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The Role of Mindfulness in Education

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Google the word "mindful" and you'll find about 24,900,000 entries. Google the word "mindfulness" and there are around 13,600,000 entries. Ever wonder how these ancient, distant, and diverse Asian practices known as mindfulness have made their way into our living rooms today? Quite simply it is thanks to some noteworthy people who clocked hours, days, weeks and years on a meditation cushion. They saw something important and then they showed it to us.

In the United States we have had the benefit of extraordinary Eastern teachers coming west to teach us their native practices. But without a doubt, those who have had the greatest impact translating classical Eastern practices for Westerners, without dumbing them down, have been our own Western teachers. Many of them are Americans who were drawn to Asia fresh out of college in search of meaning and who came home to share what they learned with the rest of us.

From the Theravada tradition Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg have had a remarkable impact through their organizations, the Insight Meditation Society and the Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Around the same time that Jack, Sharon and Joseph were studying in Asia, Alan Wallace with the Santa Barbara Institute, Ken McLeod with Unfettered Mind, and Robert Thurman from Columbia University were sitting formidable three-year retreats with Tibetan teachers to learn Tibetan practice from the inside-out. In the 1960s, Yvonne Rand stayed closer to home, in Northern California, where she was a disciple of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi who lived here at the time. Other American teachers followed similar paths at a similar time, but these are the ones who have most influenced me. They are just a few of the dedicated American teachers who have translated classical practice to make it more accessible in the West and more obviously relevant to our modern, everyday lives.

But when it comes to secular mindfulness there is one teacher who has influenced absolutely everyone: Jon Kabat-Zinn. Touched by the same practices and many of the same Adepts as the American Buddhist teachers, Jon approached the translation issue via a different route. In broad terms, he taught adults to hold off for a short while from reacting to or even analyzing a stressful situation in order to pay attention in a particular way. And it worked. This learned skill allowed those who practiced MBSR to better control their reactive emotions, and therefore respond, when they were ready, in a more thoughtful, calm, reasonable way. Armed with a successful, evidence-based program, he was able to successfully integrate, or some might say infiltrate, the medical establishment using MBSR.

Now Jon is interested, really interested, in education and is bringing his considerable experience to bear on the role of mindfulness in education. His first full talk on the subject is happening in Berkeley at Zellerbach Auditorium on February 17 at 7:30pm. The organizers -- Mindful Schools -- have priced this talk so that it is affordable to everyone with tickets ranging from $15-$250 which can be purchased on their website. All proceeds from this event will benefit Mindful Schools.