The Ceaseless Society: What Happens to Our Mind, Body, and Spirit When we Just Never Stop?

author: Jon Kabat-Zinn, University of Massachusetts Medical School, University of Massachusetts
author: Tenzin Priyadarshi
published: May 7, 2012,   recorded: April 2006,   views: 3246

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Throw aside that coarse caricature of a humming, pretzel-legged creature in flowing robes, suggests Jon Kabat-Zinn. Embrace instead the real meaning of meditation: “an effortless mindfulness” that involves paying purposeful attention to the present moment, in a nonjudgmental way. While many religious traditions incorporate this kind of practiced awareness, Kabat-Zinn makes the case for enriching all of our lives through meditation.

The problem with most of us, he says, is that “we can get entrained into the rhythms of society as if we’re guinea pigs in an uncontrolled experiment run wild. No one’s minding the store.” The demands of daily life and an increasingly digital age leave us living for the future, and “if the present moment is only a clever way to get someplace else, then we’re never where we actually are.” So we’re perpetually dissatisfied.

This leaves us open to stress, which exacerbates many kinds of illness. Kabat-Zinn describes research showing that the parents of chronically ill children, under chronic stress, experience accelerated shortening of telomeres (units on the ends of chromosomes), a process associated with aging. But parents with healthy kids who also report stress in their lives have a similarly high rate of telomere shortening. While you can’t change the actual stress in many cases, says Kabat-Zinn, you can relate to it differently. “How am I going to be in relation to the actuality of moments as they unfold – the good ones, bad ones and ugly ones?” When the brain gets going, it can be very creative, says Kabat-Zinn, and the body suffers.

Twenty five years of scientific study have begun to link the practice of mindfulness to medical benefits. Psoriasis patients practicing meditation while receiving UV light treatments healed at a rate four times faster than those just receiving light. If human beings fulfill their potential to become “wise and compassionate in relationship to pain and fear,” they may achieve “a degree of understanding in the human condition and life on this planet,” says Kabat-Zinn. “I consider that to be not only a human birthright but a human inheritance. If we squander it, we have nobody else to blame,” he concludes.

Tenzin LS Priyadarshi addresses the need to cultivate a mind that can truly live in the present, no longer regretting the past or worrying about the future.

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