some sense, come to terms which is my real definition of healing, is coming to terms with things as they are. Come to terms with how it is for us in this moment and then it’s not like you get wisdom. Instead you are making room for your intrinsic need for clarity, wisdom and penetrative awareness to simply emerge. Because guess what, it’s actually been here all along. You’re already a genius, you are already a miraculous being. You already have the most complex organisation of matter in the known universe inside your little old skull.
To recognize the beauty as well as of course the pain and the suffering is incredibly important to find a way to, in some sense come to equilibrium and equanimity. The kind of actions that are really necessary to take in this world that are not driven by more for me or my suffering or my depression or my anxiety or my mental state. Well for that matter if we are talking about meditators, especially beginning meditators, I would say beginning meditators maybe the first 40 or 50 years of regular practice. That it’s like boring, like good God, why should I sit and just watch my mind go insane. Or be all over the place or perpetually self destruct myself and think that there’s some better way to do it, or mindfulness can’t be about this because if it were just about this I mean who would do it. It’s like actually reading my mind like this. It turns out that is where that little pivot, that little rotation in consciousness, so that what is arising becomes the curriculum rather than what you think is the curriculum or the straight path to enlightenment. Really it’s liberating and it’s truly freeing. You don’t have to sit in the cave for 50 years for that to happen. It’s already yours or ours.
Melli: That’s exactly what I would love to bring up and ask you about in this moment. Because a couple of days ago the meditation session that I did with a dear friend of yours and colleague, Saki Santorelli aired as part of the summit. I don’t know how many people noticed but, during that session with Saki I was moved to tears. The reason for that was because we have been talking about so many dimensions of mindfulness during this summit and they are all important. They are really wonderful, how mindfulness can make us more productive, how mindfulness can make us more creative, have better relationships, even better health and less suffering, all these things are wonderful. There was this moment where I thanked Saki for bringing in, making mindfulness secular. He said, “You know, secular can sometimes mean in people’s minds that it’s being stripped of sacredness. It’s never been anything but sacred.”
Melli: In the moment that he said those words I just, the tears started coming because I realized I that I was craving for that to be aired here in the summit and just in my interactions with other people. Sacredness is often very private for me and so I wanted to give us a space to talk about that and a space for you to talk about how mindfulness has deeper dimensions and that it’s a kind of coming into touch with who we really are.
Jon: That’s all it’s about, it’s not about anything but that. The more popular it gets, that this was not a problem. I started what come to be known as MBSR in the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in 1979 so that’s like a …
Melli: It’s the year I was born.
Jon: There you go. Different universe entirely, it was basically before the digital age, except for the military and scientists. It’s only recently that it’s sort of exploded in terms of interest. This has been driven by factors that to a large degree was set in play a long time ago and that had to do with being very patient and really convinced that the world was basically starving for this kind of wisdom. That it could not come in the traditional forms because most people would reject the form and miss the substance.
We had to generate new vehicles but at the same time if those vehicles gun down or denatured the essence of what is called the Dharma or the sort of this deep wisdom that is in all traditions. It was most highly articulated and mostly find in the Buddhist tradition in which I grew up so to speak. Then we needed to find new ways to language it to new vocabulary. That it will be so common sensical that your mother would go or your father would go, “of course well I didn’t realize that meditation was just about paying attention and awareness and it didn’t involve all these other stuff”. It turns out the other stuff is completely embedded in the paying attention and the awareness. You don’t have to do a lot of propaganda around it to the point where people feel you are just selling me some belief system. Now of course it’s everywhere and it’s moving into the school system and so forth. There you have to be very careful because if it seems to be religious where that we are secretly trying to turn people’s dear beloved children into closet Buddhist that would be awful. Who would want that, I would reject that entirely and just to be clear, I myself I’m not a Buddhist. I don’t identify as a Buddhist at all. I identify as a serious and beginner student so to speak of Buddhist meditation and only doing the best I can.
