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Lions Roar : November 2015
weeks, the group begins to settle. The students start sharing poignant moments in which mindfulness has helped them. One student practiced mindfulness before surgery and felt significantly less anxious as she waited for the operation. Someone who frquently felt triggered by her boss was able to remain calm and not lash out in an especially fraught situation. Another listened more empathetically to a family member whom she usually found insufferable. One woman was finally able to get a full night of sleep, despite chronic sleep deprivation and a close relative’s recent life-threatening diagnosis. A parent found that she was kinder and more patient with her children and husband. Most surprisingly to me, students had significant insights—on their own, with- out any Buddhist language or prompt- ing from me—that any dharma teacher would happy to hear. One noticed his thoughts were constantly changing. They would come, they would stay awhile, and then they would go. Someone observed that they were always wanting and desiring. Another student asked, very sincerely, “IfIamnotmybreath,andIamnotthe sensations of my body, and I am not my emotions, and I am not my thinking, then...who am I?” Based on these moments and many others, I can say without a doubt that learning mindfulness meditation provides immediate relief for nearly everyone. By the end of every program, neurosis is down and sanity is up. People speak about finding kinder and gentler ways of connecting with their loved ones, coworkers, and bosses. This indicates the practice is not reinforcing self-centeredness but is helping people pay more attention to their relationships. Many meditators notice they’ve begun making better choices, as they become more attuned to the consequences of their words and actions. That sounds like the start of living ethically to me, a key question many Buddhists have about secular mindfulness. Students have many small moments of keen observation and insight, and almost all of them want to keep learning and take it deeper. At least a few times, the student’s spouse, moved by the positive changes they observe in their husband or wife, signs up for the next course. There’s just no question that people begin healing their hearts and their rela- tionships, which in turn brings healing to their workplaces and communities. Students come to the course from a range of faith traditions, or none at all. Many would not feel comfortable visit- ing a Buddhist temple, dharma center, or even a nonspecific meditation group. I now see secular meditation programs as an excellent starting point for the general population. They are not the be-all and end-all, but they are a force for good, and there’s little reason for those of us in the Buddhist world to be sniffy about it. Once face-to-face with an actual human being who is in pain, a Buddhist like me can’t help but offer—in language accessible to that person—the most valuable thing I know of: a profound practice that provides relief from suffering and an entrance to the path of awakening. ♦ Mindfulness and dharma are best thought of as universal descriptions of the functioning of the human mind regarding the quality of one’s attention in relationship to the experi- ence of suffering and the potential for happiness. They apply equally wherever there are human minds, just as the laws of physics apply equally everywhere in our universe . From the point of view of the dharma’s universality, it is helpful to recall that the Buddha himself was not a Buddhist. He was a healer and a revolutionary, albeit a quiet and inward one. He diagnosed our collective human dis-ease and prescribed a benev- olent medicine for sanity and well-being. Given this, one might say that in order for Buddhism to be maximally effective as a dharma vehicle at this stage in the evolution of the planet and for its sorely needed medicine to be maxi- mally effective, it may have to give up being Buddhism in any formal religious sense, or at least give up any attachment to it in name or form. Since dharma is ultimately about non-duality, distinc- tions between buddhadharma and universal dharma, or between Buddhists and non-Buddhists, cannot be fundamental. From this perspective, the particular traditions and forms in which it manifests are alive and vibrant, multiple, and continually evolving. At the same time, the essence remains, as always, form- less, limitless, and one without distinction. Adapted from Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, by JON KABAT-ZINN (Hyperion). THE UNIVERSAL TRUTH OF DHARMA If we want the human truth of dharma to benefit as many people as possible, argues mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, we may have to give up our attachment to the religion of Buddhism. IN SOME WAYS it is appropriate to characterize dharma as resembling scientific knowledge—ever growing, ever changing, yet with a core body of methods, observations, and natural laws distilled from thousands of years of inner exploration through highly disciplined self-observation and self-inquiry, a careful and precise recording and mapping of experiences encountered in investigat- ing the nature of the mind, and direct empirical testing and confirming of the results. Mindfulness and dharma are best thought of as universal descriptions of the functioning of the human mind regarding the quality of one’s attention in relationship to the experience of suffering and the potential for happiness. —Jon Kabat-Zinn SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 12 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE