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.