When the word secular is used it’s really misinformed. I tend to use the word mainstream as opposed to secular and as in the mainstreaming of mindfulness rather than the secularization. Because we’ve been emphasizing from the very beginning that this is sacred, sacred work in the same way the doctor-patient relationship in the Hippocratic oath, to first do no harm, our sacred, sacred foundations of modern medical practice. We use that terminology sacred and even in the American declaration of independence that word is in there and it’s in there in a nonreligious form. It’s in there in the phrase to which we dedicate our lives, in other words the breaking from the United Kingdom. To which we dedicate our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. From the point of view of America this is truly American but it’s differentiating the sacred from a kind of classical religion that feels like it requires belief. This is much more empirical, it does not require any sort of belief or catechism. That you just sit down and you apprehend for yourself. Following a very simple set of guidelines what the actual truth of your experience is in this moment.
Yet there’s an ethical foundation to this so it’s not like, “Well if you meditate then you’ll become a better sniper in the military.” Because mindfulness is spoken of as a, and described in the text, as a wholesome mental factor. If one cultivates mindfulness your heart is going to change. In fact in all the Asian languages the word for mind and the word for heart are the same word. In English whether it’s in Australia, New Zealand, the UK or Canada, the United States or any place elsewhere people who speak English, if you hear the word mindfulness and in some way you are not hearing simultaneously and in silently but the word heartfulness, you are not really understanding it. You are conceptualizing it, turning it into a concept and it’s easy to do because mindfulness is an American word and it was slapped on a poly word, by translators who knew something but maybe not … Like maybe it’s not the best translation but it is the translation now of all Buddhist scholars and so forth. The interesting thing is it’s not Buddhist, it’s not Buddhist. It’s a quality of mind, it’s a quality of being that can be cultivated. Some people describe it as a skill that can be developed or a muscle that you can exercise. Part of the reason it’s not Buddhist is that the Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist. You know the isms and the various kind of things that grow out of it, with no disregard or disrespect whatsoever but when we are drilling down to what the essence of the Dharma is, it’s always changed when it moves from a new country out of India and in Tibet or into Southeast Asia. There are many Dharmas, not one but it is actually only one. Because no matter how it flowers the essence is always the same. The way it is embodied and the way it is translated and the way it is lived, really is up to us.
Now it’s gone global, I can’t say it came to the West because there’s no East and the West anymore. It’s our responsibility to not blow this and we could, we could dumb this down the way we dumb down and commercialize and commodify everything. That it just becomes another concept, another thought, another thing to fill up your day. “Now I’ve got to meditate on top of everything else” and it becomes like one of those, “so then why I’m doing it? Especially since I’m not allowed to experience the special state”, so what would my motivation be for doing it and my response is, how about love? How about sanity? What about recognizing that like stopping for a moment and dropping from all the doing and to being, would be a medical act to the sanity.You could just pause. Say if you play the violin, of course you wouldn’t play without tuning in, you have to pause to tune your instrument. That’s the way it is in school. You describe it as like before the kids can learn they have to tune their instrument of learning. If they come to school stressed or hungry or having experienced violence in the family before they even make it to school, their instrument is really out of tune and rather than yelling at kids to pay attention we need to really nurture them into attending. This is a kind of lifetime engagement on the part of more and more people and I like to describe it as a love affair, it’s a love affair.
I take my seat in the morning and I have come over the decades to actually experience it as a radical act of love and sanity just to do that. Not so that I’ll get some benefit but just so that I will remember that I’m alive. That my life is much more than what’s on my to-do list, or how stressed I might be trying to get it all done and meanwhile missing all of my moments. Then probably what’s most important is like say the look in your lover’s eye or your partner or your spouse or your grandchildren or your parents – to not let that go by so fleetingly that it’s just another thought that you don’t capture.
This is like high stakes of engagement and it requires a distributive responsibility. It’s not like a new Buddha is going to rise and everybody is going to bow down to him and make it okay. The Dalai Lama is very clear on that, it’s just a time for us all to take responsibility for a universal wisdom that’s intrinsic to our humanity really in our DNA. It’s in this sense our biology is unbelievably responsive to it but that’s another story.
