Disclaimer: Jon Kabat-Zinn is not officially affiliated with Mindful Leader (although we are big fans)
Who is Jon Kabat-Zinn?
You may have heard mindfulness defined as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally."
That definition comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), author of several books, and leader in the mindfulness industry.
Born in 1944 to Elvin and Sally Kabat, Kabat-Zinn was the youngest of nine children. His father was a molecular immunologist at Columbia University and his mother was a painter. Kabat-Zinn believes that growing up around these two influences of art and science in New York City influenced his professional choices later in life. He studied at Haverford College and then at MIT, where he advocated against the Vietnam War. Kabat-Zinn received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT in 1971. It was during his studies at MIT that he was introduced to mindfulness for the first time by Philip Kapleau, a Zen missionary.
Early Career and the Beginning of MBSR
Eight years after finishing his Ph.D, in 1979, Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic (now called the Center for Mindfulness) at the University of Massachusetts (UMass).
It was at the Stress Reduction Clinic that Kabat-Zinn developed MBSR. He pulled from the Buddhist traditions he learned from Kapleau and other teachers, including Thích Nhất Hạnh, but adapted their teachings and principles to secular mindfulness. Within this framework, Kabat-Zinn used scientific methodology to create a structured, repeatable course that could be studied and adapted to best serve the people he hoped to treat. MBSR is a mindfulness program initially designed to help those dealing with chronic pain, but it is now taken for a variety of reasons.
MBSR is predicated on the idea of the mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is the idea that social, emotional, and behavioral factors significantly influence physical health, and that caring for those factors is necessary for healing. In keeping with this idea, MBSR uses meditation in combination with yoga techniques to address both physical and psychological symptoms. Kabat-Zinn has continued to study the effect of mindfulness on the brain, the body, and the immune system over several decades, to find more areas where MBSR can improve quality of life.
By the 1990s, MBSR clinics had opened across the United States, and gained greater exposure in an episode of the Healing and the Mind series by Bill Moyers, titled Healing from Within. Over the past 30 years, MBSR has continued to grow and is now offered in workplaces, online, and even (controversially) in the US military. The course is used in hospitals, universities, and for personal mindfulness around the world.
In the early 2000s, Kabat-Zinn took a step back from MBSR and left the Center of Mindfulness in the experienced hands of Saki Santorelli, mindfulness leader and author of Heal Thy Self. Saki was a longtime leader at the Center of Mindfulness before becoming its executive director, and was in fact the first intern at what was then the Stress Reduction Clinic in 1981. Kabat-Zinn has remained Professor of Medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Kabat-Zinn has remained deeply connected to the mindfulness world outside of MBSR as well. He was a Founding Fellow of the Fetzer Institute, is a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and founding convener of the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, as well as a board member of the Mind and Life Institute for years.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the author of fourteen books total and his books have been published in more than forty languages. Two companion books to MBSR, Full Catastrophe Living (1990) and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (1994), are among the most popular.
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (1997) was co-authored by Kabat-Zinn and his wife, Myla. A revised edition was published in 2014, with the goal of making the book more accessible.
Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness (2005) focuses on developing mindfulness practices using the five senses, the mind-body connection, and the awareness of the mind itself for meditators with some experience. The book also discusses the Buddhist roots of mindfulness and uses personal stories and poetry to convey Kabat-Zinn’s message of mindfulness as a healing tool.
Mindfulness for Beginners (2006) is a combination book and CD that introduces new meditators to mindfulness through five practices, focusing on present moment awareness.
Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness (2007) and Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: 100 Lessons in Mindfulness (2009) are books of excerpts from Coming to Our Senses and Full Catastrophe Living, respectively.
Kabat-Zinn has also co-contributed to several more academic books. The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (2007) is a book on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is based on MBSR. Jon Kabat-Zinn provides the voice for the guided meditation CD that comes with the book.
A Scientific Dialogue Dialogue with the Dalai Lama on the Healing Power of Meditation (2011) is an account of a conversation on the titular topic with the Dalai Lama that occurred in 2005 hosted by the Mind and Life institute. Jon Kabat-Zinn co-edited the book with Richard Davidson.
Mindfulness: Diverse Perspectives on its Meaning, Origins, and Applications (2013) is a collection of papers originally published in the Contemporary Buddhism journal. Kabat-Zinn co-edited the collection with Mark Williams, and also added a final chapter that adds MBSR to the list of many mindfulness topics examined in the book.
