John Kabat Zinn: Part One - An Intimate Interview … with 700 Other people

~ By Gail Sauer ~

Is it possible? Can 700 people create an intimate gathering? As we all sat, silent and captivated by Jon Kabat Zinn’s every word, every pause, every moment, the feeling of togetherness, of community—dare I say, of ONENESS—was palpable.

In the clinic on Saturday morning, a patient asked me how I was going to spend the rest of the day.  I said, bursting with excitement, “Well... guess who’s in town that I am going to see”?!

He responded, “Ellen DeGeneres”?
I said, “Nooo … Jon Kabat Zinn”!!!!!!   The patient stared blankly.                                                                         
Rebecca chimed, “You look underwhelmed.” 

The exchange was comical and the precise reason I am sharing it with you. For any of you who would share this patient’s blank stare, Jon Kabat Zinn is the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and is responsible for much of the research done on mindfulness to date.  He is also the author of Full Catastrophe Living, Coming to Our Senses and other excellent reads on mindfulness.

There are so many points of interest that I would love to share with you about that day, I have decided to roll out some of the pearls of discussion in a mini blog series.

Back to my story ….
I found my place in the auditorium: a seat that offered a bird’s eye view of the stage. A feeling of gratitude washed through my every cell. Surprisingly, my gratitude was neither for the opportunity to be there, nor for Jon Kabat Zinn being there, but for the very obvious observance that mindfulness has touched this many people. Here was a community of 700 plus people--who chose to arrive on their own mat, at their own door on a snowy Saturday afternoon, together, to hear an interview about breathing.

Jon Kabat Zinn spoke that afternoon about separateness—the tendency to create “them” and “us” and how this separateness leads to suffering. “Them” and “Us” can come in many forms: men and women, Palestinians and Israelis, Caucasian and African Canadian, Conservative and Liberal, etc., etc.  So many of us feel a general sense of being separate, cut off from each other and from nature. The breakdown of community in North America has been documented by many scholars, and has resulted in a dramatic rise in the conditions of suffering of individuals today: anxiety, depression, addiction, violence. This suffering of separation can be understood as the suffering of selfishness (verses selflessness). It is the root of conflict, hatred, resentment, jealousy.

In contrast, the wisdom of mindfulness teaches us NON-SEPARATION: to understand that we are all simply human and are “in it together,” so to speak. Being cut off is not our essence. As Jon Kabat Zinn said on Saturday, we have all come from the same matter, the same origin, we are all made up of the same “stuff” and the same consciousness. How, then, are we separate?

As we exited the auditorium, there was a noticeable niceness about the crowd. Instead of pushing or shoving our way into OUR rightful place in the exit line, we all offered for others to go first. Why was this? Did Jon Kabat Zinn lull us all into some super-nice zombie state? Or perhaps this is what the realization of oneness does: cultivates a kindness and open-heartedness towards each other and towards ourselves.