Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
In 1979 , Jon Kabat-Zinn began teaching a class about mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical Center with patients in chronic pain; they were the patients with no other option - the people medicine had forgotten.
The class began as a ten week class but soon became whittled down into today’s format: an eight week class that runs between two and three hours, with an all day class between the sixth and seventh weeks. People who have completed the class previously are welcome to join in with the All Day group, and many do.
From the beginning, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) has been taught to groups of people with a wide variety of treatments for many ailments: chronic pain, depression, psoriasis, insomnia, heart disease, cancer and every conceivable reason to have pain or to be in distress. Rather than focusing on their particular disease with the unique ways in which they were experiencing it, the class focuses on universal human experiences through meditation, mindful gentle movement and discussion, in which only the individual is an authority on his experience.
In the class, using "I" language helps participants stay centered in their own experience and "no advice giving" helps keep participants from“fixing” one another - including the leader!
Clearly, from the beginning there was an acknowledgement that the format of the class has roots in eastern philosophy. Many of the first teachers identified with Buddhism but the language used in teaching is secular, and people from all spiritual paths usually feel comfortable. The teacher’s training continues to emphasize deep knowledge of Buddhist paths, and part of the teacher training is in prolonged silent retreats for a week at a time.
In Buddhism there are "Four Noble Truths" and they feel universal to me, no matter what a person's spiritual path is. The first is that there is stress, there is anguish. It feels like being out of joint, like missing a wheel. The second truth is that suffering comes from clinging to the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant. This is the stress that comes with trying to hold onto things that are constantly changing. The third truth is that liberation is possible and the fourth truth is like a prescription: integrity in understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort and mindfulness and concentration.