Melli: It reminds me of a term that’s been coming to my mind more and more lately of becoming this radical act of taking responsibility for ourselves and for the planet. It’s in a way becoming like an inner peace activist. It is important to do all of this stuff on the outside, it’s very important and in my experiences is that when we cultivate more peace and compassion within, it just is the most natural thing in the world to love. Your actions love the planet and so …
Jon: It’s true and also that otherwise it’s a prescription for burnout. Because sooner or later the problems are just much too big for anyone person or organisation. You have to have kind of long term strategy to not push the lever and yet to make the kinds of changes happen that will mitigate the vector that we are already on as the planet. It is going to require governments, it’s going to require societies, it’s going to require individuals, because it all boils down to individuals in the hearts to undergo what I call this orthogonal rotation in consciousness. That you are the same old person, you always were and yet you are not because you’ve fundamentally you’ve woken up. You no longer believe the narratives in your head that make you the most important being on the planet and make everything about you, about I mean mine and my success and my depression and my upset and my this. All of it’s true, it’s just not a big enough narrative, who you really are is so much bigger than who you think you are or want to be or wish you were into or anything like that. Now when you tap into that fundamental dimension of awareness that is part of our human repertoire.
Learning to inhabit it and cultivate it in the ways that mindfulness practicing various ways is all about. Then in a certain way the practice is doing you rather than the concede of, “Yes I’m doing the practice.” It’s like, “No make yourself available and let the discipline and the kindness and the embrace and the intentionality and the motivation, the core motivation to do no harm and to optimize the potential for being of use on this planet, helping others who are suffering.” It flowers all by itself if we get out of our own way. As long as you are on a giant personal, let’s not call it an ego trip, a personal pronoun trip because ego just is the Latin person pronoun for I. You can be aware of that, you can be mindful of what we sometimes call selfing. How much at a date out of our mouth just selfing, selfing, selfing. You can be also and the first thing that “I don’t need to be telling this group of people that”. But for beginners at least, the first thing that happens when you cultivate mindfulness is you realize how mindless we are most of the time in our so called default mode or default mode network from the neuroscience side of thing, is really running this constant story of me, my life, my successes, my failures, my future, my past, my relationships. Nothing wrong with it, it’s like if you didn’t know who you are it would be very hard to wake up in the morning and then go to work. That’s not all of you who are and if you don’t remember why you are going to work or who the real you is or you don’t live in your body but you are only up to hear most at the time lost in thought. Then the Duca, the suffering, the sort of unsatisfactoriness of life really rears its head in ways that ultimately are just very painful.
Jon: No one can fix that. This is not about fixing even though we work in medicine. MBSR is not about fixing people’s chronic diseases or chronic pain or depression or anxiety. It’s about putting out the welcome mat for things as they are. The good, the bad and the ugly, another movie title, and then discovering that your awareness for instance of sadness is sad. It’s not like we give a lecture about that experiment for yourself. Is my awareness of my sadness sad? Or is my awareness of my anxiety anxious? Or is my awareness of my back pain or headache actually experiencing suffering?
This is empirical, look at your life as a laboratory, our bodies are laboratory, our minds are a laboratory, our hearts. There’s an awful lot of learning but we just never learned it in school but it’s like here for us. In some sense then that’s why I said life itself becomes the curriculum if we are willing to enroll in that school.
Melli: I would like to talk a little bit more about how we … I have two quotes that I think talk about something really fundamental about the human condition. The kinds of things that stop us from actually stopping and dropping in on the present moment and actually being in touch with ourselves in the way that you are talking about.
The first quote is by Eckhart Tolle and he says, “When we lose touch within a stillness, we lose touch with ourselves. When we lose touch with ourselves we have a tendency to lose ourselves in the world.”
The second quote is by Blaise Pascal. He says, “All the problems of mankind stem from …
Jon: “Stem from his ability to sit quietly in a room by himself.”
Melli: Right so …
Jon: Whenever I’m teaching in France because I speak French more or less. I always go back to Blaise Pascal, 17th century genius, mathematician, philosopher, I mean true what they call second order genius. It’s sitting right there and as Blaise says, “All men’s sorrows, all men’s difficulty stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself.” I can here all the women going,” Yeah that’s true for those men.
Melli: We are included.
Jon: It isn’t just men, it’s trillions.
