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Fully experiencing the present: a practice for everyone, religious or not

By Nomi Morris, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2010

Los Angeles, CA (USA) -- 'Mindfulness, the heart of Buddhist meditation, is at the core of being able to live life as if it really matters. It has nothing to do with Buddhism. It has to do with freedom,' says Jon Kabat-Zinn, developer of a stress reduction system.

Molecular biologist and author Jon Kabat-Zinn was a pioneer in applying the Buddhist concept of mindfulness to Western medicine and secular society. But he doesn't consider himself a Buddhist.

"Mindfulness, the heart of Buddhist meditation, is at the core of being able to live life as if it really matters. It has nothing to do with Buddhism. It has to do with freedom," Kabat-Zinn said in a telephone interview from Lexington, Mass. "Mindfulness is so powerful that the fact that it comes out of Buddhism is irrelevant."

Kabat-Zinn is the author of the bestsellers "Full Catastrophe Living" and "Wherever You Go, There You Are." He is scheduled to speak Wednesday at a breast cancer awareness event for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure group at UCLA's Royce Hall.

An emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn developed the system known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and founded the first MBSR clinic at the university's hospital more than 30 years ago.

At the time, students of integrative medicine like Kabat-Zinn were considered radical, and meditation was viewed as a subject for religion scholars, not scientists. But in recent years, studies have shown that meditation can improve the conditions of patients dealing with diseases from psoriasis to cancer.

Today there are more than 200 medical centers in the United States and abroad that employ the MBSR model to complement conventional therapies.

Kabat-Zinn is reluctant to use the word "spiritual" to describe the approach to healthy living that he promotes, characterizing it instead as being "grounded in common sense."

"You don't have to have a belief system or faith of one kind or another," he said. "It's not in conflict with faith. It's about a profound connection with the universe … within a faith tradition or outside of any faith tradition."

Kabat-Zinn's father was an immunologist and chemist, and his mother was a painter. He believes that early exposure to science and art fostered in him a recognition that there are "multiple ways of knowing and being in the world."

When he took up Buddhist meditation in the late 1960s — he was a founding member of the Cambridge Zen Center — it helped bridge various interests in his life, including biology, the arts, even politics. And it sparked his research into the mind-body connection.

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