Mindfulness: Paying Attention to Your Life

Jon Kabat-Zinn is the founding director of
the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where for
decades he researched the most effective ways to reduce stress. The Mindfulness Based Stress
Reduction program, otherwise known as MBSR, was the product of his groundbreaking research
and is now having a major impact on the treatment of physical and mental disorders. So, what
do persons stressed out by chronic pain and serious physical and mental illness learn
from attending MBSR? Well, they learn mindfulness, which Kabat-Zinn defines as: “the awareness that arises by paying attention
in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” The simplicity of this definition belies the
profoundness of mindfulness and its benefits for mental health, stress management, and
emotional regulation. To be mindful we must choose to be an observer of our own life as
it unfolds in the present moment while temporarily setting aside any judgment of good or bad
as to what we see. To do this we must find the quiet place within us that exists between
thoughts and then develop an “Observing Self” that can detach from the drama of our
life and just “see” in a manner similar to how seasoned journalists calmly and nonjudmentally
report the facts of a dramatic story unfolding right before them. Kabat-Zinn created a guided meditation, called
the Mountain Meditation, in which he instructs us to imagine being a massive mountain. He
then directs us to visualize wind, rain, lightning, snow, the hot sun, and hail battering us,
but then points out that the drama on the surface does not touch the mass within the
mountain. He then suggests that there exists within each of us an inner calm, an Observing
Self, that is unaffected by the drama of our lives – just as the core of the mountain is
unaffected by the changing weather on the surface. He then teaches us how to practice
developing an Observing Self as a way to improve self-care, stress management, and health. Here’s an example: Imagine you’re walking
in front of a class to give a speech and are totally drawn into the drama swirling within
you – the scary thoughts (“I’m gonna make a fool of myself”), the upsetting images (imagining
yourself being laughed at and humiliated), the associated emotions (the fear and panic),
and the accompanying body sensations (sweaty palms, shortness of breath), all interacting
to create a sense of impending doom, just as if you’re walking down death row. In short,
your mind has so distorted the reality of the present moment that you’ve transformed
a relatively benign situation into an execution. This mindlessness, or what Kabat-Zinn calls
“automatic pilot,” is how we often stress ourselves out and make ourselves sick, both
mentally and physically. But Kabat-Zinn’s research shows us a better way. Now, after some mindfulness training, once
again imagine walking before that same class, but this time being sufficiently aware of
your body, thoughts, and emotions to approach the situation mindfully. Thus, you begin observing intentionally
and accepting your rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, scary thoughts and images,
intense emotions, and even the audience from your calm, Observing Self, which you’ve been
practicing doing on a daily basis in your mindfulness training. As such, you notice
that your breathing is shallow and then quite naturally respond by inhaling more deeply,
which has a calming effect. And by avoiding getting sucked into the scary thoughts and
images, you slowly turn off the gas that’s fueling the fire of your burning emotions
and become even more calm. And, now, you can actually see the audience. They’re not executioners,
but simply other human beings anxiously waiting to take their turns to give speeches.
So, now you can mindfully begin your speech from the calm place of the Observing Self no matter
what your thoughts or emotions are telling you. This is how mindfulness reduces stress in
our life by allowing us to see situations clearly, so we can respond mindfully rather
than react in a knee-jerk fashion. Mindfulness is about seeing what is, so we have the most
accurate information possible upon which to base our decisions. Mindfulness replaces denial
and distortion with the clarity of observation and acceptance, which leads to wisdom and
better choices for ourselves. If you found this video helpful, please click
the Thumbs Up button. And if you want to hear more from me, then subscribe to my channel,
Counselor Carl. I will be publishing a new video every other weekend. And if you’d like
help in learning to live a more mindful life, then visit my website at serenityonlinetherapy.com
to learn more about me and the online services I provide.
And finally, keep paying attention to your life!
Until next time!

Jerry Heath


  1. I don't like this "Jon Kabat-Zinn" worshiping.
    He didn't discover Mindfulness anymore than "Hernando de Soto" discovered the Mississippi.
    Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years.

  2. Thank you sir. You have been a big help to me. You taught me a lot about grief and anxiety. 😇😇👏🏻👏🏻

  3. You are terrific, Carl! So very helpful in a calm, wise and very practical way. I appreciate you!

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