A Review of Jon Kabat Zinn's Master Class on Mindfulness: Four Stars from Sarah

Sarah Vallely

I watched a MasterClass the other day, Jon Kabat Zinn's videos.


Jacob Derossett

When I see those master class ads, I wonder where they film them. Those houses are always beautiful. Who's the interior designer, and it's always just so appealing to look at?


Sarah Vallely

When I was watching the Jon Kabat Zinn, I assumed that was his office or something.


Jacob Derossett

They do such a good job with it. It makes you feel like it's that person's space.


Sarah Vallely

It adds to the experience because you're like, “Oh, I feel like I'm inside Jon Kabat Zinn's house right now.”



Jacob Derossett

I remember that was a nice house. I was like, boy, he sold a lot of books.


Sarah Vallely

Jon Kabat Zinn, he grew up in New York City. He earned a PhD in molecular biology in 1971 from MIT, did you know that?


Jacob Derossett

I didn't know that. But I remember reading his book, “Wherever You Go There you are”. I just remember thinking, he seems very science-based.


Sarah Vallely

Jon Kabat Zinn was also a Vipassana teacher. And that's the training that I have; it's also referred to as insight meditation. And in 1979, he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I think that's what most people associate him with is that stress reduction program that he put together.


I'm on the same page with Jon Kabat Zinn really liked some of the things that he was sharing. His definition of mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally. Yeah, so my definition is a little bit different. My definition is that mindfulness is awareness of sounds physical sensations, your breath, (which is a combination of sounds and physical sensations), visually what's going on around you in your physical world. And also mindfulness of your emotions, your thoughts, and also mindfulness of your attention. What type of attention are you using, when you are aware of these thoughts and emotions and sounds.


This whole idea of paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non judgmentally. I stray a little bit from that, because I teach my students that even if you are being judgmental in your attention during your mindfulness practice, you're still being mindful, as long as you are aware that that's what you're doing.


Jacob Derossett

That's interesting. If you're not being judgmental about your judgment, are you being non judgmental?


Sarah Vallely

I just have trouble with saying that you have to have non judgmental attention to be practicing mindfulness.


Jacob Derossett

Because then that means if you are being judgmental, you're not being mindful. I think he would say the same thing that we're saying, though, about being non-judgmental about your judgmental mind, which happens. But that's hard to accept.


Sarah Vallely

Yeah, I think you're right. That's probably what he would say. Jon Kabat Zinn says that there is no ideal meditation state, that feeling calm and relaxed during meditation is just one experience that we have during meditation. And I think this takes the pressure off—pressure that we need to attain this certain state. And we talked about this in our episode 16, on enlightenment,


Jacob Derossett

Does that go against the Vipassana model?


Sarah Vallely

I don't believe so. What separates the Vipassana from some other paths of Buddhism is it's focused on technique, all the conversations are about how we're practicing and what techniques we can use. I struggle a little bit because there ARE states that you attain, there's the no-self experience, there's the integration experience, which is what I teach. And I get why he's saying this, because you cannot attain those states, if you are trying to attain those states, if you desire to attain that state. I wish that in the mindfulness community, and in the Buddhist community, teachers spoke more about these certain states.


Jacob Derossett

If you download the waking up app, you get a free month, and Sam interviews a lot of mindfulness teachers on there, and they talk a lot about this stuff. I've heard a lot of conversations. And he really pokes at all of those things with them. But I am curious, though, is it being non-judgmental, being in a “state” of non-judgment? You know what I'm saying? So like to say that you're not supposed to be striving for a state? The ask would be you need to take a step back into non-judgement of your judgment, well, then, are we not asking somebody to step into a state of non-judgment?


Sarah Vallely

That's a good point, because a lot of teachers will say that it is better to be in a state of equanimity, which is emotional, mental calmness and to be in a state of non-judgment, or to be in a state of non-attachment. And so these are states that we're trying to get to. I think it's a paradox, right? They're both true on both sides. It depends on in the moment what side you are relating to.


Jacob Derossett

The more time that you're aware and mindful of your experience, and aware of impermanence and emptiness and all these things, the better it is. I've heard from teachers say that you're trying to reach a level of stabilization, to where I'm not getting pissed off at somebody that I care a lot about, because of the mood that I'm in that day,


Sarah Vallely

I think it's about becoming conscious, becoming more conscious, becoming more aware of what is going on within your psyche and your body and your being. I think that if we want to get better at the practice, we do need to gently remind ourselves to be in what I call “mental neutrality”. Which is, we're not going to get attached to thoughts such as, “I don't like this or I'm not doing it right.” Or “this is really frustrating that this car sound is ruining my meditation experience.” But instead mental neutrality is feeling any emotions that comes up--not denying any emotions, but letting go of judgments and just taking everything as it is.


