Jon Kabat-Zinn
Hyperion: New York, 1994.
278 pp., $19.95 (cloth).

As founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Jon Kabat-Zinn teaches mindfulness meditation to housewives, plumbers, prison inmates, laundry workers, lawyers—a wide assortment of people. They come for better physical health, and get more.

Kabat-Zinn does what many Buddhist centers have been criticized for not doing. He offers mindfulness meditation to the people—to the masses—stripped of elitism. You don’t need lofty philosophical goals, spiritual hankering, or psychic angst to sit in Kabat-Zinn’s class. Most come in with plain old physical ailments or disease, among them chronic pain, cancer, AIDS.

Some in Buddhist circles have swatted at Kabat-Zinn, claiming his teaching turns Buddhist practice into a clinical technique. But Kabat-Zinn doesn’t claim to be a teacher of Buddhism. Instead he takes mindfulness practice out of the Buddhist context, teaching how it can be applied to reduce stress in any situation. In his first chapter, he says the relevance of this practice “has nothing to do with Buddhism per se.'”

Mindful inquiry, according to Kabat-Zinn, can heal low self esteem, which is really a wrong calculation, a misperception of reality in which

we take all our good qualities for granted, or fail to acknowledge them at all. Perhaps we get stuck in the often deep and still bleeding wounds of childhood, and forget or never discover that we have golden qualities too. We frequently persist in the habit of projecting onto others that they are okay and we are not. I balk when people project onto me this way.

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