The Healing Power of Mindfulness P8


QUESTION: People are saying that life is more complicated and more stressful now, and I believe it. I don’t have anything to measure it against. And also the same with war, that people go to war and they come back having experienced things that they might not have lived through in other wars. There are scientists working on PTSD and trying to help people heal from those things that they might not have lived through. So sometimes I think about how if the world is becoming more stressful or complicated and our answer is “change yourself; change your relationship with that stress,” it seems – I’m not sure. I don’t know how to say it, but…


KABAT-ZINN: I got it. Thanks, that’s the other half of my talk. (laughter) Thank you for bringing that up. Let me just very quickly say, this isn’t about changing yourself. It’s exactly the opposite of changing yourself. It’s recognizing the beauty in yourself already, no change necessary. Now imagine if the Congress actually were mindful. (laughter) Actually, there is a Congressman in the Congress now, Tim Ryan from the 17th district in Ohio, who is doing everything he can to bring mindfulness into the mainstream in political and economic circles. You’ll see his name around from time to time, 5th term Congressman.


But the much larger thing – and I wrote 100 pages about mindful politics and coming to our senses – this is not about forgetting about social change or transformation. But in order to really have profound social change that’s in alignment with humanity and with kindness, we have to look at our own minds, because even the social change agents are driven by greed, hatred, and delusion, just like all the rest of us.


So until we learn how to at least recognize the toxic or the acquisitive, aggressive, violent aspects in ourselves, then we can do all we want to transform the institutions and even the laws, but human beings, being what they are, what we need to do is transform the species. Or I wouldn’t say transform the species; I would say have the species come into its own. Because we call ourselves Homo sapiens sapiens. In Latin, sapere is the verb “to taste” or “to know.” So Homo sapiens sapiens is the species that knows. And knows that it knows, in other words, awareness, yes, and meta-awareness, awareness of awareness.


That would be wisdom. If we actually were wise, then we would see what war does to societies. We would understand that with the kind of precocity and weapons and firepower and everything, we need to find other ways of resolving human conflict. But where’s that going to come from? It’s going to come out of the same human heart and the same human mind, and out of corporations, which after all mean “bodies.” The corpus, or the body, politic. That’s made up of human beings.


So we do need to tune the instrument on lots of different levels, including the law and jurisprudence, in order to actually privilege awareness over a dualistic, adversarial condition where it’s really winners and losers. And a huge amount of harm and social injustice gets done, and then we learn to sort of tolerate it, thinking, “Well, 100 years from now, it’ll be better.”


This is not going to happen overnight. I have a very long time horizon. I like to say – one Zen master put it this way: “Never forget the 1,000 year view.” I actually have it pretty much in the 1,000 year view. Then if it happens in 100, so much the better. Even where we would site nuclear power plants, if we were building nuclear power plants say in northern Japan, for instance,  where would you site them, knowing the geology of the Pacific Rim and northern Japan? Oh, maybe not too close to the water. I don’t know. You need an awful lot of mindfulness to actually come up with something like that.


So it has infinite number of implications, and I apologize for actually not having spent more time on this talk going there. It is all in coming to our senses, and there’s an awful lot happening in the world nowadays around that.


We’ll take one more and then we’ll stop. Or two more, if two people are standing up, I’ll take – are you standing up for a question? You’re just the microphone holder. Do you want to sing or something? (laughter) This is your moment. American Idol. (laughter)


QUESTION: I can make it brief.


KABAT-ZINN: You want to sing?


QUESTION: I’m a resident at the hospital here, and I know you’re getting involved with trying to bring this into more mainstream medicine. I’m hoping it’s not going to be like 150 years –


KABAT-ZINN: Oh no, no, it’s already in mainstream medicine. Just not here.


QUESTION: What I wanted to ask you about – right. It’s definitely not encouraged for us to take care of ourselves, and the amount of stresses and appointments and phone calls, and now EDH, our new computer system –


KABAT-ZINN: I heard about that.


QUESTION: I’m in psychiatry, and 30 minutes to adjust meds and also the person wants to talk to me and all of that. It’s completely stressed me out, but I can only imagine – and I have pretty great attendings and great faculty, but if I were to say, “You know what? I’m going to go to Shambhala to meditate” – because I do meditation in Shambhala, and I’ve read a lot of –


KABAT-ZINN: You mean the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado? Or here?


QUESTION: In White River Junction there’s one. But I’ve taken courses in level 1 and level 2. But if I were to say that, “You know what? I’m going to go for lunch, and we’re not really doing anything. I’m going to go meditate for an hour and then I’m going to be so much more there for my patients,” it probably, even with these kind, good mentors, it’s not going to fly. I advise my patients on these things, but still the medical professionals are supposed to be these superhuman people that I’m not.


KABAT-ZINN: Right. In a talk like this, I can in some sense only point to how deeply the penetration has gone. However, what you’re saying is, “not deep enough.” By any stretch of the imagination. And it takes a long, long time to shift a culture that has its own self-interests. A long time.


QUESTION: Just like I’m sure it takes a long time for these people to get to your clinic, because I know the chronic pain patients we’re seeing, we’re not advising any of what you guys –


KABAT-ZINN: Yeah, but you could set up an MBSR. Maybe there is – is there an MBSR clinic?


QUESTION: Not even close.


KABAT-ZINN: Well, that’s not that radical to do. Are you in psychiatry?




KABAT-ZINN: Yeah, it’s not that radical to do. Maybe medicine should do it, if psychiatry has an aversion to the mind-body connection. (laughter) (applause) I even know gastroenterologists who are working with veterans who have PTSD, and pulmonologists. This transcends specialty.


QUESTION: There are some, and you would hope psychiatry would be the most open to it.


KABAT-ZINN: Well, I don’t know if I would hope, but if you hope it, then make it happen. The psychiatry of the future, where does it lie?


QUESTION: Not in medication.


KABAT-ZINN: Well, where does it lie? I’m being serious with you now.


QUESTION: I think in the neurosciences.


KABAT-ZINN: No, no, I’m looking for something much simpler. It lies with you.


QUESTION: Oh. (laughter)


KABAT-ZINN: It lies with that impulse to have come to this talk. It lies with that impulse to go to the Shambhala Center and clear your mind and then be more present. If you want the medicine of the future to be different, or the psychiatry of the future to be different, don’t look around for someone else to do it. You do it. When will you be good enough? Never, because part of your mind will tell you, “You don’t have enough power, you don’t have enough influence, you don’t have enough this” – you’ve got plenty. As a medical resident, as a psychiatry resident, you’ve got plenty. If people don’t want to do it, that’s too bad. But you can take the initiative.


And I’m not joking. We’re really talking about a rotation in consciousness here, and the institutions change when people are willing to actually own how you take it. You’ve had enough medical training to actually be able to make cogent arguments that a lot of the way the healthcare system is set up, I’m guessing, just from what you’ve said, is toxic to the people that you’re most trying to help. What kind of a setup is that? Even if you have a better medical record system. (laughter)


Okay, this will be the last one.


QUESTION: Oh, no, there’s somebody really ahead of me. I just wanted to let people know that we do have Upper Valley Mindfulness Associates. We’re psychotherapists, and we’re in our sixth year of offering mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.


KABAT-ZINN: Wonderful. Yeah, another thing I didn’t really get to talk about too much, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. But yeah, I’m sure there are resources in this area, lots of them, like the Shambhala Center. Are there any MBSR teachers here, in the community? There you go. Say.


