Meditation In The Mainstream: The Growing Mindfulness Movement

Download Audio
In this Feb. 21, 2016 photo, Lauren Eckstrom, left, begins a session at Unplug Meditation Center in Los Angeles. As a distracted, multi-tasking lifestyle has given way to a more self-aware, live in the moment attitude, meditation practices and mindfulness exercises have moved from hippie to mainstream. Drop-in meditation studios are proliferating in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. (Nick Ut/AP)
In this Feb. 21, 2016 photo, Lauren Eckstrom, left, begins a session at Unplug Meditation Center in Los Angeles. As a distracted, multi-tasking lifestyle has given way to a more self-aware, live in the moment attitude, meditation practices and mindfulness exercises have moved from hippie to mainstream. Drop-in meditation studios are proliferating in big cities like New York and Los Angeles. (Nick Ut/AP)

With Budd Mishkin

The founder of modern Western mindfulness Jon Kabat-Zinn on how to practice mindfulness in everyday life.


Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Author of "Falling Awake: How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Life" and "Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life." (@jonkabatzinn)

Rupa Mehta, teacher and fitness instructor, and creator of the NaliniKIDS program. Author of "The Nalini Method: 7 Workouts for 7 Moods." (@RupaCONNECT)

Thomas Joiner, professor of psychology at Florida State University, director of the Florida State University Psychology Clinic. Author of "Mindlessness: The Corruption of Mindfulness in a Culture of Narcissism." (@thomasjoiner)

Interview Highlights

On the appeal of meditation and mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn: "I didn’t encounter any kind of pushback in the medical world around what I was doing or in the more mainstream world. Certainly, athletes know right from the get-go, that their performances are eroded by their own mind rather than their skill set. The words 'medicine' and 'meditation' are linked at the etymological hip. There’s a certain way, partially because I’m a scientist, that let me do what it was that I proposed doing. And then they saw the results with their patients. I want to emphasize, we’re not actually trying to sell anybody on anything. But when people are falling through the cracks in the health care system, or feeling traumatized or coming back from war zones, and there are limits to what drugs and surgery and other psychological treatments can do, challenging people to do something for themselves that nobody else on the planet can do for them, mobilizing deep interior resources that we all have by virtue of being human, and then discovering in that process, that it can transform your relationship to your own suffering, to your own pain, emotional or physical, or to your own mental processes, as well as the outer domains of the world, family, work, life, even economics and politics. That’s a kind of profound discovery of a form of human intelligence that has been inside of us for thousands and thousands of years, and now, in some senses emerging. I think we’re, if not dying, starving for some kind of human experience that doesn’t have anything to do with distraction or being entertained, or, as often put, diverted, divertissement, French for entertainment, away from the actuality of our lives."

On mindfulness and technology

JKZ: "In some sense, we’re all living like the proverbial frog in the pot of water which has a giant flame underneath it. The transition from an analog world 20 or 30 years ago to an increasingly digital world is actually driving all sorts of different problems in our society, as well as beauty, because you can’t live without the technology in some ways, and it’s hard to live fully with it. We’re perpetually distracted now, and capable of distracting ourselves infinitely because we have these supercomputers in our pockets and we don’t necessarily use them for phones or texts. We’re constantly checking our email and Instagram account and how many people liked me on Facebook, and it’s driving us in some sense nuts, and I think has the potential to addict us."

On criticisms of the movement

Thomas Joiner: "The benefits of mindfulness are plain; they exist, and Dr. Kabat-Zinn and others have documented those rigorously, but I think they have been exaggerated, I think they’ve been hyped. I don’t see much convincing evidence that the interventions related to mindfulness outperform very mundane, very healthy behaviors, such as regular exercises, going to the gym, walking. The overhyping phenomenon, that’s not necessarily the movement’s fault. It’s other people coming in and doing that. But it’s a real problem that I think needs to be addressed."

On bringing mindfulness programs into schools

Rupa Mehta: "We have this age-old question we always ask children: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Our aim in our program is to flip that question, and be more specific and ask students who are they now, and 'What can you teach us?' In order to successfully answer that question, students need to know who they are emotionally and physically, feel safe to be connected to that, and once you start making a language that is universal, that feels approachable, students walk right into sharing their emotional and physical barriers because they feel connected to their teacher and their environment."

From The Reading List

Excerpt from "Falling Awake" by Jon Kabat-Zinn

What do we mean when we talk about “cultivating mindfulness”?

There is no question that mindfulness is one of the hardest things in the world for us humans to tap into consistently (even though it is not a “thing”), and even though we can taste it and recognize that experience of tasting in an instant, in any instant.

The invitation is always the same: to stop for a moment—just one moment—and drop into wakefulness. That is all. Stop and drop: meaning, drop in to your experience of experiencing, and for even the briefest of moments, simply holding it in awareness as it is—in no time, or to put it differently, in this timeless moment we call now, the only moment we actually ever have.

Luckily, if we miss this moment because we are distracted by one thing or another, caught up in thinking or in our emotions, or with the busyness of what always seems to need getting done, there is always the next moment to begin again, to stop and drop into wakefulness in this moment of now.

