Reflections on MBSR: Week 1

“A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. A mind that is still is divine.” – Meher Baba

A series of intuitive decisions and curious circumstances lead me to this Wednesday morning. This is the first of eight Wednesday mornings where six eager students will learn the ways of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Through collating documents, printing flyers, and snooping around on bookshelves, I learned that MBSR is a stress reduction program founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Dr. Kabat-Zinn elaborates on MBSR in Full Catastrophe Living – the MBSR equivalent to the Bible. Some core MBSR principles, as identified by Dr. Kabat-Zinn, include:

  • Non-Judging
  • Patience
  • Beginner’s Mind
  • Trust
  • Non-Striving
  • Acceptance
  • Letting Go

As a typically impatient, anxious, untrusting of life’s great processes type of person, I knew I had been divinely led to this opportunity. All of my personal progress within the last year and a half had endowed me with enough sense to actually see the opportunity. My own self-growth now included a meditation practice in its infant stages. I would sometimes lie down in silence, repeating affirmations and noting thoughts. Other times, I would go to YouTube for guided meditations that sounded more robotic than human (and usually accompanied by really awful sound effects). I was lucky if I made it through twenty minutes without falling asleep or thinking about some far-off event. My mind had gone from fast to slow-ish. How would it even be possible to experience that divine stillness?

The journey to this divine stillness begins with Dr. Shutt. We sit on our yoga mats, all of us resembling children, as she explains non-judgment and beginner’s mind. After gentle yoga stretches, we return seated onto our mats. We hold out our hands while she pours Craisins into our palms. We are instructed to approach our food with an unknowing mind. We smell, touch, taste, and chew slowly. In a slightly breathy and completely soothing voice, Dr. Shutt guides us through a body scan. Each bone, muscle and ligament is analyzed. Does it hurt? Is it warm? What feels good today?

We are instructed to go home and practice mindfulness through daily use of the body scan, mindful meals, and simply paying attention. I savor my yogurt. I listen to my internal dialogue. I complete Dr. Shutt’s recorded body scans daily. Along the way, I have small moments of realization. Why do I look for only negative sensations during the body scan? What does this say about how I filter all of my experiences? There were larger revelations too. This practice, although solitary, benefits from group learning and exposure. It was through discussion that I realized that we all fall asleep or wander off. Beginner’s struggles are not unique. We all come to this class for various reasons. We share judgments and anxieties, holding on to “stuff” for far too long. We rush and react our way through life.

Those of us who have gathered are seekers. We are hopeful that change is possible. I have read and heard that prayer is speaking to the Divine, while meditation is listening. Using all of our senses, we are now ready to turn inward and listen.