SPEAKER: [Inaudible 01:49:43].


KABAT-ZINN: Now wait a minute, someone just said, “No, there’s nothing at Dartmouth Hitchcock.” But MBSR is at Dartmouth Hitchcock?


SPEAKER: [Inaudible 01:49:56].


KABAT-ZINN: You say the doctor doesn’t – between the two of you, you have an insurrection. (laughter) How many other people are here with that? Oh, so now you have a revolution. (laughter)


Listen, that’s how institutions change. And you can do it with tremendous intelligence, with tremendous propriety, with tremendous intentionality and kindness, so that it’s not like you’re going to go and just be obnoxious and tell everybody else what they’re doing wrong, but to actually offer a new option that – I’m not joking, folks, people are dying for. People are dying for it, metaphorically and literally. There’s never been more scientific evidence in favor of moving in this direction.


In some sense, what I’m saying is the responsibility for the future of not only medicine, but our society, is a distributive responsibility. As I like to say, the world needs all its flowers, and you’re one, whether your mind is like depressive rumination, “He means everybody else in the room but not me.” No, I mean you.


If you don’t recognize the flower that you are and the genius that you are and the beauty that you are, and take it someplace where it can illuminate some tiny little corner that may be insignificant, but isn’t – you think it is, but it isn’t – and just apply what you care most deeply about there, that’s how the “care” gets back into healthcare. We’re not talking about health insurance reform; we’re talking about healthcare reform, and we haven’t seen the beginning of healthcare reform. (applause)


And when we do, it will be a participatory medicine. It will be recruiting the interior dimensionality and resources that every single human being, by virtue of being born a human being, has to one degree or another, and that degree is huge. We need to learn how to recruit it, because anything else will just be technology and it will be all doing-based, and none of it being-based. We’re not called human doings; we’re called human beings.


At that, I’m going to stop it, because again, it’s late. But thank you very much for your attention. (applause)

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June 2013: Holistic Dentistry & Biocompatible Protocols (Lecture to Gerson Institute)

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Update: Plum Tree With Fishwater



Previous post of the plum tree flowering


Original post about growing tilapia & fertilizing with fish water

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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P7


I’m going to stop, actually, at this point, and take a few questions. We have some time for questions, and then we’ll stop for the evening. Obviously, you can see that I’ve just gotten started. (laughter) I hope you’ve just gotten started. I’m not joking. Because this doesn’t stop. It’s called your life, and it’s all really more than magnificent. If you can get into that implicational meaning of the poetry, then there’s the potential to actually live your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment.


It turns out that that’s recruiting and morphing brain pathways, that when you’re depressed and you’re into depressive rumination, it’s not about shutting that stuff off, that kind of toxic thought stream, but actually learning how to hold it differently, and then you don’t take it personally, and then you actually don’t fall into depression. You don’t relapse into depression. I’m talking Major Depressive Disorder. That affects your telomeres, and that affects actually gene expression in your body, up-regulating and down-regulating, hundreds of genes that have to do with cancer and that have to do with inflammatory responses.


So if your whole body is really plastic, and the more you tune the mid and the body together, the more you participate in your own health and wellbeing. I like to call the medicine of the future, or the medicine of the present, actually, “participatory medicine.” Because there’s not enough money to fund medicine if we just use the auto mechanics model. We need to all participate.


And isn’t it interesting that in order to participate, the greatest evidence is suggesting we need to go back to ancient practices from very, very old traditions that are mostly not from this side of the planet, but that it turns out have deep, deep connections with our culture and with our nervous system, with our love. I’ll leave it at that. I want to thank you for your attention, and I am open to having a few questions. Thank you. (applause)


Thank you for your attention. It’s 6:00, so we don’t –


MOORE: If you need to go, we understand.


KABAT-ZINN: Yeah, obviously. It’s 6:00.


MOORE: There is a book signing following outside the auditorium after the question and answer period, just so people know.


KABAT-ZINN: Why don’t you line up with that microphone behind the guy who has it, and we’ve got another one over here. So go ahead. Oh, you’re not actually asking a question, you’re just offering…? Well, give it to her.


QUESTION: Thank you so much, I really appreciate that talk. It was fascinating. One question I had was actually from your biography that was provided, which was just talking about you uand your wife’s intrest in supporting intiaitves that further mindfulness in K-12 education. I wondered if you could just provide some examples of what exactly that can look like in public ducatoin and beyond?


KABAT-ZINN: Okay, thank you for that question. I alluded to it, but obviously the subject of mindfulness is so vast, and to do it in a way that isn’t just throwing facts at you would take actually multiple occasions. Or you can remember what we touched on today and then find out more for yourself, which is really the best part.


But in the book that my wife and I, Myla and I, wrote together on mindful parenting, which is a whole other story, there’s a chapter in there about a 4th and 5th grade teacher from a Utah public school who herself experienced mindfulness in MBSR for medical reasons, health reasons, and then brought it into her classroom, against all of my advice, in Mormon Utah. It transformed the entire school. So you could start there.


You can also Google “mindfulness and education.” You’ll find out there are groups of teachers in lots of different places that are doing this, and if you want to take a trip up 89 to South Burlington, Vermont, I was just there a couple of weeks ago, and they are doing amazing things in that school system. The superintendent and one of the principles actually came to a day-long mindfulness retreat that I did for the teachers, and there are hundreds of teachers bringing mindfulness into their curriculum at every age. So there’s a lot to be said about it.


I think it’s one of the best things to happen in modern education, and it’s really inspiring the teachers, because nowadays it’s so challenging and there’s so much stress in that profession. So many of the kids come and they’re not ready to learn, so they need to learn how to learn, tuning the instrument before you play it, so to speak. This is a way to actually allow that to happen, and in a way that’s – I’ve been in classrooms like this, in Oakland and in Manhattan and New York City public schools. Unbelievable.


One teacher in South Burlington called it “pin drop moment.” You could hear a pin drop in these classes where a lot of the kids are ordinarily all over the place, but they have learned how to actually [inaudible 01:34:09]. It’s valuable for Attention Deficit Disorder, Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, and it’s also valuable for the teachers’ sanity. (laughter) Thank you.


QUESTION: Hello. I was just wondering what your general advice would be when we’re trying to live moment by moment but we’re faced with moments where we have to make decisions. I know we have to make dozens of decisions every day, and sometimes they’re a big decision regarding our futures or personal relationships. My friends are always telling me, “Don’t over-think it.”


KABAT-ZINN: Don’t over-think it.


QUESTION: Yeah. But I know that’s really difficult.


KABAT-ZINN: That’s a great question. Now you want an answer? (laughter)


QUESTION: Yeah. (laughs) I realized that’s the reason why I decided to come today.


KABAT-ZINN: Oh, wonderful. Wonderful. (laughter) You’re probably going to over-think it, but you can hold that in awareness, the over-thinking, and the awareness will actually take care of you. A lot of times, let’s say if it’s relationships – you mentioned relationships, is that right? It’s very complicated. Mindfulness is all about relationships. We start with the body. What’s my relationship with my body? It’s pretty weird even to say, “I have a relationship with my body.” Who’s talking? You’re not your body, but you have a body. Oh yeah? So there’s something even there that we don’t know a lot more than we let on.


