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Posts tagged ‘Bob Stahl’

The Mindfulness Revolution

This is an excerpt of a review I wrote for The New York Journal of Books.

The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life. Edited by Barry Boyce (Shambhala Publications, March 8, 2011).

The revolution to which this book refers is the widespread use and acceptance of mindfulness and how it has been applied throughout society. “Mindfulness” in this context refers to mindfulness meditation practice. And one of the wonderful aspects of The Mindfulness Revolution is that the essays address opportunities for mindfulness in everyday actions, such as shopping and online activities.

One of the contributors to this collection, Jan Chozen Bays, provides a simple, yet eloquent description of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means deliberately paying attention, being fully aware of what is happening both inside yourself—in your body, heart and mind—and outside yourself in your environment.” It involves the awareness of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and behaviors without judgment or criticism. Further insight can also include investigating who or what it is that is aware of our experience when being mindful.

Historically, the most prominent practitioner of mindfulness was Siddhartha Gotama, who became known as The Buddha. His meditation practice and teachings spread around the world and have been used for over 2,500 years. Similar methods of contemplation, prayer, and concentration are also present in every major religious tradition.

In the West, one of the first pioneers in establishing mindfulness as a secular discipline was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who begin sharing it with his patients to help them manage various health issues and concerns. He called it Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). This compilation looks at how mindfulness and MBSR has since been applied and the many forms and avenues it has taken.

The book is divided into four complementary sections by editor Barry Boyce and provides a comprehensive overview and specifics, with examples, instructions, research, and lessons.

Part I is titled How to Practice Mindfulness. Part II is called Mindfulness in Daily Life. The third section is Mindfulness, Health and Healing. The fourth area is Interpersonal Mindfulness. The excerpts for each section are provided by experienced and well-known practitioners that include Jan Chozen Bays, Jack Kornfield, Bob Stahl, Chogyam Trungpa, Norman Fischer, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Thich Nat Hanh, Sue Moon, Elisha Goldstein, Daniel Siegel, Steve Flowers, Peman Chodron, Susan Chapman and The Fourteenth Dalai Lama. There is also an excellent resource section and contributor bios at the end of the collection.

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Monks, Meditation & Medicine

When Bob Stahl left his home town of Boston and went to college in Vermont, it was a class in religious studies and a quote from the Tao Te Ching that provided the context and words to what he innately knew as a child ever since his younger brother had died at the age of two. The quote said, “There is no need to look outside your window, for everything you need to know is inside you.” He began looking inside and found his way outside to California.

While attending graduate school in San Francisco, Mr. Stahl was invited to attend an Insight Mindfulness retreat. It was on that nine day retreat that Bob realized he had found his spiritual home. “It caused permanent neurological damage and I’ve never been the same, thank goodness,” Bob grins.

In 1980, one of Mr. Stahl’s professors invited him to travel to Burma to meet her meditation teacher Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Sayadaw. While in Burma Bob shaved his head, wore robes and took his bowl, with the other monks, to collect alms (daily food) in remote villages. After several months he returned to California and helped start a forest monastery in Boulder Creek called Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery. “I lived, studied and worked at the monastery for the next nine years,” Bob recalls.

In 1989 Bob left the monastery and met Jan Landry, formerly a nurse and chaplain at Hospice of Santa Cruz County. They were married and had two sons. He also received a book from a friend called Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn that spoke about using meditation in a medical setting. “I couldn’t believe someone wrote a book like this,” Bob says excitedly. “I wrote Kabat-Zinn a letter and he invited me to come to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. They showed me how their Stress Reduction Program worked, gave me their blessings and said to go start my own.”

Dr. Stahl became a counselor at the Cabrillo College Stroke Center in Aptos, California in 1990 and started teaching meditation. It was the first such program in the state. Within a few years, Dr. Stahl’s Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) was being utilized at hospitals throughout the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Area.

While visiting a weekly MBSR alumni support meeting, a woman who once had TMJ (a painful condition of the jaw) said, “When I brought my awareness from the class to my jaw and saw how often I was clenching and tightening it, I was able to relax and let go. My TMJ totally disappeared.” Another woman, who completed the class only six months ago, says, “MBSR was like a life preserver. It has reduced my back pain and anxiety, as well as my reaction to distress.”

The “letting go” of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program does not require one to become a passive observer, but rather to pay close attention to what IS happening at any given moment. Dr. Stahl quotes Victor Frankel, a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, who once said, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space and in that space lies our freedom.”

“We are often like sleepwalkers,” Bob states, “or on automatic pilot, reacting compulsively to our grasping and aversive natures. Insight Meditation helps us find another way to live.”

Mr. Stahl found another way to live as a monk and brought that awareness into his life as a husband, father and teacher. There are a lot of students and clients who are grateful that Dr. Stahl is no longer in his robes, begging for alms in a distant village, but is living here in The States taking one breath at a time.

Dr. Stahl and a colleague, Elisha Goldstein released A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger Publications) earlier this year.

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