Kabat-Zinn, son-in-law of historian Howard Zinn, is a true pioneer in the field of applying mindfulness to the problem of relieving psychological and physical distress. Thirty years ago at UMass Medical Center he started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program — a program that has since spawned Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness-based Anxiety Reduction, Mindfulness-based approaches to eating disorders, and so on.
The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction title is arguably a misnomer, tending as it does to conjure up images of executives with ulcers. Kabat-Zinn’s field was working with people who experienced chronic pain, and whom conventional treatments had failed. In other words he took on the most difficult cases. And he was successful. Clinical trials showed long-term reduction in the amount of pain that his patients experienced, even years after they had taken a course.
To Kabat-Zinn, meditation is important because it brings about a state of “mindfulness,” a condition of “being” rather than “doing” during which you pay attention to the moment rather than the past, the future, or the multitudinous distractions of modern life.
In brief, rather poetic chapters, he describes different meditative practices and what they can do for the practitioner. The idea that meditation is “spiritual” is often confusing to people, Kabat-Zinn writes; he prefers to think of it as what you might call a workout for your consciousness. This book makes learning meditation remarkably easy (although practicing it is not). But it also makes it seem infinitely appealing.