Then you have a relationship with your mind and your heart. In all Asian languages, as you may know, the word for “mind” and the word for “heart” is the same word. So when you hear the word “mindfulness,” if you’re not hearing “heartfulness,” you’re not really understanding it. It’s got this tenor of spaciousness of heart. And inside of that, a certain kind of trust.


And trust in what? How about your own beauty? When you start to know yourself in that kind of non-conceptual way, not with thinking, but through embodied awareness of sensation and of hearing and smelling and tasting and so forth, and of your thoughts that are over-thinking who to be in a relationship with or who to break off a relationship with or whatever it is, and you’re not judging that whole thing – your deeper intuition and wisdom is trustworthy.


When you get into trouble, that’s trustworthy too, because you see, “Oh, I see, I made this kind of decision, I over-thought it to this degree, and I wound up wham-o, in some place I didn’t want to be.” That’s important information. That’s useful data. Then you learn from that, and the next time, if you’re really, really, really, really mindful, you won’t repeat the same pattern.


But mostly what we do is repeat the same old pattern, over and over and over again, because we’re attracted to just those people who are not so healthy for us. If you’ve read The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, which I recommend you read for these kind of things, he talks about a construct called the pain body. A lot of falling in love, if you start to look at it, it’s like “My pain body, what’s all knotted up and painful and hurt in me, recognizes what’s all knotted up and painful and hurt in you, and those pain bodies fall in love.” Meanwhile, not a good idea, because it’s what you’d call a dysfunctional relationship from the start. But the awareness can see that and it can save you.


I have a friend at MIT, one of the graduate students with me in my lab, and he decided to get married at one point. The only time I’ve ever done this, I gave somebody advice about who they wanted to marry, and I said, “Don’t do it.” I was young and arrogant, so I said, “Don’t do it.” He did it anyway, of course. He got married; three years later, they got divorced, and he said to me later, “How come it took you three seconds to see what it took me three years to see?” I said, “Well, that’s because I wasn’t in it.” To see it when you’re in it, that requires a whole different rotation in consciousness. But it is trustworthy.


So there’s no answer to your question; it’s life unfolding, and whether it’s your relationship to another person or with choosing courses or a career path or anything like that, trust your love. As what’s-his-name, Joseph Campbell said – and this is a really good piece of advice – “follow your bliss.” Follow your bliss. It will teach you everything you need to know, including how sometimes following your bliss needs to be modulated a little bit. (laughter) I hope that helps, because I don’t have anything else to say. (applause)


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Outstanding Results Using Ozonized Water to Irrigate the Gums

Jewel was kind enough to allow me to post her experience using the ozonized water protocol (to help prevent gum disease):


Hello Dr Vinograd,
gum disease ozone protocol
I was introduced to you via the Gerson March webinar, thank you for your presentation and thank you for your service.

Feedback: Using the ozonator nightly for 4mo the 7mm pockets around my molars decreased to 3mm. I am thrilled for the turnaround!

I am grateful to review your full-length presentation and I want you to continue posting it in its entirety. In the interest of time I suggest posting a shortened version that zeros in on the portions concerned with anaerobic bacteria and the ozonizer so newcomers can get at the info faster. The full-length video is a lot to sort thru to get to the benefits of the ozonizer.

Thank you for your much-needed advice on communicating the benefits of ozonizing. You get the credit for improving my gums. :^)

All the best,


Referenced video:

Ozonizer Product Page:

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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P6



So I go in there, and I knew them all because it was a small community and everybody likes each other. But I was, of course, terrified. It’s like a lot hangs in the balance. Somebody says, “What’s this ‘he who dies before he dies does not die when he dies’?” This is the first question on my thesis. I’ve worked five years on this research, and they want to know… “he who dies before he dies.” Of course, they were pushing 50. I was 27 or something like that; they were in their 50s and thinking ahead. (laughter) That obviously piqued some interest. “You die before you die, you don’t die when you die. I want that.”


I said, “Do you really want to know?” They all said yeah. I said, “It might take some time.” “We’ve got time.” So actually, I would say half of my thesis defense was actually unpacking what mindfulness is about to these guys. This was in 1971, by the way. I wrote it up; it’s a chapter called “Dying Before You Die Deux” because the first “Dying Before You Die” was the other story that I told about first encountering meditation at MIT.


That’s just to say that I didn’t want to continue a career in molecular biology; I wanted to bring my training as a scientist together with my training in meditation, because it seemed like everybody’s doing the science, but nobody’s paying attention to the balance between thought and this other function of our brains and nervous system that no one’s paying attention to called awareness, that is painfully obviously bigger than thought because whatever thought you have or whatever emotion you have, you could embrace it in awareness. And not have to do anything with it, but it would change by virtue of simply holding it in awareness, if you were patient enough to do it. Especially if it didn’t feel good.
That’s what we teach now, and it’s come into the mainstream of medicine in ways that are really astonishing. The National Institute of Health is funding hundreds of studies on mindfulness to the tunes of hundreds of millions of dollars. The idea that that would have been the case in 1979, I like to say, more improbable than that the Big Bang would just all of a sudden stop and implode back on itself. And yet it’s happening. Mindfulness is now in the mainstream of medicine.


I’ll just show you some pictures before we go to questions. Would that be all right with you? Are you still awake? (laughter) Good. Because you don’t ever have to stop, even when you go to sleep. It’s being present. That’s all. Being fully present. Is anybody good at this? No. So don’t make, “Ugh, I’m no good at this.” Nobody’s any good at it. But all you need to do is be a little bit better than automatic pilot, and your life will rotate. It will be very, very different.


Every time anger comes up, the default mode comes up – whether it’s anger or anything else – Thich Nhat Hanh likes to say the reason we have to practice mindfulness, the reason we have to cultivate it intentionally, is that we’re busy cultivating the opposite all day long. Cultivating anger, cultivating jealousy, cultivating low self-esteem, cultivating all sorts of negativity in the emotional domain or in the thought domain.


The people who are doing the telomere research are saying that their research is showing that the real stress comes from thinking. This is a biological and molecular biological consequence that accelerates aging and accelerates heart disease. You can’t interview people who die of sudden cardiac death, but if you could, you’d find out probably it was a thought that did it. The wrong thought at the wrong time – dead. (laughter)


I’m actually not joking. It’s so serious that we need to laugh, and I want to say that about meditation too: it may have seemed like I’m not taking this stuff seriously. This stuff is so serious that it’s too serious to take too seriously. And I’m serious. (laughter)


If any of you were alive back then, this is the cover of Time Magazine back in 1983, four years after I’d started this stress reduction clinic. I look back on that time and I say, “Stress? What stress?” Compared to now. There was no internet, there was no email, there was no instant messaging. There were no computers, except mainframes. I used to say in the early ’80s, once I had my first PC, which was gigantic, that I could get more work done in a day than I used to be able to get done in a month. Well, that was in the mid-80s. Now, it’s like I can get more work done in a day than I can get done in a year. That’s not so good. We’re always “on.” Not so good. We’re not computer servers; we’re human beings.


Here is the evidence from Liz Blackburn’s lab and Alyssa Epple, who is the mindfulness researcher in her lab, proceedings in National Academy of Sciences showing telomere length as a function of years of chronicity of care giving of children – this is parents with children with severe medical disabilities. It’s an unavoidable stress; you can’t just walk out on your kids, “I don’t do stress. Sorry, goodbye children.” No, you can’t do that.


