The science and art of meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the wonderful scientist, who has made meditation and mindfulness household terms gives a lecture here on this youtube video that takes place at Google.

In it he covers lots of scientific studies of the healing nature of meditation. There is no mysterious religious dogma here—what he presents has been studied clinically.

A couple of notes from my viewing of it.

Meditation is about paying attention and it has nothing to do with Buddhism (or it need not, in any case.)

It is attention for the sake of awareness. Awareness balances out thought in ways that are profoundly creative and we don’t learn this sort of awareness in our culture and certainly not in our schools.

He also suggests that if you change your perception of stress through meditation you can change the rate of bodily (physical) degradation. Stress actually causes illness. But in the process of changing our perception of stress we heal. Physically and mentally. He presents one study where in just 8 weeks of practice people with psychiatric disorders improve dramatically. Imagine what a life time of daily practice can bring us.

An inspiring idea he mentions—there are no positive or negative emotions—all emotions have information. If you know how to handle the information it can be very useful. And therefore one should not run away from any emotion. He recites Rumi’s Poem at this point:

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~

His overall message is in keeping with pieces I’ve posted on the neuroplasticity of the brain and the work that the Dalai Lama has done with neuroscientists. It turns out Jon Kabat-Zinn is part of that work with the Dalai Lama as well.

Kabat-Zinn says about neuroplasticity—in paraphrase—our brains are always synthesizing new neurons until we die. The restructuring of brain and healing happens through repetitive practice. Meditation is that repetitive practice in this instance. The brain is not static but is continually morphing itself. The brain can be restored!

This is a long video. I watched it over the course of the day in small bits. It was well worth it. Hint— the questions and answers at the end are fascinating.

If you want to experience more of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s teaching you can go here. I’ve read one of his books and have a couple of his guided meditations. His is a very user friendly introduction to meditation and mindfulness.

9 thoughts on “The science and art of meditation

  1. Hi Susan,
    I’m not sure what you’re referring to here. Jon Kabat-Zinn certainly doesn’t separate mind from body and while his work started with those in physical pain—the whole body of his work certainly encompasses our mental health….

    I suppose you may be suggesting more pointed study on how methods such as these help mental well-being?

    As I said above he does site two studies in which people with psychiatric diagnosis respond very well to his meditation protocol in just 8 weeks.

    I agree much more of this type of work needs to be done.


  2. Gianna,
    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve read two of his books and think he’s made a true contribution to wellness. I only wish the mental health arena would be as proactive as the physical health arena. But, of course, I don’t believe in separating the mind from the body. And I was reading that Dr. David Satcher, the former Surgeon General under President Clinton, agrees.



  3. I took the MBSR program at Duke in 2000…we read Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living”…there were lots of people in the class who suffered from chronic unrelenting pain where medications, etc. did nothing for them, so they had no choice other than the change the relationship to their pain. It really helped them, and I admired these people so much. When I began to change my relationship to my psychic pain, everything changed and I’ve never looked back b/c nothing–therapy, etc. even came close to what meditation and practicing acceptance did…amazing stuff! Acceptance of what is is so very simple, yet so very hard to do–you can definitely spend your lifetime with this stuff…but to me, that feels like a joyful realization, and I’m glad to do this sort of work b/c the payback is so gratifying.


  4. Coco,
    Yes…the embracing of difficult emotions is an idea that is hard for many people. I again and again link to my friend Jayme’s site for a place where she very practically explains what embracing the emotions can do for us. I see and hear explanation of this sort again and again in all sorts of literature, but Jayme is just “one of us” explaining it so I often direct people to her site:

    I try to practice this sort of Radical Acceptance whenever I can. It really seems to lighten my load.


  5. That poem of Rumi’s totally reminded me of my ‘Unwelcome Visitors’ post! Except he recommends welcoming and entertaining them all, while I was determined not to. Hmm. Interesting.

    Thanks for some good information here Gianna, I’m going to have to it for delving into later.


  6. real mindfulness is about living in the moment….you can do it anywhere including on horseback!!

    I think that’s a wonderful place to meditate—feeling the horses body under yours and the movement of your bodies together—as well as being aware of the nature that surrounds you—-beautiful!


  7. Great post! I have loved JKZ ever since I was given one of his books yrs ago…
    [but I’m going to watch the video ASAP]
    It’s still hard for me to carve out the time for a daily meditation.
    [You may laugh but I’ve done some of his mindfulness exercises while riding – unfortunately I’m not horseback every day!]


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