SAT CHIT ANAND

- MAY 2008 NEWSLETTER -

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MINDFULNESS AS MEDICINE

 

Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn is internationally renowned for his work as scientist, researcher, writer and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. A Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn is held in the highest regard in medicine and beyond for his breakthrough work developing and teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), while his clinical and neurobiological research has been extensively published in journals over the last 25 years.

Jon was founding Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society, and founder and former director of its world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts. The clinic has assisted over 17 000 patients with a wide range of diagnoses, conditions and disorders. MBSR is now offered at some 200 medical facilities worldwide.

As a writer he has achieved widespread acclaim. He is the bestselling author of several books including Wherever You Go, There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living, and has received numerous prestigious awards during his distinguished career. He leads workshops on stress reduction and mindfulness for health professionals and lay audiences worldwide and has trained groups of judges, business and thought leaders, lawyers, clergy and Olympic athletes. In addition, he is Vice-Chairman of the Board of the Mind and Life Institute which organizes dialogues between the Dalai Lama and western scientists that probe the fundamental nature of the mind, emotions and reality.

 

DR JON KABAT-ZINN MINDFULNESS-BASED STRESS REDUCTION

 

I recently attended a 3-day Retreat for health professionals, coaches and educators at Goudini Spa near Worcester with DR JON KABAT-ZINN. It was wonderful meeting Jon and learning from his skilful teaching style and compassionate presence. He fully participates and interacts with people in a very warm and embracing way. He made everybody feel that they mattered: your life matters and you matter. This in itself is very healing.

 

The retreat consisted of Dharma talks by Jon interspersed with beautiful poetry (some of which is included in this newsletter). We practiced mindfulness meditation in all 4 postures as taught by the Buddha: sitting meditation, walking meditation, standing meditation and lying down meditation (body scan), plus moving meditation (yoga). There was ample space for dialogue, during which we learnt from each other’s experience and Jon’s wise comments and advise.

 

Jon pointed out that meditation and medicine share the same root meaning: “right inward measure”. Medicine has the aim and function of restoring well-being, wholeness and health. Meditation says that you are already whole and complete (your Buddha nature), and direct perception of this is meditation. Meditation puts you in touch with your deepest nature, your pure and divine essence. Most people have lost this connection and need to learn how to find it again. 

 

Stand still.

The trees ahead and the bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you,

If you leave it you may come back again,

Saying Here.

 

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost.

Stand still.

The forest knows where you are.

You must let it find you.

 

[Old Native American elder story

rendered into a poem by David Wagoner]

 

Good medicine takes care of body and mind, because they are not two separate entities. Body and mind are deeply interconnected. We know what a healthy body feels like. If you want to know whether you have a healthy mind, look at how your mind responds to adverse situations. An unhealthy mind responds with fear. A healthy mind responds with compassion.

 

The Buddha is referred to as the supreme physician, because he taught how to attain a state of supreme well-being. According to Buddhism, everything comes from the mind. This means that physical illness begins in the mind. If intangible mental imbalances are not attended to, they will tangibly manifest in the body so as to bring your attention to them, in order that they might be healed. Many people are not consciously aware of what is happening in their minds – their thoughts and emotions. Many people are afraid of their feelings and emotions so they suppress them into their bodies. These feelings and emotions do not go away, and they can eat you up like cancer. Problems and lack of ease in the mind will manifest as problems and dis-ease in the body. This is why the Buddha taught meditation and the importance of being aware of what is happening within your mind – because this is where it all starts.

 

To reach a state of optimal health (physical and mental), it is necessary to address the whole person. This includes body, mind, and lifestyle. In today’s fast-passed and highly stressful world, many, if not most, illnesses are linked to stress. Physical and mental stress causes suffering, and if not attended to, adversely affects the quality of your health and your life. Based on his deep knowledge and practice of Buddhist meditation, JON KABAT-ZINN developed a secular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, which teaches patients to become more mindful and aware of their physical and mental condition and to take responsibility for it. This opens up the possibility of self-healing, and even if the physical condition cannot be cured, the psyche can be healed at very deep levels, so that a place of inner wellness is reached.

 

There were many doctors on the retreat, and they stressed the need for such a course. Patients come to them because they are suffering from some physical ailment. But often they are also suffering from depression or some other emotional problem. The patient does not wish to be referred to a psychiatrist nor does s/he wish to take anti-depressant drugs. There is a huge area where doctors cannot help. The doctor feels helpless and the patient needs help. This is where a Mindfulness Course can be prescribed by the doctor.