But look at this, also, in that study: this is a perceived stress scale. It’s the perception of stress that makes the difference. If you are just dealing with it because it’s the way it is, then you can be more transparent to the stress; your telomeres are longer. If you take everything personally, your telomeres degrade. So if you want one take-home message from this – this turns out to be harder to enact than it is to say – don’t take things personally when they’re not personal.


Then you might ask, “When are they not personal?” That’s a good question to keep asking yourself. It may be they’re never personal. It may be that the you that you think you are is not the real you. That you’re much bigger. Now the neuroscience is actually showing that. You want to be your narrative self? Fine. Then you’re using certain regions of the brain. You want to be your direct moment-by-moment experiential self, grounded in the body? You’re using lateral networks in the brain, a whole different brain profile. So you choose.


One is related more to happiness. The left activation in the prefrontal cortex, if you put monks in the scanners, and I’ll show you some pictures of that, they have tremendous activation in the left prefrontal cortex, and particular regions that have to do with approach and that have to do with emotional balance.


When we train people in MBSR, they shift from right activation to left activation in eight weeks. Their brains actually change structure in eight weeks. Work out of Sara Lazar’s lab, a German postdoctoral fellow who’s training with us in MBSR, and who has been our student, Britta Hertzel [sp], for years from Germany, young neuroscientist, has demonstrated that major regions of the brain change with eight weeks of mindfulness training and MBSR, including the hippocampus, including the cerebellum, including the posterior singular cortex.


All of these are involved in making meaning in self-regulation, in perception, decoding, memory, and learning. Not bad for eight weeks of what looks a lot, if you were looking in from the outside on our patients, looks a lot like nothing. They do nothing lying down; then they do nothing sitting; then they do nothing walking. Like this, like the Night of the Living Dead, really slow, meditative walking. (laughter) They’re doing nothing. And healthcare is paying for it. Amazing. How did they pull that off?


It turns out that brains are changing not just in terms of activity; in terms of structure. Significant thickening in those regions I mentioned, significant thinning in the amygdala, which is the emotional reactivity center, the threat center that triggers, fires off all the time whenever we feel threatened or accosted in one way or another.


God, I’ve got a whole talk here that I’m not going to give. How many of you see a triangle? Raise your hand if you see a triangle in this picture. Okay. Keep your hands up there. Look around so that you know you’re not alone if you see a triangle in that picture. It’s interesting, because there’s no triangle in that picture. The triangle’s defined by a three-sided figure, and what your mind does is it puts in the sides. If we shifted that little Pac-Man the tiniest little bit… so the mind can actually see things that are not there. The brain actually does that. It’s so good at that.


If I had time, I would show you this movie, which – how many of you have seen this image? Yeah, you can’t use it anymore. But I’ll just play it anyway. Anyway, it’s a movie, and they’re passing around basketballs, and you ask the room to count the number of times the people in the white shirts pass the basketballs. I could get it to work, but it would take too long. So you’re counting the number of times the people in the white shirts are passing the basketballs, one basketball per each, the whites and the blacks, and then in the middle this gorilla comes out. (laughter) And then goes off to the other side. But when you ask people to count the number of times the people in the white shirts pass the basketball, they don’t actually see the gorilla.


If we did it and none of you had seen it – 95% of people would have counted the number of times the people passed – usually you get a Poisson distribution, so you can’t even count correctly. (laughter) But then you don’t see the gorilla. Why? Because the brain has told itself, “The white shirts are what’s important. Tune out everything that’s not white.” Well, the brain, it turns out, is fantastic at – I just showed you. It sees things that aren’t there, and it doesn’t see things that are there. Not very reliable. (laughter)


Now, does that apply to you? I’ll leave that for you to decide. Just ask your spouse or your mother or your father. (laughter) Because that is part of the default mode. We are out of touch, seriously out of touch, with a lot of different elements of this.


This is just a quote from William James, basically saying if we could learn how to bring the mind back when it was wandering, that would be a good thing. It turns out the Buddhists have been doing that for thousands of years.


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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P5



So learning, and out of that learning, growing; and out of that growing, healing, which in my vocabulary, the way I define healing is coming to terms with things as they are. Coming to terms with things as they are. Very different from curing. There are very few cures in medicine, but the opportunity for healing – as long as there’s breath – it’s in some sense already here. All we need to do is see it, feel it, live it. It’s not about denying pain and suffering; it’s about in some sense befriending even that.


Resting for a final few moments in stillness, in silence, in wakefulness and full awareness. Outside of time, as if you had nothing to do, no place to go, nothing to do. And nothing to attain, because you’re already whole – the meaning, by the way, of the words “health” and “healing” and even the word “holy.”


By the same token, the word “medicine” and the word “meditation,” they grow out of the same tree, the same root, Indo-European root. Medicine and meditation are joined at the hip. It was not so radical to actually bring them together in mainstream clinical care. In fact, it’s essential for caring.


So silent wakefulness. Attending to what is. (rings bell five times)


Now the real meditation practice never stops. Just because some bells got rung, just because we’re going to shift gears a little bit, the real meditation practice is how you live your life from moment to moment. It’s not how good you are at sitting without moving, or what great yoga poses you’re doing. Because yoga is itself a meditation, a beautiful form of meditation that we use enormously, and it’s a good purpose in MBSR, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.


I’d like to just say a few things about stress and medicine, and then open it up and give you a little bit more of an expanse of how we work. But I wanted you to have at least this taste of it, and I want to share a couple of poems with you. It’s not like all of a sudden I’m going a little weird on you. How many of you, when you heard the word “poetry” or “poems,” you go, “Oh no, not a poem. I don’t understand those things”? (laughter) That’s not uncommon.


But one of my colleagues, John Teasdale, with whom I wrote that book, The Mindful Way Through Depression – who is one of the world’s great cognitive scientists – is coming out with several papers in which he is arguing that the root cause of suffering in human beings is not knowing how to deal with our emotions because we don’t know how to inhabit and then shift our relationship to what he calls implicational meaning. Implicational meaning is what moves, say, in poetry. It’s different from the propositional meaning, which is just the bare facts.


I’ll recite a poem for you. This is a poem by Antonio Machado, who’s a great Spanish poet of the turn of the 19th, 20th century and won the Nobel prize. It’s very short, but see if you can feel it:


The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.


In exchange for the odor of my jasmine,

I would like the odor of your roses.
I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.


Can you feel that? How many times have we had that feeling, or similar feeling? “I have no roses.” There’s nothing beautiful about me. “All the flowers in my garden are dead.”


Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters in the fountain.

And the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
“What have you done to the garden that was entrusted to you?”


Can you feel that? This is a poem about great sadness. Could easily go into depression. Just because it’s a Nobel laureate, doesn’t mean – I like to actually change the last line. (laughter) I would suggest that for our purposes, rather than “What have you done to the garden that was entrusted to you?”, which is a kind of blaming, wouldn’t you say? It’s like stick the knife in and then, “Oh, right, as long as I’m feeling down, why not just go right over the edge?” A lot of cultures actually perpetrate that kind of perspective.


But instead, why don’t we say “What are we doing with the gardens that are entrusted to us?” Gardens, plural. Okay? Because right now, we have a lot of gardens entrusted to us, I would say. The closest to us is, I would say, the garden of the body. Better than an American Express credit card; you can’t leave home without it. (laughter) A lot of the time, we’re not even in the body, and a lot of the time, our feelings about the body are so negative that the less said, the better. Just don’t bother me about the body. I don’t even want to know it exists. If it’s not driving me crazy, I feel lucky.