Melli: It’s all of us.
Jon: It’s just that they, it’s just that they only talk about men. It is the nature of the human mind when it doesn’t know itself to not be comfortable unless it fills up this space. Once we’ve filled up all this space then we just like juggling all the time and we are not smart enough to fill up this space with space. We don’t see the space we just see the clutter and it’s all urgent of course because I would have to get it done in order to have the next thing happen and the next thing. I’m not knocking any of this, it’s true and we need to take responsibility for getting worked done. Getting things done and taking care of the children and taking care of the garden and getting … Contributing in the work world. This is where meaning comes out of our lives but if we don’t know who is doing the doing then we are in deep trouble.
Melli: That’s a really important juncture though, isn’t it? Like there’s this really important juncture, so what Eckhart is talking about is what we’ve been talking about of like, this is true in my experience that when I’m fully present in the moment or when I’m in touch with the deepest aspect of who I am. There is a kind of background, easefulness and contentedness even when things get tough. Now the opposite of that is when we lose touch with that, we lose touch with ourselves, we lose touch with the present moment. My experience is that there is an inner discord or an unease or a sense you could say of, “I’m not whole yet, I’m not complete, I’m not enough or this moment is not enough whatever the story is in the mind.” I feel like this is such an important juncture in our lives as mindfulness practitioners. Because it’s where we start running, it’s where we start seeking, it’s where we start …
Jon: Running away.
Melli: We start running from that feeling of not enough yet, I’m not whole, there is an unease. Instead of dropping in we run, we start running. Right at that point and so …
Jon: Why would you… If you weren’t taught this, only one person in a million is going to discover it for themselves. That’s the beauty of this, is they’re practices that anybody can do. Then the discoveries are yours, it’s like you are the original researcher in the laboratory of your life and you discovered just this. Look, Eckhart Tolle experienced it and it came out of a huge amount of pain, a huge amount of pain. When he talks about the Power of Now, it’s coming out of a whole life that required him in some sense to wake up to what we are talking about and then live it in a certain way. Of course he’s been an inspiration to many people but then you can turn even that or anybody’s teaching again into catechism.
You read the book and it resonates with you but you don’t do the work. He sat on a park bench for two years in the middle of wherever in enormous amount of pain. Then woke up and it’s really worth reading, I know him … It’s really worth reading his account of it, because it’s like how many people does that happen to you see? It came out of like he had major exposure to practices. This is in some sense his own realization and everybody’s realization is our own. This is like a critical fulcrum that you are pointing to.
Melli: Do you have … I know there’s an easy answer to this but it’s not that easy to practice but do you have any advice? I feel like this juncture is something that we can get stuck in, spiritual practitioners, everyday people, everybody we can really get caught in this cycles of this running. It doesn’t really ultimately work because the unease stays there because we haven’t dropped back in. What advise or any guidance that you have on helping us to come into most skillful relationship in that … in those quiet moments that we are in a room alone and we come face to face with that?
Jon: Well really it’s to be disciplined about it and have a certain kind of confidence. Maybe from reading, maybe from other people that you know or whatever, some certain kind of confidence that what looks like nothing or complete idiocy isn’t nothing. All this talk about mindfulness that somebody from the outside who thinks it’s garbage could just say, “This is like much ado about nothing,” famous Shakespeare play. It’s not much ado about nothing although grant it it looks that way from the outside. It’s much ado about what looks from the outside like almost nothing but turns out to be just about everything.
There’s a certain amount of confidence, a certain amount of discipline is required. You sit through thick and thin and I use the word sit just the way you did, like I mean that you could stand on your head, hang from your fingernails, run, lie down there are four classical meditation postures so that most people will only practice a few of them. Sitting, standing, very powerful meditation. We teach all four in MBSR which is unusual. Lying down which is one of the most powerful meditation practices. I have to remind people it’s about falling awake not about falling asleep. Even falling asleep is good because everybody’s sleep deprived and then waking.