For us to improve, we do need to encourage ourselves to be mentally neutral, non judgmental, however you want to say it. And this is a good segue to the next thing that Jon Kabat Zinn was talking about which is healing versus curing, same type of paradox here. If you view healing as a cure or fix, it can interfere with your own healing, letting go of some of those desires for certain outcomes. My clients get to true healing when they move into complete self-acceptance with whatever the discomfort is, such as completely loving and accepting themselves with the pain or with the grief.


Jacob Derossett

How do you differentiate healing and curing?


Sarah Vallely

Curing is fixing it. He is saying that healing is not about fixing it. Healing, it's not necessarily a fix, meaning you don't get back to how you were before the incident. But you do get to a great place. The curing concept is you get back to how you were and the healing concept is you don't get back to how you were but you get to a good place.


Jacob Derossett

This is interesting because people that have injuries who work with me--they get very, very distraught about the fact they have an injury. And then they're like, “Oh, I'm a symmetrical” and I'm like, “yes, that did happen. And we'll do the best we can to mitigate. But it's not the end of the world.”


Sarah Vallely

Sometimes we need to go through a mini grief process of that loss to move forward to something new and different. Jon Kabat Zinn also talks about how mindfulness is “relationalty”. And he admits that that's a word that he made up “relationality”. And he says this is a practice of becoming aware of your relationship with everything. And I am so boared with these ideas. I say that everything is either a form we have a relationship with, or a form of relationship.


Jacob Derossett

I'm going to need you to go a little farther. That kind of twisted my head up a little bit.


Sarah Vallely

Is a window a form you have a relationship with or is it a form of relationship?


Jacob Derossett

Seems like it's a form I have a relationship with?


Sarah Vallely

Yeah. And using mindfulness, we can investigate our relationship with the window. The window is protective for us, it protects us from the outside elements. And it also is emotional on some level, the window allows the light to come in and the scenery to come in, which can bring us joy. So we have a relationship with something as simple as a window. And then you can go through all the things in your physical environment, and do the same thing and realize the relationship you have with them.


You can do the same thing with concepts like a speed limit. We have a relationship with a speed limit. And your relationship with a speed limit can change depending on whether you're on a highway or whether you're in a residential area. Political ideas, as another example, we have these relationships with all these different things.


And then a form what might be an example of a form of a relationship?


Jacob Derossett

Would that be like you and I have a podcast together. So that's like a form of a relationship that we have.


Sarah Vallely

So our relationship, the form is, it's personal, but it's also business. There's trust there, I think we trust each other. Forms a relationship could be trust, dependence, dread, practicality, could be fear, could be hatred, could be all these different things. And then on top of it, we have a relationship with the forms of relationship that we have. So we have our own relationship with love. We have our own relationship with dread, we have our own relationship with dependence. You can use your mindfulness to have a wow moment and think about all that.


Jacob Derossett

Wow, this is fascinating. And I've been listening to a lot of Alan Watts recently. This is totally on brand with a lot of stuff that I've been hearing him say, recently. I remember hearing this physicist, it may have been Neil deGrasse Tyson, but someone was asking him the craziest concept he'd ever learned. And he answered, the only thing that separates you and I is we're different densities. Because we're all made of the same stuff. The only reason you're not the sun is because you're a different density than the sun. And that blew my mind. And so now, especially in political sense, when I am vehemently disagreeing with someone about something I go back to this idea, this person is me as much as I am them.


Sarah Vallely

When you say density, do you mean molecular density or energetic density or both?


Jacob Derossett

So we're both atoms, and your bundle of atoms is a different density than my bundle of atoms. For example, you have one pillow that's firmer than the other pillow. Well, okay, you could take that philosophically and say, I am a more gushy person than you are and that's really it. That's the separation--we're just bundled together a little bit differently. But we're the exact same thing.


Sarah Vallely

I think I've heard this in a scientific sense that ourselves and animals and plants and things like that are mostly carbon. Is that the element? So on an atomic level we are very similar.


Jon Kabat Zinn goes on to explain that there are these certain attitudes that he says support our mindfulness practice. They are nonjudging, patience, beginner's mind, trust, non striving, and acceptance.


This is what he says about non-judging. He says the problem with judging is that it limits the way we act. And he also says that when you're on your deathbed, and you're reflecting back on your life, it doesn't matter if your experiences were positive, neutral or negative. What seems to really matter in this scenario is that you were awake and aware of your experiences.


I think that's fair. And I think that what he says about judging limits the way we act, it's a little abstract. I mean, it's true, but sometimes it's a good true; sometimes we need to limit the way we act. I prefer the way Sharon Salzberg goes about teaching non-judging. And she says that, when we are nonjudging, we create space. And in this space, we can have liberation, we can be more, we can understand more. My clients are creating space, even if it's temporary, to have enough time to give themselves compassion. They can enjoy the moment free of positive and negative and create space to be free of perceptions.


