Mindfulness Meditation
    • Insight, letting go, inner happiness

Meeting Jon Kabat-Zinn

by on 28 June

 

On two occasions, I met Jon Kabatt-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course offered throughout western society since 1979. Each time, I was inspired and felt so welcomed.

 

After going on stress leave towards the end of my career, I took his course and began meditating. A decade later, I decided to teach the course, and signed up for a week of “teacher training”. I was very lucky to be one of the 208 people from 27 countries to register in the first hour after registration opened. Another 400 applicants were not so lucky.

 

While the training presented the curriculum of the MBSR course, I was impressed mainly by how Jon interacted with the participants during the many opportunities for question and answer. I was struck by Jon’s deep attention to exactly what a participant said and how he used this to carefully draw out the implications of the statement or question. He might reply, “When you said that you were a little wary about coming to this training week, please expand on what that felt like to you.” His interaction was so respectful, thoughtful and kind.

 

On the last night, Jon would be available to autograph books in a coffee shop at the Omega Institute in New York where the training took place. I had visited the bookstore and purchased a copy of Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting which Jon and his wife Myla had written.

 

Armed with my book, I joined the line in sixth place to meet Jon. I soon realized that this was no simple process - Jon was visiting with each person for 5 minutes or more. Instead of patiently watching each trainee visiting with this master teacher, I bought a coffee and started to read several tables away from the autographing table. I became engrossed in the excellent book, never looking up to check on Kabatt-Zinn. After 20 minutes or more, I heard a voice - “Did you want to see me?” I looked up to see Jon standing a few feet away. I immediately said “yes” and followed him to his table to get his autograph and enjoy a conversation about the book and parenting.

 

Even though Kabatt-Zinn had been attentively and slowly spending time with each of the autograph-hunters, he had also noticed when I had left the line and then returned from purchasing a coffee to sit at a table perhaps 20 feet away. Talk about peripheral awareness! What a thoughtful person.

 

I met Jon a second time five years later at a mass meditation - a guided public meditation at a venue that can accommodate hundreds of people. An article in the Ottawa Citizen reported that an Ottawa mindfulness organization/group had invited Jon to lead this mass meditation at noon on World Peace Day on Parliament Hill. He had never led one before and had little knowledge of the “set-up” for this event, but he came to Ottawa from his home in Massachusetts for his first-ever visit to the nation’s capital.

 

I arrived a little after noon to find about 500 hundred people sitting on the lawn beside the East Block listening to Jon leading a guided meditation and reflection on mindfulness. I enthusiastically joined them. Afterwards, I joined a long line-up to greet him. Serendipitously, the fellow behind me - a professional photographer - asked if I’d like him to take a photo of Jon and me with my camera. “Yes, please”, I replied.

 

When my turn came, I told Jon how much I’d enjoyed taking his course 18 years earlier and was now teaching it. But I explained - not wanting to sound too full of myself - I wasn’t “certified” to teach his course (most MBSR teachers haven’t spent many weeks and thousands of dollars to be able to “represent” Jon Kabatt-Zinn on a certified basis). “That’s okay”, he said, “I’m not certified either.” With that, he put his arm around my shoulder and turned to face the camera my friend was aiming at us. The resulting picture is on my website on the Contact page.

 

On each of my meetings with Jon Kabatt-Zinn, I encountered a deeply self-deprecating, attentive and thoughtful person. What an inspiring teacher and role model.

 

 

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