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Lions Roar : March 2010
64 SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2010 finding its way into primary and secondary schools. The people teaching and researching it have in many cases been involved with mindfulness for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years by now. They are not just jumping on some new mindfulness bandwagon. And their work has resulted in many professionals being drawn to mindful- ness for the first time. That in itself is a wonderful phenomenon, as long as it is understood that mindfulness is not merely a nice “concept” but an orthogonal way of being that requires ongoing practice and cultivation. What are some of the new frontiers that mindfulness has entered in recent years? The mindfulness work is spilling into areas way beyond medicine and healthcare and also beyond psychology and neuroscience. It’s moving into programs on childbirth and parenting, education, business, athletics and professional sports, the legal profession, criminal justice, even politics. For instance, Tim Ryan, a Demo- cratic congressman from Ohio, has become a major advocate of greater support for mindfulness research and program imple- mentation in both healthcare and education, based on his own experiences with ongoing practice. In so many different domains, it’s becoming recognized as virtually axiomatic that the mind and body are and always have been on intimate speaking terms, at least biologically. We need to learn to be much more tuned in to the conversation and participate actively if we are going to function effectively and optimize our health and well-being. Does the synchronizing of mind and body bring benefits beyond functioning effectively? The awareness we are speaking of when we are using the term “mindfulness” also encompasses the motivations for our actions, for example, the ways we are driven by self-aggrandizement or greed. In the financial crisis of 2008-2009, we’ve seen the effects of greed played out on a massive scale in the banks and insurance companies. Healing that disease won’t just be a matter of bailouts, stimulus packages, and magically creating greater confidence in the economy. We need to create a different kind of confidence and a new kind of economics, one that’s not about mindless spending but is more about marshalling resources for the greater good, for one’s own being, for society, and for the planet. Mind- fulness can help open the door to that by helping us go beyond approaches that are based on conceptual thought alone and are driven by unbounded and legally sanctioned greed. It seems that the notion that we can think our way out of our big problems has been tarnished recently. That’s a key point. Even very, very smart people—and there are plenty of them around—are starting to recognize that thinking is only one of many forms of intelligence. If we don’t recognize to anchor it in medicine and healthcare. I thought that would be the most fertile ground for introducing meditation and the wisdom and compassion of the dharma in its universal aspect to a wider world, hopefully in an authentic and meaningful way. After all, hospitals function as dukkha magnets in our society, so what better place for the teachings of suffering and the end of suffering to be made available in ways that people might be able to resonate with and adopt as their own? This year, we’ve been celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the UMass Medical Cen- ter. The original vision has in some sense come to fruition, because Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has indeed spread to hospitals, clinics, and laboratories around the world. It’s being researched, of- fered clinically, and experimented with in ways that were virtually inconceivable thirty years ago. I think that has come about because the world is longing for authentic experience that transcends the usual limitations we impose on ourselves—through cultural tradi- tions, ideologies, belief systems, and so forth. People are searching for ways to realize the full spectrum of their humanity. Why do you think a scientific approach is important in spreading the practice of mindfulness? I am not really interested in “spreading” mindfulness, so much as I am interested in igniting passion in people for what is deepest and best within all of us, but which is usually hidden and rarely acces- sible. Science is a particular way of understanding the world that allows some people to approach what they would otherwise shun, and so can be used as a skillful means for opening people’s minds. By bringing science together with meditation, we’re beginning to find new ways, in language people can understand, to show the ben- efits of training oneself to become intimate with the workings of one’s own mind in a way that generates greater insight and clarity. The science is also showing interesting and important health benefits of such mind–body training and practices, and is now beginning to elucidate the various pathways though which mindfulness may be exerting its effects on the brain (emotion regulation, working memory, cognitive control, attention, acti- vation in specific somatic maps of the body, cortical thickening in specific regions) and the body (symptom reduction, greater physical well-being, immune function enhancement, epigenetic up and down regulation of activity in large numbers and classes of genes). It is also showing that meditation can bring a sense of meaning and purpose to life, based on understanding the non- separation of self and other. Given the condition we find our- selves in these days on this planet, understanding our intercon- nectedness is not a spiritual luxury; it’s a societal imperative. Three or four hundred years ago, not so long in the scheme of things, people practicing meditation did so under fairly isolated conditions, mostly in monasteries. Now meditation is being prac- ticed and studied in laboratories, hospitals, and clinics, and is even