James Joyce is famous for starting out a short story in Dubliners with the following sentence. This is an approximation, but it’s “Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” (laughter) If you start to pay attention in the way that I’m suggesting, in the present moment, you’ll discover that that’s your address as well, a lot of the time. We’re in our heads, lost in thought. Someplace else, not in the body.


That has biological consequences, by the way. Everything I’ve said tonight, when I started the stress reduction clinic in 1979, there was almost no science of the effects of stress and the biology of stress on the body and on the mind and on the brain and on the heart. Now, the data is just overwhelming. Including, as I’ll show you in a minute, aging. That it’s turning out that stress – they used to say stress is not a real risk factor for morbidity or mortality because it’s not like a  high-fat diet, it’s not like cigarette smoking, it’s not like hypertension, high blood pressure.


But now it turns out, there’s incontrovertible evidence that stress actually increases the rate of degradation of the ends of all of our chromosomes, which are called telomeres. You’re going to hear a lot more about that word. The woman, Liz Blackburn, at UCSF who actually discovered telomerase, which is the enzyme that builds them back up, won the Nobel Prize in 2008. Her lab is studying the effects of mindfulness on telomeres and telomerase. The evidence is moving in the direction of meditation can actually enhance telomerase.


Not just that; it’s more than meditation or mindfulness, it’s your attitude towards what’s happening. It’s not like these people aren’t under a huge amount of stress, but it’s never the stress; it’s how you choose to be in relationship to it. If you have really exhausted your resources for handling stress, then of course, yeah, all bets are off. But if you know how to draw resources to yourself, then even under very, very high levels of stress, you can dance with the energy. Sometimes it’s unbelievably painful, but nevertheless, you’re much bigger even than the pain and suffering, and liberate yourself from that. And guess what? The telomeres get longer.


Every aspect of our biology is what’s now called plastic. That’s a new terminology. It’s not like Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. This is for the older people. (laughter) But it means that our biology is miraculous in another way: it’s constantly reorganizing itself. It’s not just “it’s all downhill from here.” Yes, there is aging; yes, we are all going to die, unless somebody makes a very important discovery very quickly. But the question is not “is there life after death?” or “is there some way to escape death?”, but actually, “can we live while we have a chance?” “Is there life before death?” That’s the most interesting question. And right up to the moment of death.


A lot of times, I think that really, when we talk about fear of death, we’re really more afraid of life than we are of death. There are two chapters – I was going to actually tel you some stories, but I don’t think I will, about my early days at MIT, one of which was how I got into meditation. I got into meditation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a graduate student in molecular biology with a Nobel laureate, believe it or not. Go figure. Not in some monastery in Asia. Because the Zen master came and gave a talk, actually, at MIT, and I was one of five people in all of MIT that went to the talk. (laughter)


It took the top off my head at the age of 22. It was like, “Oh my God, there’s an entirely different way of knowing. Why didn’t they tell us this in kindergarten?” (laughter) An entirely different way of knowing, and no less beautiful, no less profound, no less transformative than thought. Just different. This should be part of the repertoire, so to speak, and part of the science and investigation.


The other thing was the story of my thesis defense. Because I wrote a thesis on some arcane topic in molecular biology, and it was all these MIT Nobel laureate types, real hotshot molecular biologists. A few from Harvard who came over because you always have to have someone from another institution. My thesis, it was an existential challenge for me. How many of you are graduate students here? Anybody a graduate student? It’s like, hard. (laughter) Hard to be a graduate student. Because nobody cares, and most of the time you don’t either, but it can be really humiliating. Then of course, if you’re a scientist, science is 99% failure. Which doesn’t do that much for your self-esteem, so to speak. Then you’re looking for the 1%.


So I finally got my thesis together, and I wrote in the front page, on a page by itself – they let you have a little dedication, a little saying or something like that – I wrote “He who dies before he dies does not die when he dies.” I don’t even know where I got it. (laughter) It was some Greek. Very old Greek. So I put that line in the first page by itself before getting into the thesis. I go into the room with all these scientists who are going to decide whether I get my doctorate or not, after what’s called – I forgot what they even call it, but a thesis review – defense. Right, defense. It’s a war term. (laughter) They’re going to attack and I’m going to defend, and if I do it well enough, then…

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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P4



Even if there’s something going on, even if you’re in pain from your lower back and you’ve had it for a long time, or even if you have cancer at the moment, or you’re a cancer survivor, or you have heart issues of one kind or another, whatever it is… the sum total of this universe of between 10 and 100 trillion cells – the whole body now, we’re talking about – is good enough to have gotten you here today. It’s good enough for now.


And the more energy you pour into it, the more that robustness, whatever it is, sometimes called homeostasis, but it’s a very dynamical process that we call ELF, as opposed to disease, or dis-ease. When we start to pour energy in the form of attention into what’s already right with us, it turns out that the body has its ear to the rail, the brain has its ear to the rail, the brain is part of the rail, the heart… every aspect of our being is one integrated whole. It’s not like different systems. The immune system talks to the nervous system; the nervous system talks right back, and everybody else is listening in on the conversation. And it’s all cells.


If we all took our livers and put them out on the stage here – that would be an interesting exercise – and then we shuffled them around, and then you were all encouraged to just pick yours up on the way out, you wouldn’t know which was yours. You can look at all 100 trillion of these cells in your body, and your name isn’t on any of it. It’s like “Oh, here’s my liver. Here’s my gallbladder.”


The punctuation from the cell phones is actually really – if that was a cell phone – is really interesting.


But do you hear what I’m saying? Even the question of who we are, when you start to actually ask it with tremendous authenticity, it might not be so facile to just say your name, or even describe what you do, or even send in your CV. If you’ve ever hired people, you know the CV is not the person, and you hire the CV a lot of the time. Big mistake. Because you can’t work with the person a lot of the time. What you want is congruence. You want integration. So when we take our seat, so to speak, what we’re actually engaging in is a recognition of how integrated we already are. We don’t need to “Oh, I’m such a wreck; I’ve got to get integrated.” No. From this perspective, you’re already as integrated as you can be in this moment. Is it enough? Is it good enough?


Let’s actually take a moment. I’ve even brought another prop; I brought some bells. We don’t need the bells, but I’ll ring them. When I ring them – and just for fun, you don’t have to shift your posture, but just for fun, why don’t you shift your posture and sit in the posture that for now embodies dignity, whatever that means for you? Look, the entire room is moving. (laughter) Not that dignified, I guess.


But actually, it doesn’t matter. The posture is secondary. What’s most important is the inner orientation, the willingness to open to the present moment, to put out the welcome mat and to let the idea that “Now we’re going to do something special” drop. Because as soon as you plant that seed, “now we’re going to do something special and we’re going to experience something special,” then you’ll be on the lookout for something special. But you see, nothing special.


There’s a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker that I actually mentioned a long time ago in Wherever You Go, There You Are. Two Zen monks, one obviously elder, the other young. The young one’s looking up quizzically at the older one, and the caption underneath – the older one is speaking – he’s saying, “Nothing happens next. This is it. I just said that to you earlier.” But the “this is it” is really important.


