Thich Nhat Hanh’s influence
Mindful Meditation is most often attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk who came to the U.S. in 1960 to study comparative religion at Princeton University. When asked to return to Vietnam to help the monks and fellow Vietnamese work with their anger, suffering and dying as a result of the Vietnam War, Nhat Hanh conceived of the practice of mindful meditation with an emphasis on coping with grief.
Jon Kabat-Zinn picked up the mindfulness reins in the western world
In 1971 John Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biology major at MIT (and now Professor of Medicine Emeritus) met Thich Nhat Hanh during one of his retreats and decided to test whether the principles of Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist mindfulness would be equally effective in the non-Buddhist western world. In the late 1970’s Kabat-Zinn structured an 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course at University of Massachusetts Medical Center (MBSR), which has subsequently spread worldwide. Two decades of research has shown that the MBSR practice can relieve physical and emotional pain for individuals who meditate for 30 minutes a day over an 8-week period of time. Recent medical imaging has shown a noticeable thickening of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex after the 8-week meditation practice.
What does it mean to be mindful?
Even though we all have the ability to focus on what is taking place in the moment, we seldom tap into the skill. Instead, we bounce from rehashing the past to worrying about the future—missing the power of the present to keep us level-headed and calm. Enter 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation when you simply observe your ongoing thoughts and emotions without judgment, and you soon realize that your mind has plenty of room to accept, hold and tolerate whatever enters. With this newfound sense you discover that
- you have thoughts and emotions—but you are not your thoughts and emotions; you have times of physical and emotional pain—but you are not your pain; therefore you have more control than you imagine and you can, indeed, become comfortable with discomfort.
Initially you may become agitated or even bored by the stretches of silence between the verbal prompts that guide you to observe your breath, sounds, body sensations, and thoughts/emotions; but if you stick with the practice, the agitation and boredom turns into curiosity as you notice your level of mental and physical stress drop significantly.
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More on Thich Chat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mindfulness Meditation
Krista Tippett’s free NPR On Being interviews of Nhat Hanh and Kabat-Zinn and recommended reading.
- Thich Nhat Hanh
- Jon Kabat-Zinn
- You also might be interested in Daniel Tomasula’s article on his experience when training with Nhat Hanh
Highly recommended reading:
Thich Nhat Hanh:
- Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
- The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
- Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
- Wherever You Go, There You Are
- FREE: Jon Kabat-Zinn leads a short form of mindful meditation . I highly recommend this 12 minute video.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn Mindfulness Meditation Audio –
Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 3