 

YOUR LIFE MATTERS WHEN YOU LIVE WITH MINDFULNESS

 

“There is a most wonderful way to help living beings realize purification, overcome directly grief and sorrow, end pain and anxiety, travel the right path, and realize nirvana. This way is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.” [The Buddha: Satipatthana Sutra]

 

Mindfulness is deeply healing. It puts you in touch with yourself and with your life. It teaches you to live in the present moment, and to connect with the beauty of the moment. We are always looking for satisfaction and happiness elsewhere. It doesn’t seem possible to find it right here, right now. The moment is never perfect to the thinking mind, which is caught up in desire and wanting it to be a certain way, or discontent and not wanting it to be a certain way.

 

This puts conditions on the moment and doesn’t allow us to relax into and become one with the moment, except in rare situations. In these perfect “right” moments there is relaxation and peace, and in “wrong” moments there is separation, tension and basic underlying dukkha (anxiety / suffering). To be free of the chains of attachment (liking / wanting / clinging) and aversion (disliking / not wanting / pushing away) = freedom. Then this very moment is perfect exactly as it is, and we experience beauty, joy and contentment in those timeless moments.

 

Through mindfulness training we cultivate present moment awareness, and we learn to let go of our judgements. Mindfulness = moment-to-moment non-judgemental awareness. This allows us to accept things as they are, and to accept ourselves as we are in this moment. What relief to let things be with no conditions, no desires and no expectations. What bliss to let ourselves be … just be, warts and all. This is to embrace the wholeness of our being, which includes light and dark, beauty and the beast. It allows us to bring the darkness into the light, so that it may be healed and transformed.    

 

My life is not this steeply sloping hour,

In which you see me hurrying.

Much stands behind me; I stand before it like a tree.

I am only one of my many mouths

And at that, the one that will be still the soonest.

 

I am the rest between two notes,

Which are somehow always in discord

Because death’s note wants to climb over -

But in the dark interval, reconciled,

They stay here trembling.

And the song goes on, beautiful.

[Rainer Maria Rilke]

 

Awareness is all-inclusive. We want to shut things out, but everything is part of the curriculum, part of our life. If we don’t include everything, then fragmentation and division happens between meditation and life. We need lots of compassion and kindness so that we can embrace wholeness. This is a powerful state of being, for we spend so much of our lives trying to organize and arrange things so that we only get the parts that we like. Life is so much bigger than our tiny little preferences. The more we can expand our awareness, the more we can open to the vastness of life. The more we can be present to all of life. The Chinese characters for mindfulness mean “presence of heart”. It takes courage to be present.

 

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

Catches the thread of all sorrows

And you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore …

[Naomi Shihab Nye]

 

JON said he could feel the enormous stress that South Africans live under on a daily basis. The size of the cloth is big. There is a lot of trauma in this country. We still have a long collective journey ahead of us, before we as a country reach a place of wellness. What wise option do we have, except to move forward with increased mindfulness and kindness to ourselves and others. One moment of mindfulness is one moment of freedom.

 

NEW MINDFULNESS CENTRE AND HEALING CENTRE

 

“My religion is kindness.” [Dalai Lama]

 

We have expanded our facilities to include a new Mindfulness Centre and Healing Centre, so as to extend the benefits and blessings of mindfulness practice to a wider circle of people. We see the need to make Buddhist meditation teachings and practices available to all who can benefit from them (and all can benefit from them), and the need is great. Buddhism is more than a religion – it is a profound and scientific system of personal transformation and evolution towards our full potential as miraculous beings. It is beyond fundamentalism and dogma, and it is rapidly moving into a world that desperately needs it. It is moving into all fields – medicine, psychology, ecology, politics, science. It can do this because it is universal and transcends all boundaries.

 

Our new MINDFULNESS CENTRE offers secular courses and retreats on meditation and mindfulness training. Our new HEALING CENTRE offers holistic treatments and therapies. See our website www.satchitanand.co.za for more details. We are happy to welcome VERONICA OLDING as our resident massage therapist and manager of the HEALING CENTRE as from next month. We invite you to spend a healing and rejuvenating holiday in our lovely cottages. We hope to offer JON KABAT-ZINN’S Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction courses in the near future.

 

I have a real interest in these courses, since I left my profession as attorney because of too much stress and stress-related migraines. It has taken me years to learn how to work in a relaxed and mindful way. I know the demands and challenges facing professionals in the workplace, and I now know the techniques how to live and work in a peaceful way, which prevents burn-out and makes a world of difference to the quality of your life. If your life matters to you, the art of mindful living is a skill you cannot afford not to learn.

 

The time will come

When, with elation,

You will greet yourself arriving

At your own door, in your own mirror,

And each will smile at the other’s welcome.

 

And say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger

Who was your self.

Give back your heart to itself,

To the stranger who has loved you

All your life, whom you have ignored

For another, who knows you by heart.

 

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

The photographs, the desperate notes,

Peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit. Feast on your life.

[Derek Walcott]

 

Next email is our 2008 PROGRAMME

 

 

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