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Ceaseless Society

In 2006 Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of several extraordinary books on mindfulness (Wherever You Go, There You Are, Full Catastrophe Living, ...), gave a lecture at MIT that's available on video via iTunes U ("The Ceaseless Society: Is 24/7 Good for Us?") and on the WGBH Forum Network. Kabat-Zinn talks about attention, duality, science, suffering, and the interrelationships between doing, thinking, being, and awareness. His style is gentle and his words are engaging. There are MIT techno in-jokes, musings about his years as a grad student, and thoughts on how mindfulness has helped people in the final stages of their lives. Some snippets, slightly edited for continuity, follow ...

... on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic:

... We work a lot with medical patients who have tremendous suffering. Our track record with the dead is not so good. So one of the sort of cardinal rules of thumb [...] on the people who come to our stress reduction clinic [is] that no matter what's wrong with you and no matter what the doctor sent you for, no matter whether it's prostate cancer, breast cancer, heart disease of one kind or another, back pain — as long as you're breathing, no matter what's wrong with you, from our perspective there's more right with you than wrong with you. OK? ...

... on being in the present:

... "I wish I knew this when I was a young person." It doesn't matter. Now is the only time that we're alive. So now is a good time. And the rest is all thinking. ...

... on Buddhism without Buddhism:

... This approach that we developed 27 years ago now at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center involves training regular people like you and me in Buddhist meditative practices without the Buddhism. Or, you could say, with the absolute heart of Buddhism, because Buddhism is about non-duality. So in a sense, if you make yourself into a Buddhist in your mind, [...] if you think you're a Buddhist, in a sense you're not a Buddhist.

If this is beginning to sound a little bit like Zen, that's why Zen sounds that way. They're trying to point to something that the intellectual capacity that we have can't figure out because it's jumping through another dimensionality ...

... on mindfulness meditation:

... It's about paying attention. Meditation, my working definition of it, to boil it down, [...] it's about paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. And that's called mindfulness, paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmentally. Ultimately, it stops being on purpose. ...

... on creativity:

... Creativity is mysterious, but one way to generate or tilt the probability of creativity is to cultivate more spaciousness in the mind, because thought tends to sort of contract and then get [...] stymied, when it can't get to the next thought.

And sometimes, if you learn how to just stand there, at what the Zen people in the Zen archery world call the point of highest tension — nobody could string or hold back Odysseus's bow except Odysseus, nobody — but when you can stand at the point of highest tension with your thoughts going nowhere and hold it in something bigger, wakefully, not necessarily in a dream, but actually wakefully, interesting connections seem to appear because they're already here.

But we are in some sense blind to them because our thinking itself acts like lenses and prevents us from seeing orthogonal opportunities, opportunities that are rotated in some way in relationship to the passive assumptions, to what's already known.

And what science is about is going between what's already known and the next that's going to be known — but how it is going to happen, and part of that is just an incredibly beautiful adventure. ...

^z - 2012-05-10

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