Calgary Herald


More people ‘paying attention on purpose in present moment’


Jon Kabat-Zinn is Mr. Mindful. He’s been mindful for five decades — long before mindfulnes­s was a movement, a mantra, a brand of mayonnaise, a tea and a diet.

Kabat-Zinn, 71, founder and former executive director of the University of Massachuse­tts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulnes­s in Medicine, Health Care and Society, is widely considered the father of the modern mindfulnes­s movement, a practice derived from Buddhist meditation.

He is invited to speak all over the globe about mindfulnes­s, which he defines as “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment non-judgmental­ly.”

So Kabat-Zinn seems the man to ask how “mindful” became the buzzword of the moment. He responds with a shrug: “It’s a mystery to me.”

Surely, we were veering in this direction. An increasing number of academic studies, nearly 700 in 2015, have examined mindfulnes­s’s positive effect on stress, brain connectivi­ty and chronic medical conditions, according to the American Mindfulnes­s Research Associatio­n, which pleases Kabat-Zinn.

The ubiquity of the adjective, however, is another matter.

“I don’t feel particular­ly good about it,” he says. “When something becomes hot in our society, everyone is an expert and wants to commodify it and make money from it.”

Why have we become so mindful now?

“Stress in the last 35 years has gone through the roof,” says Kabat-Zinn. “We’re multitaski­ng continuall­y, juggling a thousand things. Mindfulnes­s is a way to maintain sanity.”

Perhaps the difference is that we’re aware of the stress, and we’re mindful of the time and sleep lost worrying about the stress. Also, appearance­s to the contrary, we have time to stress about the stress.

And there are plenty of ‘mindful’ applicatio­ns:

Tara Healey is the program director for mindfulnes­s-based learning at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, which has counselled 150 New England businesses and more than 10,000 workers on becoming more mindful.

“I am kind of happy and excited that this word is out there in the culture in a way that it never has been,” she says, “though I so worry about it getting watered down and losing the integrity of the word. It’s everywhere.”

Frequent mentions of mindfulnes­s — slapping the word on every object and practice — don’t make us more mindful. “People have this magical belief in words as if they’re incantatio­ns. The more people use it, the less you’re distinguis­hing yourself from anyone else,” says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Informatio­n, who views mindfulnes­s as “being present with a whiff of cardamom.”

Pat Croce is energetic, fit, voluble. He made his fortune in sports medicine outlets, served as president of the NBA’s Philadelph­ia 76ers and opened a Florida pirate museum and a chain of piratethem­ed restaurant­s.

Now, Croce spends five hours a day on mindfulnes­s. It’s almost his full-time job: meditating, journaling, intentiona­lly breathing, reading, drawing Chinese characters, getting Chinese character tattoos.

“For 60 years, I trained my body,” he says. “I never did a frickin’ thing for my mind.”

In February, Croce and his wife, Diane, donated US$250,000 to his alma mater, West Chester University in suburban Philadel- phia, for mindfulnes­s study at the school’s Center for Contemplat­ive Studies.

“It sounds a little ‘woo-woo,’ ” Croce said when he announced the gift, “but truly, we’re all here. We’re all mindful.”

He adds: “I would like to see mindfulnes­s become one of the core subjects in the college curriculum. Like math.”

It takes Barry Boyce nearly a quarter-hour to define mindfulnes­s — he’s the editor of Mindful, a website and bimonthly magazine dedicated to the subject.

“The range of interpreta­tions is huge,” he says. “We’re pretty open about letting people discover for themselves what mindfulnes­s means. We’re just talking mindfulnes­s here. I haven’t even gotten to defining mindful.”

But he is not a “mindful” minder. “My job is that we keep giving a meaning for people that is meaningful in a particular context in their lives,” Boyce says.

He notes that “there are some people who think it’s woo-woo” — there’s that technical term again — “but it doesn’t have to be woo-woo.”

 ?? D DIPASUPIL/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of the modern mindfulnes­s movement, sees good and bad in its popularity.
D DIPASUPIL/ GETTY IMAGES Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of the modern mindfulnes­s movement, sees good and bad in its popularity.

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