Dear Friends of Our MBSR Newsletter, 

I woke up this morning feeling deep gratitude for the teachers, students and friends, who have graced my life, realizing that I have a responsibility not to sink into despair about everything occurring in Ukraine and the Middle East, but rather to remember the blessings, and to express my gratitude for all I have been given. And perhaps most importantly, to reach out to all of you who have written to see how we are doing or to inquire about joining us on our next MBSR adventure in January.


So. while heeding the all too present reality of the suffering in the world, I feel I have an even greater responsibility to let my heart open as I envision once more sharing this very special path for enhancing well-being, which I think of as a human birth-rite as well as responsibility, on this sunlit day.


And what better way to express this than to send an early Thanksgiving message with the poem from Wendell Berry that I sent out to our community following September 11th, 2001’s horror.



The Peace of Wild Things


When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.


I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 

Wendell Berry

from The Peace of Wild Things And Other Poems (Penguin, 2018)

Among other things, I used to teach a secondary school course called, The History of Philosophy and Religion, East and West, and by some good fortune, on the day I started this letter to you, I came across an article by David Brooks in the NY Times which he called How to Stay Sane in Brutalizing Times. The title reminded me of a title of a talk my husband, Jim, and I gave years ago when we first started teaching Jon Kabat-Zinn’s exceptional MBSR program . (We called that one “How to Stay Sane in an Insane World.”)

In his excellent article, Brooks offers a formula from ancient western wisdom which he says can help us prevent ourselves from shrinking into too small a part of ourselves. He describes it as “skepticism of the head and audacity of the heart.” As those of you who have traveled the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction road know, that formula is not in any way in conflict with the goals of MBSR. Of course, the beauty of MBSR is that it also includes many gifts from the Eastern spiritual tradition as well, including the importance of developing tender awareness of and caring for the body.


Brooks speaks about how the tragic sensibility of Greek Drama teaches us a sense of humility which nurtures a prudent approach to life. MBSR explores body-based skills for “turning with humility, and kindness, toward” whatever is happening in ourselves in this moment, and the too frequently over-looked, under-appreciated, multi-dimensional miracle of us all being living, breathing, feeling, thinking creatures. Perhaps seemingly paradoxically, the cultivation of humility can also lead us toward the experiencing of a wider horizon. And this allows us in certain moments to experience ourselves and others as the magnificent, living, breathing, feeling, thinking creatures that we all have the potential to be.

David Brooks also speaks of the “core counterattack against…dehumanization as being our ability to offer others the gift of being seen.” He says that, “The most practical thing you can do, even in hard times, is to lead with curiosity, lead with respect, work hard to understand the people you might be taught to detest….seeing people with generous eyes.” And MBSR teaches that this begins with practicing this with ourselves, or more specifically, developing the tools for experiencing ourselves, our own bodies, feelings and minds with tenderness and affection. Brooks gives a powerful example of a young woman named Ettie Hillesum, who grew tremendously during the time she spent helping people leading up to and during her time in Auschwitz, by paying deep attention. He describes how “paying deep attention transformed her.” (And, of course, the attention referred to here does not mean mere mental attention or being glued to a bad diet of too much electronic news.)

Long ago, Henry David Thoreau described the task this way in Walden: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” And it shouldn’t be lost on us that Thoreau’s eventual work on Civil Disobedience was a major influence on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. more than a century later.

And in further defense of the necessity for a wiser, more expansive approach to life than challenging circumstances tend to lead us toward, let me close by remembering what I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say years ago when the Dalai Lama asked, “What is modern psychology?” and Jon answered: “Modern psychology is the West’s attempt to alleviate the suffering of those beings who have mistaken a small part of themselves for the whole.” And I loved Jon’s response as I thanked him afterwards for it, and he humbly and warmly conjoined, “I don’t think I ever said anything so good!”


In closing, here comes a Paul McCartney song and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s wonderful Mountain Meditation, along with sincere wishes for us all to be able to turn toward realizing our true potential as co-operative maintainers of this beautiful planet.

Paul McCartney: Blackbird

Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mountain Meditation

With warmest thoughts of you,

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