A PSA About Stress


As you may know, I'm trained by Brown University's Mindfulness Center to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the 8-week program that has become the gold standard for mindfulness training. It was created by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979, who frequently describes it as an initiative intending to shift the bell curve of humanity toward greater health, well-being, and wellness.


The Public Service Announcement (PSA)

In Kabat-Zinn's Full Catastrophe Living, where he writes about that initiative and more, right on the cover of the book, the subtitle is "Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness." That subtitle is crucial to the understanding of MBSR and how it differs from other mindfulness practices as well as from positive psychology.

  • Using the wisdom of your body and mind. Notice that body is first, and that's because the first foundation of mindfulness is mindfulness of the body. You're not going to change your relationship patterns, your behavioral patterns, your relationship to pain, or the stories you have about how you got to be where you are, without investigating the sensations occurring in your body. No amount of conversation about Why is going to get you there if your Why doesn't include your body. The reason people focus on the Why, however, is because it allows them to pretend that their mind is where the answers are. It perpetuates the myth of the primacy of thinking and of the mind.

  • to face stress, pain, and illness. We're facing stress, pain, and illness—not immediately pivoting to something pleasing or trying to get rid of our unwanted experiences the second they arise. They are, after all, part of us, and our intention is to be able to meet all our parts and take a good look at them. We might then opt out of doing that after a bit, but no one is going to build resilience by fleeing from things they don't like. That's not going to stop those things from arising/arriving and it's not going to grow the ability to handle discomfort.

What Stress Reduction Really Is

Stress needs its own brief discussion. Once you're able to experience it for what it is—your brain allocating resources because it's predicting you're going to need them—you're able to slow down the creation of "stress" and parse it. Perhaps you notice that your brain's prediction tends to be wrong in a certain situation and you don't need that surge of adrenalin it thinks you need. After all, it's just information: an alert of sorts that can be viewed as helpful because it provides you with insight into your past and how you used to meet your circumstances (including the arrival of certain people on the scene). You're able to learn about yourself and break patterns that weren't serving you. That's what stress reduction is referring to.


On the other hand, maybe that allocation of resources you experience as stress is necessary and useful in the moment. If it is, do you see how teaching yourself to immediately pivot or avoid or distract when the feeling arises wouldn't be a good idea? What you need is the power of discernment, and you don't get to discernment by way of distraction. You get there by spending some time with what you're feeling and with the thoughts you've attached to those feelings. You don't want to blunt what could be crucial information. What you want to do is reduce the odds of getting information that has a history of being misleading. You want to learn and practice discernment.


On Reading vs. Experiencing

Reading about these distinctions, and I'd like to add another one—positivity isn't part of MBSR—is important as seeds are planted, thought patterns might change, and experiences might follow. We are indeed changed with new information, but not for long if we don't do anything with it. However, experiencing this information first hand is how you jumpstart practicing a new way of being and create sustained change. Hence, the significance of practicing this new way of being, real time, with your actual life experience as your laboratory.


Finally, although I love the idea of asynchronous learning, such as on-demand videos and apps, a significant amount of learning takes place immediately following MBSR practice. In that moment, when I say, "What's here now?" lies the opportunity to discuss what's happening inside you with a trained, experienced guide. That moment of active engagement followed by feedback and reflection maximizes learning. On-demand learning and apps don't allow for it. Net message? Particularly at first, being live, and with other people, boosts learning and epiphanies in a way that's inaccessible absent those conditions.


I'm committed to making MBSR accessible to all who are dedicated, in earnest, to attending and participating in the entire course, including the retreat. The cost is currently $200, which is half the usual cost, and if that's not possible for you please contact me.


Have a peaceful day.

mm