The advice that I would give to people is, don’t give up, hang in no matter what through thick and thin, read books, listen to guided meditation tapes, study with tons of teachers. Don’t think this is some sideline while you get the rest of your life together. This is not separate from life and the more you learn how to inhabit the field of awareness or heartfulness or mindfulness, the more I think you will find that you grow into the actuality of who you are. It’s not, it doesn’t make you stupider to just sit.
From the outside it looks like, “Silly people sitting when they are wasting time.” Actually there is no time to waste because we only have moments in which to live and most of them we miss, because we are on autopilot so much of the time. This doesn’t mean that your stress is going to go away. We call what we do Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. We did that for many reasons but most people when they … Some place in the middle of the eight weeks of MBSR they wind up having an enlightenment experience, so to speak. I say, “This isn’t stress reduction, this is about my whole life.” Because it’s not that the stress reduction part of it is not important but it’s not so much reducing it yourself, that would be trying to attain a certain kind of in point desirably yes but … it doesn’t mean you can’t change your life to reduce your stress if there are certain stressors. It’s more that what you are really changing is your relationship to stress and to everything else in your life. Once you know that, once you practice it, once you exercise that muscle on a daily basis, not just like over the weekend or something like that, then everything that arises becomes part of the curriculum and the real practice is how you live your life not just how long you sit in the morning. Or whether you do a body scan, lying down in bed before you wake up which I highly recommend. Or just lying down meditation never mind the body scan just even four, five breaths every morning when you wake up. Be sure you actually wake up before you jump out of bed. Because most of the time you are are on autopilot brushing your teeth mindlessly and running through the day. Just that few breaths or a few moments or 20 minutes of waking up early and in bed, so nobody can say, “I don’t have time for this or it’s uncomfortable to sit.” These are a few of the sort of pointers, but I think the important thing to emphasize is, remember what your motivation is. If this is just a big fad for you, everybody is talking about mindfulness, now you have to become a meditator on top of every other annoying thing you have to acquire, then give it up. Go to the gym just to run on a treadmill or whatever or chop vegetables and if you do those mindfully then it’s all practice you cannot escape from it. Pretty soon you are going to die so are all of us.
The question is … Some people say, “What happens after life?” My question is really not what happens after life but is there life before death? That would require us to really zero in on the actuality of our lives. Then the pain, the suffering is still there but our relationship to it really can transform. That’s wisdom, it doesn’t mean you won’t get sick, it doesn’t mean tragedies don’t happen. It doesn’t mean that things would go the way you thought they were when you mapped out your life at the age of 15 or whatever. It means that you will find a way to be that’s authentic, that’s true to you. Then that almost defines beauty in my view.
Then and you can you see it in people’s faces even over eight weeks of MBSR. Faces, change, profoundly, you can see it in front of you very wise people becoming themselves. The stress, the lines, the clenching of the face just dissolve. It’s not by trying to do that. It’s not like rather than Botox I’ll take MBSR. It’s like, “No,” it has to be, this real practice really needs to be practiced for no reason, not to get some place else. This is very radical. To just, in some sense, the reason is to just wake up to be, to not miss your moments. Because as I said sooner or later we are going to die and the real question is have we lived?
Thoreau our famous philosopher from Concord Massachusetts is famous for having said, “I went to the woods,” because he went off in the woods and lived in a cabin for two years and just watched the days unfold and the nights. “I went to the woods because I wish to live deliberately to a front only the essential facts of life and see if I could learn what they had to teach and not when I came to die, discovered that I hadn’t lived’. I would like to say another way of looking at the meditation is die now, get it over with. Then all the rest of our moments will be free.
Melli: You die now or so to speak and then you find out that all that’s really left is the unfolding miracle of life which is I think the sacredness that Saki was speaking of.
Jon: Exactly and you can call that …
Melli: The inter-web stopped in that moment, we just had a tiny pause.
Jon: Yes it did stop at that moment, I was wondering whether I should make a comment about it. That’s part of the process, is it not? I don’t know why that … It makes it more real in a way for everybody watching. This is just Skype and it doesn’t work all the time but it is a miracle. I mean 20 years ago we could not be doing this with hundreds of thousands of people in real time. There’s a certain wonder and real awe associated with the fact that we can have these kinds of conversations and then the real questions is, the conversations are all fine but it’s just talk unless the resonances that underline what we’re talking about. We are talking about the sacred element of it or the beauty of it or the truth beyond truth element of it. That resonates with the core of our humanity when that’s alive. Then you don’t have to really do anything and that’s what it means to practice. That’s what it means to be.
