5 Questions with Jon Kabat-Zinn

5 Questions with Jon Kabat-Zinn

Renowned mindfulness scientist and teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn will be leading a retreat called “The Way of Awareness” at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, from May 5 to 10, 2019. For more information, go to

1. You’ve said that your whole-mindfulness program came from a 10-second “vision” on a meditation retreat in the woods 80 miles west of Boston. Do you still take retreats?

Yes, I do. That 10 seconds unfolded on retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1979. It is still my favorite place to sit retreats, along with the Forest Refuge and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies.

2. As someone who has become synonymous with mindfulness and calm, is there a place that represents that for you?

Many places in nature certainly do that for me. Retreat centers do, as well, depending on the tradition they represent. Certain people do, too. But in terms of a place that “represents mindfulness,” that place would be wherever you find yourself in the present moment, noisy or quiet, pleasing to the senses or challenging.

As for calm, that can come and go, depending on how equanimous you are with what is actually unfolding in this moment, which can often be far from what we might have hoped for. Life itself becomes one long retreat, if you are open to seeing it that way. I love looking at life that way. Whatever unfolds is the “curriculum” of the retreat, and the challenge always is: How are you going to be in wise relationship with whatever arises, be that wanted or unwanted?

3. And when you go to that place, what do you bring?

Awareness. And intentionality.

4. Does going on a retreat help solve real problems, like global warming?

A rigorous silent meditation retreat is a refuge that offers a priceless opportunity to fine-tune our instrument, and then let it play its true calling, moment by moment. So, there can be an unlimited number of ways in which a silent mindfulness retreat can influence global warming to one extent or another, depending on who is sitting the retreat and what emerges from it. That is a koan of sorts. Mindfulness practice can profoundly influence how we humans conduct ourselves on this planet, both individually and collectively. This moment in the arc of humanity unfolding has never been readier and more in need for us to bring greater wakefulness, compassion, and clear-sightedness to the body politic, and how we treat our one divine abode—that is, planet earth.

5. Any advice for bringing the wisdom of a retreat home?

The same as the advice for getting to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. You brought some wisdom to the retreat, just by virtue of choosing to attend and practice. Wisdom is portable, and it is not “yours.” Each and every one of us needs to listen deeply for our own unique calling and appreciate our profound ability as humans to work with others for the greater good of the world, while attending to whatever is most salient and relevant inwardly and outwardly until there is no fundamental separation between inner and outer.

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