Otherwise you could spend 20 or 30 years or more – and people do this – meditating, trying to get someplace else. Trying to have some special experience and say “That’s what it’s all about. Now I’m enlightened.” The problem is, you’re already enlightened; but the personal pronoun that wants to grab it and say “I’m enlightened” – it’s the personal pronoun that’s the problem, not the enlightenment.


Your eyes are already enlightened, your ears are already enlightened, your belly is already enlightened, your feet actually do what they’re supposed to do, for the most part. Your brain is actually doing what it’s supposed to do, your liver is doing what it’s supposed to do. A very famous scientist and physician named Louis Thomas once said he’d rather be at the controls of a 747 trying to land with no pilot training whatsoever than at the controls of his own liver for 30 seconds. So you don’t need to find special. This is good enough.


Let’s actually sit for a moment, if you’re sitting, or stand if you’re standing, in a position that for you, at this moment, embodies wakefulness and dignity. You don’t even have to close your eyes, but you can if you like, or let them fall unfocused on the chair in front of you or whatever. As I ring the bells, seeing if you can just follow the sound of the bells into the space of the air. (rings bell three times)


Allowing the space of the air to be coextensive with the space, you could call it, of awareness, so that there’s simply awareness. Hearing what’s here to be heard. The sound of the bells are past, and now there’s just sound. Whatever is arising.


You could feature hearing as a way of anchoring our attention. You can focus on some object or field of objects like hearing, and just rest in being aware of sounds and the stillness and the silence, in between, inside, and underneath any and all sounds. Including, of course, my voice.


Alternatively, because there’s more than one thing going on – there’s not just hearing going on; there’s also seeing and smelling and all the senses are actually operating – seeing if you can actually instead of hearing, feature for now feeling a sense of the breath moving in and out of your body. Wherever it’s most vivid in the body. Allowing awareness to inhabit the whole of the body and be most vivid in the region whether the breath sensations are arising and passing away. In breath… out breath.


Seeing if you can ride on the waves of the breath with full awareness, moment by moment. Noticing any time the mind goes off and gets involved in anything else, including judging how stupid this is. “We came for a talk, and all of a sudden we’re doing this stupid exercise.” Or whatever is flitting through the mind at the moment. Just making it so spacious that you can see whatever’s unfolding, hear my guidance as I’m speaking, and at the same time ride on the wave of the breath going in and the breath going out.


With full awareness and a kind of interest, a kind of in some sense affection at attention. Even if the breath isn’t all that interesting to you, or all that boring, or your mind says “Okay, I get that concept. What else?” Just staying with the breath.


Then playing with the possibility of expanding the field of awareness around the breath, wherever you’re experiencing it most in the body, until it includes a sense of the body as a whole, sitting here or standing here breathing. Noticing you can do that just easy as pie. It’s not really a doing, but when I say it, easily the awareness can hold the whole body, to one degree or another. Whatever degree you can hold it, that’s fine. It’s not like, “Oh, if I practiced, I’d get better at this.” That’s just the thought. Never mind. Just letting your thoughts come and go, and staying with the awareness of the body as a whole, sitting and breathing.


If possible, remembering that this isn’t some simple little exercise that were doing in the middle of a talk. That this is your life unfolding in this very moment, and this breath is important to you. You wouldn’t want to do without it. With that kind of quality of attending – it’s like tuning a guitar string – too loose, no true tone; too tight, no true tone; but if you can just bring the lightest of touches of awareness to the sense of the body as a whole, breathing, as if it mattered. And of course, it does. Because it’s your body in this moment, it’s your life, and the breath is vital.


One more, before we end. Noticing any thoughts that may be moving through your mind, and noticing how easy it is to self-distract, that the mind does wander, and it wanders away from the breath. If we did this for any period of time, sooner or later your mind would be someplace else. Probably not even in the room. Maybe not even in the present moment. You could be having dinner in Paris or Bangkok, or in an argument three years ago in the shower with yourself.


When you notice the mind has self-distracted, no problem, no judging; or if you judge it, don’t judge the judging, and just see if you can come back to this moment in awareness. Featuring whatever object of attention you care to. It could be anything that’s in the field of awareness.


But the last little piece is to just underscore that none of this is about the sound of the bells; none of this is about the feeling of the breath in the body; none of this is about the thoughts moving through the mind. Those are all important and they’re secondary, but what it’s really about is the awareness that knows the sound when it comes to the ears, that knows – and I mean non-conceptually knows, not just conceptually – knows the feeling of the breath moving in the body. Non-conceptually, it inhabits the body as a whole in awareness, sitting and breathing.


Non-conceptually knows when the mind self-distracts or when we get into an emotional whirlpool or turbulence of some kind or another. The awareness can just allow it to just be here. Feature it, center stage, let it come, let it go. Meanwhile, we just continue to rest. To rest in awareness, outside of time, because the present moment is time-less in some profound way.


Awareness and silence and stillness are all different ways of saying the same thing. They’re pointing to something that’s already yours, that you don’t have to get, but has tremendous healing potential. Tremendous potential for learning, for seeing things in new ways, for that rotation in consciousness that I was speaking of. Everything’s the same, only nothing’s the same. Why? Because you showed up in your fullness.

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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P3


There are now wonderful studies that are showing that that actually impedes or reduces any objective measure of performance. That doing two things at once detracts from the quality of either of the one. Doing five things at once, or being that scattered in your mind – you don’t even have to be doing anything, but when you’re at the mercy of this kind of mind wandering all the time and you’re trying to get things done, it’s very, very challenging. Very challenging.


So the question is, is there a way to actually live that will allow us to deal with what Zorba the Greek in Kazantzakis’ novel and movie called “the full catastrophe of the human condition.” The good, the bad, the ugly, the unwanted, the feared, the traumatic, the awful. To be able to hold each moment in its fullness and allow our attention faculty and our awareness faculty to actually hold it in such a way that we can then inhabit the next moment with authenticity, and maybe even respond appropriately to this vast range of demands that we are faced with all the time.


When I started the stress reduction clinic back at the University of Massachusetts back in 1979 – I did bring some slides, which I don’t know if I’ll show you, but I’ll just take that moment by moment. Maybe I’ll show them to you, maybe I won’t. (laughter) Because I’m trying to actually create more of an impression. I don’t want to leave you just with things in your head, just facts, because you’ll lose them immediately because other facts will come in and whatever.


If you’ve spent time and energy getting here, and I’ve spent time and energy getting here, then what would make me feel most satisfied is if one, you had some kind of inkling why you came in today. I’m sure you all do. It’s a mystery, though, I’m sure. Hoping, maybe, to be entertained, or maybe to connect on some deeper level, or maybe you’ve practiced mindfulness, or maybe you’ve been to an MBSR program. But if you peel back all those layers, there’s some really, really, really, really, really interesting reason why you’re here, and I bet you don’t know what it is. I’m not joking.


There are intelligences at work that are just deeper than the thought function, and the thought function is so smart that it sometimes outsmarts us completely. Have you noticed that? Then it’s like we’re stupid. We’re so smart, we’re stupid. It’s very hard to see that in yourself, but you can see it in other people just really easy. (laughter) Maybe you’ve noticed that.


I’m going to try to weave together a whole bunch of things that probably none of it is going to make complete sense, but what I’m doing here is I’m trying to in some sense plant seeds. I’m trying to plant seeds in the fertile ground or garden of whatever it was that brought you here, so that when you leave here, something has been touched that will keep those seeds – that actually I’m not planting; they are already in you – keep them being watered, nurtured, protected, privileged in a certain way, so that it nurtures, in some profound sense, some aspect of you that wants to be as alive as you can be while you have a chance.