Melli: Do the practice, trust the practice and you find out, I guess that dimension unfolds by itself.
Jon: Let life be the teacher, life is the teacher and life is the curriculum. It’s all the curriculum. Not that’s it all wanted and some of it is horrific. Again if I were to use one word to describe mindfulness and people often ask me that, I’ve come to my response as relationality. How are we in relationship to whatever it is that unfolds? Including in the body, the breath, the mind, thoughts emotions, likes dislikes, pain, suffering and that is where the degrees of freedom run, enormous degrees of freedom in that. Then freedom is freedom like it means freedom.
Non-attachment, clarity wisdom and intrinsic kindness because you have seen and lived and understood the interconnectedness of that ripple. That we are not separate and I’m not talking about Skype and the internet, no this the interconnectedness that goes way beyond Skype or the internet and the old ancient Buddhist and Indian image of it. It’s a model of the universe where every single featured universe is like a multifaceted jewel. In particular creatures and in particular human creatures. Multifaceted and all of a sudden many many facets and the universe is basically the net reflecting every facet in every other facet. We are completely interconnected and inter-embedded and then the only natural response to that is compassion. Because you are not, again you are not who you think you are and you are not even you. We are all sometimes, the image used is like waves on the ocean. Individually we rise, we rise up and then soon gone okay. It’s all life, it’s one ocean wave. We can wave to each other on Skype or on our cushions. When we are not on Skype and just, we are tuning into Indris Net you don’t need cable or any other kind of technology.
Melli: There’s one more question that I would love to …
Jon: I know what it is …
Melli: I know you know what it is because I know you’ve been watching this summit. I would love to…
Jon: I don’t have the slightest idea what I would respond to it because …
Melli: Well I’ll ask you and see what comes up.
Jon: I’m not planning ahead …
Melli: As you know it’s been said that mindfulness has the capacity to change the world from the inside out one person at a time. I’m wondering …
Jon: Who said that by the way, as long as we are saying it’s been said.
Melli: Joseph Goldstein.
Jon: Good, okay.
Melli: He’s a wise man that man.
Jon: I love Joseph.
Melli: My question to you is, do you believe mindfulness has the capacity to change the world? If so what would that look like do you think if mindfulness would hit some kind of critical mass?
Jon: Well first of all, no I don’t believe it because of what I said about belief. I know it from direct personal experience and what does it mean to change the world? If you are different the world is already different. You could say in a completely trivial insignificant way but because of the interconnectedness of the universe and of all beings. If you had to transform the whole, what I sometimes call crystal-lattice structure of all of humanity is already different. It’s not trivial and it’s not insignificant. There have been many, many instances where one person’s conviction makes a huge transformative difference in the world. Even if that person winds up being burned at the stake or dying for their convictions.
There’s no question in my mind that mindfulness, and I wouldn’t be doing what I was doing and writing books like ‘Coming To Our Senses’, which are really about in some sense, the potential to transform the world through mindfulness. A lot of that would be healing if I didn’t know in some sense that we were capable of this, that the human species needs it in order to grow into the name we gave ourselves – homo sapiens. Sapiens from the Latin Sapere which means to taste or to know and not to know conceptually with the head but to know in the sort of deepest ways. Beyond the conceptual so we are the species that knows and knows that it knows. Or awareness and meta-awareness and I think that’s a great time but I don’t think we’ve quite lived into it yet. We are very, very new species from an evolutionary point of view.