It seems so simple. And it is. But it is not easy.

In fact, looked at one way, a moment of mindfulness, with no agenda whatsoever other than to be aware, is just about the hardest thing in the world for us humans to come to. And it is even harder for us to string two moments of mindfulness together.

And yet, paradoxically, mindfulness doesn’t involve doing anything at all. In fact, it is a non-doing, a radical non-doing. And right inside any moment of non-doing lies peace, insight, creativity, and new possibilities in the face of old habits of mind and old habits of living. Right in that or any moment of non-doing, you are already OK, already perfect, in the sense of perfectly who and what you are. And therefore, right in that moment you are already at home in a profound way, far beyond who you think you are and the ideas and opinions that may so shape and sometimes severely limit your view of the larger whole. Not to mention your own possibilities for experiencing that wholeness and benefiting from it. And most interesting of all is the realization that there is no “that moment” at some other time, except in thought. In actuality, there is only this moment for dropping in.

None of this means that you won’t get things done. In fact, when your doing comes out of being, when it is truly a non-doing, it is a far better doing and far more creative and even effortless than when we are striving to get things done without an ongoing awareness moment by moment. When our doing comes out of being, it becomes an integral and intimate part of a love affair with awareness itself, and with our ability to inhabit that space in our own mind and heart and to share it with others who are also engaged in that way of being as well—potentially all of us.

And none of this means, as is described in considerable detail in all four books in this series, that what you are experiencing has to always be pleasant—either during formal meditation practice or in the unfolding of your life. It won’t be. And it can’t be. The only reason mindfulness is of any value is that it is profoundly and completely up to the challenge of relating wisely to any experience— whether it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, wanted or unwanted, even horrific or unthinkable. Mindfulness is capable of meeting and embracing suffering head-on, if and when it is suffering that is predominating at a particular moment or time in your life.

We don’t learn much, if anything, about non-doing in school (that is, unless mindfulness has become part of the curriculum in your local school, which is happening more and more throughout the country and in different parts of the world) but most of us have experienced moments of radical non-doing as children. In fact, tons of them. Sometimes it comes as wonder. Sometimes it looks like play. Sometimes it emerges as concern for someone else, a moment of kindness.

Another way to put it is that mindfulness is all about being, as in “human being,” and about life unfolding here and now, as it is, and embraced in awareness. Therefore, it takes virtually no effort because it is already happening. All it requires is learning to reside in your direct experiencing of this moment, whatever it is, without necessarily thinking that it is particularly “yours.” After all, even “you” is just a thought construct when you put it under the microscope and examine it. If you do, you may discover that who you think you are is a very small and at least partially inaccurate account of who and what you actually are. In an instant, you can recognize how large the full dimensionality of your own being really is. You are already whole, already complete—as you are. And at the same time, you are part of a much larger whole, however you care to define it. And that larger whole, let’s call it the world, sorely needs that fully embodied and more realized version of you.

Our wholeness manifests in everyday life as wakefulness, as pure awareness. Our awareness is an innate human capacity, one that we hardly ever pay attention to or appreciate or learn to inhabit. And ironically, it is already yours, conventionally speaking. You were born with it. So you don’t need to acquire it, merely to familiarize yourself with this dimension of your own being. Your capacity for awareness is more “you” and more useful than virtually anything else about you, and that includes all your thoughts and opinions (important as it is to have thoughts and opinions, as long as we don’t believe them and cling to them as the absolute truth).

And since the paradox is that all of us are already who we are in our fullness, this means that in the cultivation of mindfulness, there is literally no place to go, nothing to do, and no special experience that you are missing or are supposed to have. The fact that you are able to experience anything at all is already extremely special. Ironically however, the truth of that is hardly ever recognized, as we quest for that special something that always seems to somehow elude or frustrate our desiring—perhaps that perfect meditative moment in your own fantasy of what meditation should produce if you were “doing it” correctly.

There is nothing to acquire because you are missing nothing and lack for nothing, despite what your habitual patterns of thinking and wanting might be telling you in any given moment. You are already whole, already complete, already alive in this moment, already beautiful just as you are. So no “improvements” are either necessary or possible. This is it!

The only thing we are missing is recognizing the actuality of life unfolding in this moment—in the form of “you,” in the form of “me”—in every dimension of that unfolding in the timeless present we call now, and realizing it, allowing it to be apprehended and thus made real in its fullness. There are no words for this because words are merely, for all their power and beauty when strung together skillfully, elements of thinking about things and thus once removed from direct apprehension. At this point, we enter the domain of pure poetry, where we attempt to use words to go beyond words, to convey what is not possible to say in a prose sentence. At this point, we are tapping into what one colleague* tellingly calls implicational holistic meaning—much more akin to directly feeling something and knowing it in one’s bones, in one’s heart, way beneath the words and concepts we may apply to the experience later. Perhaps in the end, it is this capacity that makes us human rather than automatons. And it is precisely here that we intersect with the domain of embodied mindfulness practice.