We say to people coming to our stress reduction clinic – and they come with every conceivable kind of human ailment, referred by every conceivable subspecialty and specialty and generalist in medicine – and it’s an eight-week long course, designed to teach you how to take better care of yourself as a complement to whatever the healthcare system – I should call that a “disease care” system, by the way – can do for you. We say, from our perspective, as long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you. No matter what’s wrong with you. We see people you would not want to be in their body or in their mind or in their life. They probably wouldn’t want to be in yours, either, but you probably wouldn’t want to hear that. Because after all, you’re the star of this movie, aren’t you? (laughter) There’s more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what’s wrong with you.


That’s radical perspective, and very, very important, because I started this stress reduction clinic in 1979. In 1979, a Surgeon General’s report came out called “Healthy People,” and what it was forecasting into the future, which is here now – we are in this future – that no matter how much money America spends throwing money at health and healthcare, it will never be enough to have health. Because there’s a missing ingredient, and that’s the humans that the healthcare is supposed to care for. And that there’s not enough money on the planet to do all the various things that would have to be done to us when we don’t take care of ourselves, when we don’t know how to handle stress, when we do not know how to be in wise relationship with our lives and our lifestyle and our diet and exercise and our bodies and aging and everything else.


That if we leave that all to the auto mechanics model of medicine – you drive your car around until it breaks down, then you get the carburetor replaced, or the engine, or whatever, or the tires – but this is not a machine. I know a lot of people, even in biology, love to use machine analogies, and even nano-machine analogies, about the body. To a degree, they’re correct; but there’s another piece of it, like no one understands the construction of the machine that’s you.


Let me give you one example. How many of you see that slide up there, and what’s the color of the background? Blue. Does everybody agree that it’s blue? No one knows how you do that. No one knows how you go from the wavelength of electromagnetic radiation, the blue region in the visible spectrum, no one knows how you go from this wavelength, which is colorless, it’s just energy, to a subjective feeling of blue. We also really don’t know – we have a consensus reality that agrees that the blue that you’re seeing and the blue that I’m seeing are the same blue, but it’s not always true, and it’s not true for colorblind people.


There’s a lot of consensus agreement here, but the brain weighs approximately three pounds, and it’s all cells and cables that are made up of cells, neurons, and then all these glial cells in there supporting the neurons. Incredibly specialized. It’s really the most complex assembly of matter in the known by us universe. Right inside your little old body. And no one knows how sentience, how consciousness, how knowing, how even thinking arises in this three pounds of what some neuroscientists call “meat.” It’s a little distasteful. (laughter) But to just kind of make it graphic.


So if you forget, every once in awhile, walking around on the Dartmouth campus or in Hanover or wherever you happen to live, that you’re a miraculous being… well, okay. It’s just one more mind wandering. One more default, not really being aware of how amazing it is that you can see, for instance. That you can hear, that you can taste. How many of us eat food and we don’t bother to taste it, we just devour it? Or we taste the idea of the food. “Yeah, that was really good.” But you didn’t actually taste it. Have you ever had a mindless hug from somebody who was really trying to be friendly? (laughter) It’s sort of an impulse to be friendly, but not in one’s body.


So all of these things we take for granted, but we can actually begin a process of re-minding – and I put a little hyphen in there – re-minding ourselves. Re-bodying ourselves. When? Now. Because why? There’s the only time you have. Coming back into a certain kind of vector or alignment with your entire life trajectory.


It doesn’t matter how old you are when you begin this process. The Native Americans actually started to measure your age from when you became a grandparent. Before that, it was like you were too busy to really be human. The Asian Indians measure your age from when you start practicing yoga. So if you’re 75 years old and you’ve been into yoga for three months, you’re three months old. I like that. Isn’t that nice? What about a new beginning? Every moment, a new beginning. That’s what mindfulness is about. Every moment fresh.


Now, this is not a philosophy; it’s not a good idea; it’s not a concept; it’s a way of being. It’s not a technique, and it’s not a special state. “Oh, I think I’ll trot over to the MBSR clinic, meditate…” (pause) Maybe you’re waiting for something else to happen, but nothing else happens. (laughter) Nothing else happens. This is it. Goodbye. (laughter) Maybe you’re hoping for something special to happen, some special meditative state, some kind of vision, some kind of alignment of the spheres, some special bolt of lightning out of the blue to wake you up. It’s a mis-take. A mis-take on meditation, on mindfulness, on reality.


Let’s just pretend, why don’t we just sit for a moment. Oh, you’re already sitting. You don’t even need to shift your posture, although I see some people getting ready, “Okay, now we’re going to get into it.” (laughter) “It’s going to be somewhat experiential, thank God. He could talk forever.” But you see, you don’t even have to shift your posture to be awake or to be aware. You can do it like this, and really be aware.


By the way, I can’t see my hands, but I know where they are. How do I know? A sense called proprioception. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t, but there are a lot more than five senses; I just want to put that out. When we’re talking about miraculous being or genius, it’s got lots of different dimensions to it. Many.


If I ask you “How are you?” in the elevator and you say “Fine,” how do you know? Aside from the fact that you’re probably not fine, but you just don’t want to get into it in the elevator with somebody you don’t want to tell anyway. But when a friend asks you “How are you?” and you say, “Fine,” how do you know? That’s another sense. And you know very quickly, and you know when you’re not, too. What is that knowing called? It’s not, “Let me think, hmm. I don’t know, how am I?” No, you know instantly. That sense is called interoception.


There are ways that the organism has, using the brain and the nervous system – which has lots of maps, by the way; the brain is loaded with maps of the body, and not just the somatosensory cortices, but the insula and the cerebellum and the hippocampus. Lots and lots of – and again, I stress: we’re beginning to understand something about what lights up when, when you meditate and when you do this and do that, when you go into depression. All sorts of wonderful, wonderful things happening in brain research and neuroscience nowadays. But still, no one knows how it all comes together in you, in this moment, in a way that actually you don’t have to think about.

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The Healing Power of Mindfulness P2


Or another way to put it, sometimes, maybe – no offense meant, but “How did I get born into this family?” or “Who are all these crazy people? Why am I the only sane person?” You know, when you’re in a family, no one else can know the kind of genetic disease of that particular family, that everybody suffers from except you. (laughter)


So if we hope for the future to be different, the only place we have to stand is now. Because first of all, it’s the future of all the moments that have come before. If you want to be in the future, here you are. This is actually non-trivial. It’s not just “Oh, yeah, tell us something interesting.” Because what it invites is a kind of shift in perception and a shift in awareness, a shift in consciousness, that allows us to actually live our lives as if they really mattered and the only moment we ever have. Part of that means being embodied, because a lot of the time, we are lost in thought.


That’s another thing you’ll notice, if you start to pay attention to your mind, is that it’s all over the place. It’s all over the place. You don’t even have to meditate for that to happen. It’s default mode. (laughter) It’s default mode. You don’t even have to have a smart phone. You don’t even have to have email. You don’t even have to have a computer. It’s the default mode of the mind to be all over the place. It thinks this, then it thinks that. It likes this and it hates that. Wants to approach this, but really wants to stay away from that. It’s wired into our biology.