Of course, we are capable of completely obliterating ourselves and everything else on the planet except maybe cockroaches and bacteria, they’ll live fine. We need to sort of wake up as a species and we know we are capable of it and all the beauty that humanity is capable of, comes from when we live inside that aspect of ourselves and all the horrors and the genocide and the crime and the suffering on this planet that comes out of the human mind when it doesn’t know itself is just equally colossal. I’m not worried about how it will look when, either 1.2 billion people on Facebook, and I’m not one of them, I’m not worried about when one 1.2 billion people or even sort of imagining what it would be like when 1.2 billion people are meditating or if you will are mindful. I have no question that it will evolve maybe very quickly in such a way that it won’t be easy but that we’ll find the way to ride the vector of humility, of humanity of ethics, of non harming, of wisdom, of compassion in ways that will be sort of beyond our imagination.
Create institutions to really support and laws that actually regulate greed, hatred and delusion. There you have it and I don’t know how far away that is but I hope it’s on the agenda for us and maybe it won’t be in our lifetime but that’s one of the reasons to teach mindfulness in the schools. Because when you learn that tuning of your own instrument early on and that there is some kind of belief system or anything like that. Then the potential good that can unfold from it is really incalculable and there’s so much suffering on this planet and a lot of it we do generate ourselves. If we could learn how to really serve each other and be here for each other in ways that are authentic and heartfelt and heart-full. Then the world would I think look more or less the way it does but we’d have more of those smiling faces.
I will say one other thing because it just happened this week. The parliament in the UK as you may have heard, as people may know issued a report that you called a mindful nation UK after Tim Lions title of his book in the United States, the Congressman from Ohio. They have been practicing mindfulness in the House of Lords, in the House of Commons, together for quite some time now, several years and going through 8 week training programs in mindfulness. There is a long waiting list so this is remarkable that a parliamentary governmental body would issue such a report pointing to four areas in which mindfulness really needs to be explored much more and funded much more to do the kind of ground work to decide whether it’s up to the task, in a practical way that would really be valuable for the society. Those areas are health, education, criminal justice and business. Wow, that is quite extraordinary that they’ve done that and I just send them all a deep bow for this. It’s an all party parliamentary report which means that all the parties like are representing themselves in this commonality of purpose. Now I would love to imagine that that were possible in the United States, where the antipathy between people who dress up as donkeys and people who dress up as elephants or Democrats and Republicans, for those of you that don’t know about much about the American politics.
It’s reached the point where it’s basically dysfunctional in ways that are creating huge amounts of payments offering. Most of it is driven by greed, hatred and delusion. The same for banking and many other things that are really out of control and we get the dregs of it, but the amount of harm that’s caused by a non-mindful, non-heart-full, non-wakeful way of doing business. The consequences for the environment, for the planet, for every aspect of human life are just so great now. We know that we have to become more mindful of these larger domains. Not just my body, my breath, my success, my failure. Again there’s nothing wrong with the body, the breath, success or failure because there’s no success without many failures. The mind is something that we could actually look at and if we do that as individuals or as a species we are going to be in very, very good shape.
I think this summit and the reason I agreed to be part of it is, in some sense, an indicator or how should I put this, a signature of what human beings are capable of, I don’t know where this came from in you but Joseph didn’t call you up on the phone and give you this idea. Nor did I, nor I’m guessing did anybody else, it comes out of you. You see the beauty of that is inane because it’s distributed everywhere. Everybody has the potential to add to this conversation, to this unfolding, to this flowering, to this flourishing on the planet. The only way you can do it is your way, you can’t pretend or adopt someone else’s way. There are infinite number of ways to practice mindfulness in ways that are deluded and hopeless. There are also an infinite number of ways to practice wise mindfulness or right mindfulness and there is no one right way. Again you’ve got to do that interior work and I just love that we are all in this together so to speak.
Melli: Thank you so much for bringing that up, it’s such a warm and open and accommodating thing to bring to the floor for people to know that there’s not a right way. We are all very different but it is important to be authentic to ourselves and to … As best we can to embody the practice and to live and breathe it.