Most recently, Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a series of four books updating the concepts in Coming to Our Senses. They are; Meditation Is Not What You Think (2018), Falling Awake (2018), The Healing Power of Mindfulness (2018), and Mindfulness For All: The Wisdom to Transform the World (2019).
MBSR is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s original course, and one of the most established courses on mindfulness available. It is no longer taught by Kabat-Zinn, as stewardship of MBSR has been dispersed across the mindfulness community. All MBSR classes taught today are based on the original course taught by the man himself at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. This is ensured by the Principles and Standards of Practice for Trainers of MBSR Teachers (PDF).
In February 2021, Kabat-Zinn released a MasterClass, delivering an introduction to mindfulness to the subscribers of that service. A thorough review and summary of the class can be found here.
A list of some of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s most popular talks on mindfulness.
JON KABAT-ZINN: REFLEXIONES SOBRE EL MINDFULNESS (Reflections on Mindfulness)
Jon Kabat-Zinn has also released three series of guided meditations on CD. Series 1 accompanies MBSR and Full Catastrophe Living and contains the practices used in the MBSR course, namely the Body Scan Meditation, Mindful Yoga, and the Sitting Meditation, all of which are around 45 minutes in length. Series 2 contains shorter guided meditations, and accompanies Wherever You Go, There You Are. Series 3 accompanies Coming to Our Senses, and focuses on “refining our awareness of the sensory world.” Another CD, Mindfulness Meditation for People with Psoriasis, is also available, and focuses specifically on treating psoriasis through mindfulness.
Kabat-Zinn’s guided meditations are currently available primarily on the JKZ app. Sample Guided Meditations by Jon Kabat-Zinn from his app are available here.
During the summer of 2020, Kabat-Zinn offered daily meditations on YouTube in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They can be found here.
Is Jon Kabat-Zinn a Buddhist?
Though his eventual interest in mindfulness was influenced by study of Buddhism, Jon Kabat-Zinn is not currently a practicing Buddhist and his work focuses on secular mindfulness. He does respect and espouse the principles of Buddhism, and works alongside Buddhists to advance mindfulness.
What are the 9 attitudes of mindfulness?
The nine attitudes of mindfulness (discussed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in a video here) are a series of interconnected attitudes that Kabat-Zinn espouses as a way to facilitate mindfulness without trying to force a certain feeling or manner of action.
The nine attitudes are qualities that can be cultivated both in everyday life and in formal mindfulness practice. Originally, seven attitudes were written in the original edition of Full Catastrophe Living, but gratitude and generosity have been added since then. The attitudes, in no particular order, are:
- Non-Judgment - The attitude of cultivating the ability to understand things around us without automatically assigning them labels of good or bad, so that we can experience them as they truly are
- Patience - The attitude of understanding that things happen in their own time, including our own experiences. Patience with oneself is an act of acceptance and wisdom.
- Beginner’s Mind - The attitude of intentionally seeing things around you as if for the first time, by shedding our expectations and preconceptions and welcoming the possibility of a new moment, one that has never been seen before.
- Trust - The attitude of trusting that the body will support its own life, that the breath will support itself, that the organs will continue to function, and that the mind and heart can heal and support themselves.
- Non-Striving - The attitude of not seeking anything in particular in the practice of mindful awareness. There is no special state of relaxation, well-being, or anything to achieve or fix in your mindfulness practice.
- Acceptance - The attitude of actively recognizing that things are the way they are, even if they aren’t the way we want them to be.
- Letting Go - The attitude that is the opposite of clinging or grasping. Letting go means accepting that things that are pleasant will end, in a manner of letting things be as they are.
- Gratitude - The attitude of appreciating even the simplest things in the present moment, such as the basic automatic functioning of the body.
- Generosity - The attitude of giving oneself over to life, and giving to other people what would make them happy, for the sake of the joy it brings them.
Are Jon Kabat-Zinn and Howard Zinn related?
Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States, political thinker, and professor, was the father of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wife, Myla Kabat-Zinn.
Who did Jon Kabat-Zinn learn from?
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s knowledge of mindfulness comes from both his training as a scientist at MIT and his study under Buddhist meditators. His mentors in mindfulness include Philip Kapleau, Thích Nhất Hạnh, and Seung Sahn.