That’s called approach-avoidance, and it’s kind of – the hemispheres are actually somewhat divided in terms of left hemisphere and the frontal cortical region is more approach-related, and right activation, more… and that’s one of the fundamental biological features of living systems. Move towards food, move away from danger. Perfectly natural. But how we actually modulate those impulses and those reflexes and those kinds of unconscious urges that drive us and that cause us to be reactive a lot of the time is really an art form. It’s the art, if you will, of living our lives as if they really mattered.


When we begin to actually drop in on ourselves – and I brought a few props. Sometimes when we begin to drop in on ourselves, we can actually reclaim this moment, in this body, with this heart, with this mind, and begin to shift the default setting on how we live our lives. Begin to actually move in a direction of greater balance of mind, greater groundedness in the body, greater clarity of sight, greater, if you will, recognition of what’s actually unfolding moment by moment, that’s not so conditioned by whether we like it or not.


Because the world – maybe you haven’t noticed this yet – but it’s not actually organized around you being the center of the universe. (laughter) I know, that’s really disappointing. Because – I’m guessing now; don’t take offense, again – but I’m guessing that you are entirely organized around you being the center of the universe. Every single one of us is. It’s almost unavoidable. It’s almost unavoidable. And that actually has representations in the brain, it’s turning out. That there are medial networks in the frontal cortex that is actually called the default mode, and it’s what neuroscientists think is what’s happening when you’re not doing anything.


Well, it turns out, when you’re not doing anything, you’re very busy. You’re very, very, very busy, and one of the ways that’s described is that your mind is wandering. Now there’s an entire field in neuroscience focused on mind wandering. How many of you have noticed that your mind sometimes just has a life of its own? It goes here, it goes there. It loves to be entertained; it’s very entertaining. So yeah, that’s what’s called the default mode now, and another name for it is the narrative network. It’s like we’re continually constructing narratives about ourselves. I mean, after all, it’s the favorite topic, right? Me. What could be more interesting than me? The story of me, starring me. (laughter)


If you start to pay attention – because what we’re talking about, what mindfulness is, it’s actually awareness. And it’s cultivated by paying attention. So just to get clear about this, that doesn’t sound very Buddhist, does it, so far? Or very Asian, or very mystical, or very anything? It’s just paying attention. How many teachers are there in the audience, whatever level you’re teaching at? Raise your hands, so I can feel – okay. Don’t you want your students to pay attention? It’s non-trivial to get them to pay attention.


First, you might have to be interesting. That itself is a challenge. (laughter) Second, you  might have to make the subject matter interesting. That’s also a challenge. But third, I remember, as a product of the New York public schools, having teachers actually yell at us to pay attention. But that’s not a very effective way to get people to pay attention, because it turns out that attending is something that you need to learn. It’s a learnable skill.


But instead of being taught to pay attention, you’re just told to pay attention. “Get with the program; pay attention.” A lot of people pay attention very differently. Some pay attention auditorily; they’re really predominantly auditory. Other people can’t do auditory so well; they’ve got to see it visually. Other people, it’s more intuitive; they feel it with their bodies in a certain way.


So this is incredibly important in education at all levels, because as they say about orchestras, even the greatest of orchestras, with the greatest musicians, with the greatest instruments, playing the greatest music, before they perform, they get together and they tune their instruments. First to themselves, then with each other, until there’s a kind of dropping, if you don’t mind my putting it that way, into resonance. Call it an “A,” call it what you like, but a kind of interconnected feeling that we are in some space together.


You could call it relationality. So mindfulness is the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment. Paying attention on purpose in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Non-judgmentally, that’s the kicker, because as I said, the default network is operating constantly, and the default network’s got ideas and opinions about everything. It’s judging constantly. Non-judgmentally doesn’t mean that you won’t be judging when you actually start to pay attention to what’s on your mind or what’s going on in your life, but that you’ll notice how much you are judging, how much you want to approach this and push away that, and you’ll just allow that whole thing to be there, as if you just put out the welcome mat for it. I’m not going to have an opinion about my opinions. I’m going to just let it all rain down for a moment.


Can you feel how radical a shift that would be in your life, to just take one moment and allow everything to be as it is, instead of wishing it was one way or another? The Buddhists would call that liberation. It’s a kind of freedom that no one else can give you, but that allows us to in some sense rotate in consciousness so that for one moment, we’re stepping outside of time. Because if you live in the now – well, maybe you’ve had this experience. Just check your watch and take a look, right now. What time is it? I’ll tell you what time it is: it’s now. (laughter) Every time you check your watch or your phone, it’s now again. Why am I even talking about this? Why did I even come here? It’s always good to ask those questions. (laughter) I don’t know, actually. Because it’s usually bigger than whatever you think your reasons for it are.


But it has a lot to do with the medical school and with what Ira is doing there, and with what Helen is doing in the undergraduate school. It has to do with the fact that the society has reached a point where we’re beginning to understand that the exponentially increasing levels of stress in medicine, in our professional lives, in our personal lives, at every age, really require some kind of shift that is not in the form of taking some pill to numb yourself out to it or “get it together,” but that actually we need to cultivate what’s often spoken of as the domain of being in order to not be so overwhelmed by all the doing and the performing.


While it’s true that with the Olympic team, we were using mindfulness to actually improve their performance, it was a kind of Zen operation in the sense that you can’t improve performance by trying to improve performance, especially with the mind. Because the kind of mind that’s grasping for an outcome is exactly the kind of mind that gets in the way of any desirable outcome. Have you got that? Did you catch that as it flew by? This means we’re in new territory.


One example, common example: you can’t get to sleep by forcing yourself to get to sleep. By telling yourself how important the meeting is you have tomorrow – in fact, that’s probably a very bad idea, because that thought will actually secrete one more thought about the meeting or the stakes of it, and then that will lead to something else in this default network of mind wandering, and pretty soon you are wide awake, desperately wanting to be asleep, and not knowing how to get there.


It’s non-trivial to actually befriend our own minds and our own lives in such a way that we can actually work in these paradoxical ways where striving won’t do it. That doesn’t mean that I’m advocating that all of us abandon ambition, or don’t care about anything; meditation is not about becoming stupid. Even being non-judgmental is not about becoming stupid. It sounds like, “Well, don’t judge anything. Then maybe I’ll just walk off the stage and break my leg.” No. I’m aware that the edge of the stage is here, and if I do fall off the stage and break my leg, it will have been a moment of mindlessness, or out-of-touchness, if you will. Or walk across the street without looking because we have this sense that we’re not going to judge that truck coming at me. (laughter)


There’s a big difference between judgment and discernment. Mindfulness is all about discerning, with clarity, what’s actually going on. Most of the time now – how many of you would say that you are engaged in some kind of way that doesn’t feel all that good? A lot of the time in multi-tasking – anybody find yourself multi-tasking? Confess that when you’re on the phone, you’re actually sending an email to somebody else. Anybody ever do that? Raise your hands, I want to see. Confession time. Okay. We actually do it a lot. Why? Part of it is really because we’re so stressed. We don’t have enough moments in our day to get it all done, so we start to discombobulate a little bit and juggle and cut corners.

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Dr. Daniel Vinograd, DDS |
10450 Friars Rd, San Diego, CA 92120 |
Phone: 619-630-7174    •    Dr. Vinograd, DDS, is a Dentist in San Diego, CA, offering services as a periodontist, and providing teeth whitening, dental crowns, invisalign, implants, lumineers, dentures, root canals, holistic, family and cosmetic dentistry.

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