Jon: Exactly and to not think that you are inadequate. Of course you can think you are inadequate, we all do. Like I’m not a Buddha or I’m not enlightened or all of that stuff. The irony is from the non dual Buddhist point of view, you are already enlightened. It’s just that you don’t know it because you haven’t yet woken up or gotten out of your own way. It’s the eye that’s the problem not the enlightenment and maybe there are no enlightened people when it’s all said and done. Maybe what there are are only enlightening moments. The more we align ourselves with that potential in ourselves the more things will move in the direction of greater wisdom, compassion, sanity. A kind of deep flourishing that will take care of the fact that, well hopefully will take care of the fact that we only have this home, this home planet. We have given it a fever and it has its own dynamic now and this is no joke and that we are seeing it in the ferocity of the storms and the slow increase, losing of the glaciers and the icecaps and polarize caps. That’s part of mindfulness practice too. It’s like we are all in this together and so what could be more beautiful than that. There’s where the, that whole thing we were talking about being not trivial, that I’m just one person, that I’m only little old me and how much even if meditate can change the planet.
Your beauty is exactly what the planet needs, I would like to say that every one of us is a flower and the world needs all of us to flower in our own ways. Then in talking with each other and working together and teaming up and making things happen that we care about. Because it isn’t just about individuals, it’s about to connect in the social, it’s about social justice, it’s about transforming our societies and seeing how much pain is involved. We’ve talked about it before, racism and all sorts of isms that ignore or degrade certain kinds of people because they are not like me, all that is potentially healable if we wake up in this way.
Melli: I think Blaise Pascal had it right back all that time ago.
Jon: Exactly, except I have to emphasize because sitting quietly in a room by yourself is great and I do it and I have done if for a very long time, relatively speaking. The real practice is how we live our lives from moment to moment, that’s the real practice. Not how much time your ass is on the cushion. That’s essential, it’s necessary but it’s not sufficient. Not just it’s not sufficient now, because we have all these global warming problems, it was never sufficient. It’s an embodied way of being and so if you are a great meditator but you don’t attend to your children or to your parents or to what needs doing now and asking yourself what requires doing now. Or how should I be in relationship to this moment with this challenge. Then you can go to all the meditation retreats you like but I think that there’s a certain way in which it will be found to be incomplete. Yet we do need people who go on long meditation retreats and who are not social lacked at this and just hold down whatever it is that they are holding down.
I think that we need all sorts of people and the only way that it’s really going to change is if you find what you love. Each one of us find what we love and just give ourselves over to it. Then not claim any credit for it.
Melli: Thank you so much for that Jon and I just want to also take this opportunity to thank you so deeply for the work that you’ve done. In bringing us more access to these teachings and also to so many of the other amazing pioneers who’ve taken part in this summit. Many of the people who have taken part in this summit have done incredible work. For somebody like myself ,when I wanted access to these teachings they were here for me, because of the work that yourself and a lot of other people did. That is just the most incredible gift. So my heartfelt gratitude to all of the pioneers and all of the people who took part in this summit.
Because it was only because you believed in my crazy idea that this summit ended up happening. Thank you so much for believing in this and for doing the work that you do and continue to do, my deepest, deepest respect and deepest bow to you all.
Jon: Well thank you. I got to say, you’ve become my teacher as well, this whole process has become part of my learning. Many of the people who you’ve featured over the past week’s are literally my teachers as well as metaphorically. Some of them might be my students but they are also my teachers. Again an example of complete interconnectedness and inter embodiedness. I think from here we are going to be moving onto a livestream kind of thing to really tie the ball on this whole month. I feel incredible gratitude for having the opportunity to engage in that extended guided meditation and inquiry together where we won’t be in conversation as I understand it.
I want to just sort of and I will do it sort of literally bow to you Melli and to Matt, who’s the other aspect of this team in making all the technology happen. For everything that you’ve done to create this and all the learning that’s gone on and some of the challenges, the stress, the unpleasantness. It’s all part of the flowering so to speak and I feel really honored to meet you in this way.
Melli: A deep bow to you too Jon. Just thank your for your support in general and it’s been amazing, it’s been an amazing journey. I’m so delighted with the response. I know a quarter of a million of us are on this journey together and I’m so looking forward to this livestream, it’s actually a chance for this whole community to come together for the kind of culmination of this summit. That we can actually just be together in presence as a community from all around the world. Thank you so much for tuning in and Jon and I will hopefully be joining in with you and the rest of the community for the livestream. All the details for that are just below in the show notes, so makes sure you put it into your calendar and we will see you again there.
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