Jacob Derossett

I remember hearing a George Mumford, he was the mindfulness teacher of the Chicago Bulls. And he said that Michael Jordan is one of the most present people he's ever met in his entire life. When you see him on the court playing, you can tell he is absolutely fully embodied in the moment. Obviously, physically, he was a specimen. But mentally, his ability to just be in the moment is just second to none.


Sarah Vallely

I saw Michael Jordan, at the Ritz Carlton on Miami Beach years ago. He was drinking a red ball and looking at his Blackberry.


Jacob Derossett

I could never talk to him. It's too much.


Sarah Vallely

When Jon Kabat Zinn goes into non-striving, he addresses exactly what you were talking about. He says, When you realize there is nothing to attain, then this is when anything is possible. Another paradox, right? So being attached to the outcome can actually interfere with performance. And he specifically talks about athletes. He says that meditation does not take away their edge. In fact, he says, athletes would say that meditation is their edge.


When did average become negative? If you look out at a sea of people, the better people are the ones who are striving to be better than the bottom half?


Jacob Derossett

If you have no love of something and no, no desire, or it's not contributing directly to something you love, your ability to improve it is negated. Basically, I guess you will burn out and you will stop eventually. It doesn't mean you can't approve it. If you don't care about piano, and nobody in your life cares about piano and you just walk around randomly and decide I'm just going to start getting very good at piano, you will eventually stop because you have no connection with it deeply


Sarah Vallely

I struggle with the idea of having to be above average. I have to help my clients let go of this because it also creates a lot of stress. Our worth is not associated with our accomplishments. And I know this might sound like a foreign language to some, but I think it's an important mindset to have. One of my mantras is “it doesn't matter if I succeed or fail, it matters that I love myself either way.”


Jon Kabat Zinn talks about how greatness can come from being and motivation can come from being not doing. And the example he gives is a professional baseball player, who's in the outfield. This pro ball player does this amazing jump--nobody can believe it, he jumps up and he catches the ball. And he says that comes from being not doing. Yes, he went through loads of training, which he says is important. But in that moment, he was just being in the moment. That's how mindfulness can help athletes or someone who is striving for these amazing accomplishments.


He also talks about patience, he says that we are missing our moments to get to another moment. And he also talks about not being able to push the river. Life is just going to flow, the way it's going to flow on this deep level. And there's not a lot we can do about it on that deep level. Now, on the surface are certain things that we can do to manipulate things. But on that deep level, life's just going to move the way it's going to move.


He also talks about beginner's mind. And he says, when we know something, it prevents us from seeing reality as it is. If you're knowing outcomes, if you're knowing the way things should turn out, you're knowing certain information, then that's of that intellect-it doesn't take place in the heart, when we're truly in the heart, when our consciousness is truly in our heart, we don't know these things, we don't know outcomes, we don't know how things should be, we're really in this open place. There's so much responsibility tied up with knowing what's going to happen, you feel responsible in some way. But if you let go of knowing what's going to happen, you also let go of the responsibility and you feel much lighter.


Jacob Derossett

My mom is a professional worrier. So we talk about this all the time, she just worries about everything all the time. And she feels like a need to worry. Like if she doesn't worry, she doesn't care. So if something bad does happen, she wasn't putting worry towards it. Therefore, she's somehow responsible for this good point.


Sarah Vallely

And he talks about trust, trust in yourself, trust in your intentions, trust in your intention to be authentic. Trust that you know, when not to be trusting, trust in your breath, trust in your heart pumping. Which I think is all great. But his discussion about trust is so much about trusting yourself. And I differ from that a bit because I do acknowledge a source energy, if you want to call it God, divine flow energy. And that that is also something to surrender to and trust.


And lastly, he talks about acceptance. And I love, love, love what he said about acceptance--it actually changed the way I look at things. I really appreciate this. So here it is. He says that acceptance isn't necessarily about accepting the way things are and resigning to them. Instead, he says acceptance is accepting that what is going on is the reality you are looking at, as opposed to making up some story in your head or distracting yourself from not seeing it or denying it.


Those of us who are practicing mindfulness, we practice to accept the reality that's in front of us whether we like it or not. It's not about getting to a place where what we see we like (I think there's some other spiritual paths that are trying to get to this place where Ooh, everything's blissful, and things are joyful). The path of mindfulness is about seeing what's really there. The priority being that you're really seeing it. Not that it's awesome. It could be awesome, but the fact that you're able to see it, and he makes the point that when you see the reality of what's happening, that you take action to stand up against harm.


That's something people struggle with when they are making a decision whether to go down this path. They don't want to go down a path that's going to tell them “hey, you just got to be okay with the way everything is.” You don't have to be okay with it, you have to see it and accept that this is the reality.

3 views0 comments