The history of mindfulness
A key contributor to the spread of mindfulness meditation in the West - Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn - is a scientist trained in molecular biology who has a passionate interest in the potential of Buddhist meditation practices and yoga to relieve suffering.
From the very beginning there was for me one primary and compelling reason for attempting to bring mindfulness into the mainstream of society. That was to relieve suffering and catalyse greater compassion and wisdom in our lives and culture.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2011
Thirty-five years ago he brought together the scientific method, the Western Insight Vipassana tradition (a form of Theravadan Buddhism) and Hatha yoga to generate the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. In this eight week program, he brought together these understandings in the following skilful ways:
it was grounded in science;
it was secular enough to appeal to a wide range of people from all sorts of walks of life;
it was intensive enough to make a difference; and
it was short enough to be "do-able" in a community setting.
The scientific paradigm emphasises objectivity, cost-effectiveness of health outcomes and a quest for evidence-based practice – and has been crucial for mindfulness to be able to have found it’s strong and impactful place in the world. The teachings from Buddhist practice bring their profound experiential understanding of the mind and body - providing a useful map for how to investigate the relationship between our 'inner' and 'outer' lives in order to really understand how to reduce suffering for ourselves and others.
Over the years Jon Kabat-Zinn's original program has now been translated into a range of mindfulness applications for specific issues including: substance addiction, pain, depression, anxiety, eating problems, cancer and for specific contexts such as leadership, workplaces, education, the criminal justice system and for frontline workers such as medical staff, child-protection workers, police personnel and firefighters.
People came to those original mindfulness trainings with Jon with all their stress, hope, curiosity, skepticism, busyness, pain, physical illness,
demanding jobs, anxiety, depression, relationship troubles, general disenchantment and unease, and genius - to do an experiment in living with
more presence and care over eight weeks and beyond.