The mystery of awareness is that it is truly beyond words. It is intrinsic to our being. We all already have it and we always have. It is closer than close. Yet paradoxically, I have already used an awful lot of words to direct you toward apprehending something that is already yours, and already you—who you truly are just by virtue of being human. I hope that my pointing to it in words resonates with you and in you at a deeply intuitive level, way beyond words and stories.

This book and the others in this series are full of words, thousands of them. And yet, none of them are anything but pointers, sight lines for you to look along, feel along, sense along as you stop and drop, stop and drop, stop and drop in, moment by moment. Into what? Whatever is most at hand, most relevant, most salient to you in the moment. Into the actuality of now, of things as they are.

Simple? Yes! Can you do it? Of course you can! Does it involve doing? Not really. Yes and no. It only looks like it involves doing. What it really involves is falling awake. And that, as we have seen, is a love affair with what is, and with what might be possible in the next moment if you are willing to show up fully in this one without any expectations or attachments to an outcome.

If you think of meditation as a doing, you might as well not pursue it—unless, that is, you also recognize that there is method in the apparent madness or nonsensicality of non-doing. In the ancient Chinese Chan [Zen] tradition, this is sometimes spoken of as the method of no method. This is where recognizing the unity of the instrumental (doing, getting things done) and the non-instrumental (non-doing) approaches covered in Book 1 comes in. Our intrinsic wakefulness can’t be hyped. It can’t be sold. It can’t be corrupted. It can only be pointed to and realized. And the only way to realize it is to get out of your own way for a moment and simply stop and drop in, stop and drop in, stop and drop in.

One convenient way to do that is by attending to experience via your senses.

So we can experiment: Is it possible for us to come to our senses right in this moment? Can we hear only what is here to be heard? Can we see only what is here to be seen? Can we feel only what is here to be felt? Is it possible for us to wake up to the actuality of this moment of now and to what we might call our truest nature—what lies underneath all our thinking, our concepts, perspectives, world models, religious teachings, philosophies, scholarship, etc.? None of that is essential to the process of falling awake—although, paradoxically, any and all of it might be beautifully relevant as long as you aren’t attached to it. The key is non-identification with anything as “I,” “me,” or “mine,” because we actually have no idea (or only ideas) about who and what those personal pronouns actually refer to. Thus, just asking “Who am I?” and then stopping and dropping into awareness, into not-knowing, underneath thinking, is the beginning and the end of all meditative practices. Stopping and dropping in. When? Whenever you remember. How about now? And now? And now? Nothing needs to change. You don’t have to do anything. Only remember.

Excerpted from FALLING AWAKE by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Reprinted with permission of Hachette Books, a division of Hachette Book Group.

The Guardian: "Master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn: ‘People are losing their minds. That is what we need to wake up to’" — "The police in Cambridge, Massachusetts, showed no mercy to Jon Kabat-Zinn in May 1970. The man now considered the godfather of modern mindfulness was a graduate student from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an anti-Vietnam-war protester, agitating alongside the Black Panthers and the French playwright Jean Genet.

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

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

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

Time: "The Mindful Revolution" — "The raisins sitting in my sweaty palm are getting stickier by the minute. They don't look particularly appealing, but when instructed by my teacher, I take one in my fingers and examine it. I notice that the raisin's skin glistens. Looking closer, I see a small indentation where it once hung from the vine. Eventually, I place the raisin in my mouth and roll the wrinkly little shape over and over with my tongue, feeling its texture. After a while, I push it up against my teeth and slice it open. Then, finally, I chew--very slowly. I'm eating a raisin. But for the first time in my life, I'm doing it differently. I'm doing it mindfully."

Washington Post: "Mindfulness would be good for you. If it weren’t so selfish." — "We may live in a culture of distraction, but mindfulness has captured our attention.

"Books on the practice are numerous, including guides to 'A Mindful Pregnancy,' 'Mindful Parenting,' 'Mindful Politics,' 'The Mindful Diet' and 'Mindfulness for Teachers.' Corporations, sports teams, even the military and police departments provide mindfulness training to their employees. A bevy of podcasts offer tips for living a mindful life, guided mindful meditation and interviews with mindfulness evangelists. Another sure sign of cultural saturation: You can order 'a more mindful burger,' at Epic Burger in Chicago or an 'Enjoy the ride' trucker hat from Mindful Supply Co.

"I was dismayed when mindfulness began to encroach on my field: psychology, and specifically the treatment of suicidal behavior. A psychiatrist colleague’s proposal for a book on bipolar disorder prompted a pre-publication reviewer to request 'less lithium, more mindfulness' — even though less lithium can lead to more death by suicide in patients with bipolar disorder."

"Be in the moment." "Be present." Modern expressions we’ve all heard. Manifestations of mindfulness. But what is mindfulness? We’ll explore all aspects of mindfulness — its origins and applications, science and spirituality. Why supporters love it, skeptics question it and its place in a 24/7 teched-up world.

This hour, On Point: everything you always wanted to know about mindfulness.

— Budd Mishkin

This program aired on August 14, 2018.



More from On Point

Listen Live