Event: Google Tech Talks
Title: Mindfulness, Stress Reduction And Healing
Speaker: Jon Kabat-Zinn
Date: March 8, 2007
Aimée Christensen: Welcome, everyone. My name is Aimée Christensen and I’m working on climate change for google.org. And my good friend Meng asked me to do the introduction to Jon Kabat-Zinn, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to do so.
But I first wanted to thank Meng for organizing this event. It’s such a special occasion, and I thought that Meng’s title was especially appropriate given that he’s known as Jolly Good Fellow here at Google. It best captures Jon’s teachings.
So just a little bit of background on his bio. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. He is professor of medicine emeritus at University of Massachusetts Medical School where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, as well as founder and former director of its world renowned stress reduction clinic, which, I don’t know about you guys, but I could use a little bit of that now. I’m looking forward to this.
He is author of many books, including Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, as well as Wherever You Go, There You Are, the book that introduced me to him. Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s work has contributed to a growing movement of mindfulness into mainstream institutions in our society, including medicine, health care, schools, corporations, and perhaps even here at Google.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT in 1971, and his research focused on mind-body interactions with healing and various clinical applications of mindless meditation, training for people with chronic pain and stress related disorders. We’re hoping that his teachings will help all of us to not only optimize our mental output for Google but also optimize our quality of life wherever we are. So welcome, John. Thank you.
Well, thank you for that very sweet introduction. And it’s wonderful for me to be here. I’ve never been here before and it does feel like an interesting planet to be on. I’m just feeling my way.
But I, too, want to express my gratitude to Meng for inviting me. And I understand that I’m part of a much larger scheme in his mind. How many of you heard Alan Wallace talk when he was here some time ago? Not that many. So we’re covering a very broad spectrum because I’m sure a lot of people showed up for his talk. And then Paul Ekman is going to come in May, I’m told. And Paul Ekman is also involved in this kind of work in another way, some of which I’ll explain to you when I get to the slides.
What’s that? And Matthieu Ricard, whose face you’ll see in some of the photographs I’ll be showing, is coming next week, and I highly recommend you to see him. We have sort of a parallel background in that I was a student of Salvador Luria’s at MIT, who won the Nobel Prize early on in the history of molecular biology. And he was a graduate student at the same time at the Pasteur institute in Paris, France with Francois Jacob, who was a close friend of Luria’s. And then he happened to go off to Nepal and was so struck by what he felt from the Tibetan meditation teachers that he met there that he gave up molecular biology and has been a monk for 40 years. But now, as you’ll see, he’s been engaged in a larger enterprise to do science on meditative experience and look at the neuroscience of what happens in the brain when people have been meditating for very long periods of time and with tremendous motivation and intensity.
So it sounds like there’s something of a sequence of speakers coming to Google that are in some way all pointing to some hidden dimension of reality that’s in some way hidden to us, in other ways completely self-evident. But when it isn’t self-evident, it is really opaque. And I like to think of it as an orthogonal dimension — that is rotated 90 degrees in relationship to conventional reality — but one that allows in quantum mechanics, for instance, as I understand it, an orthogonal relationship allows, actually, two different entities to occupy the same space at the same time.
And in the mind, that is a very, very useful feature to actually bring online as opposed to leave just as potential.
So I’m going to be talking from a number of different angles. I entitled the talk, after talking with Meng about it, Mindfulness, Stress Reduction, and Healing, because that’s what a huge amount of our work in the past 28 years at the UMass Medical Center has been about. But there’s another parallel element to it, and it partly depends on how you feel about stress and stress reduction.
But when we use the word stress reduction, we’re not talking about some kind of dime store relaxation attempts to calm people down and just make them feel a little bit better so that they can work a little bit harder. We’re talking about, actually, a transformation in the way in which we relate to our lives, to our bodies, to our calling, to our loves, to our ambition, and so forth, so that we can live lives of balance and fundamental, profound satisfaction.
And I believe that’s true for human beings, that that is possible. And I think that a lot of time, the society entrains us, if we don’t do it ourselves, into severe imbalances that can sometimes be unbelievably addictive, intoxicating, and wonderful on one level, and on the other hand, maybe actually draining your life’s blood on another level or killing you. And so, in a certain way, metaphorically speaking, I would say that in this society, we seem to more and more be dying for some authentic door into ourselves in a way that’s bigger than just what usually defines us.
And that’s not to deny the beauty of what we often do, how creative we can be, how important it is to — I mean, at a place like this where you’re basically redefining the world and the universe in ways that potentially are tremendously healing for the planet. But to have this be, in some sense or other, held in a kind of awareness that ordinarily, we’re just not taught in school and that requires a certain kind of intimacy in cultivation in order to be able to have it more at our disposal.
Stress and Stress Reduction
So if we’re going to start with stress and stress reduction– periodically, Time Magazine and Newsweek and so forth put stress right up there on front because — I don’t know –I mean, I started the Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979. And when I think back to 1979, I say to myself, 1979 — what stress? I mean because of you folks and people like you, I can get more work done in a day than I used to be able to get done in a month, and it’s far better work.
But it still has a cost. Do you know what I’m saying? Because then the expectation is– not just from other people but from myself that I will just be — so the digital revolution already has catapulted us into a condition where increasingly, there’s no end to the work day. There’s no end to the work week. And so there’s a way in which work can encroach all of life. And if you love work more than anything else in the world, hey, no problem with that. And there have always been people like that on the planet– scientists, musicians– where it’s all that.