For 10 minutes on October 23, the Janelia auditorium was silent as every member of the audience listened to the voice of a man at the front of the room.
But Jon Kabat-Zinn had no PowerPoint slides, and he wasn’t talking about his latest research. Instead, he simply asked the entire room, filled with Janelians and members of the local community, to sit up straight in their chairs, close their eyes, and bring their awareness to the present moment.
The guided meditation led by Kabat-Zinn, an author, scientist and pioneer in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, was a special treat for those attending the most recent Dialogues public discussion series.
In a wide-ranging, hour-long conversation with Janelia Executive Director Ron Vale, Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic, shared how he discovered meditation during a talk by Philip Kapleau, one of the founding fathers of American Zen, while he was a graduate student at MIT.
“I’m listening to this at 21 years old and realizing that’s exactly what I am looking for my whole life,” said Kabat-Zinn, who started meditating that day and never stopped. “I felt like it gave me back my life in a certain way. That before that, I was just trying to figure out who I was, and the meditation helped me to realize that maybe it is actually better to not try to too quickly put yourself in a box of some narrative of who you are but to continually inquire into who you are and the nature of human experience.”
Kabat-Zinn implored the audience to bring awareness to everything they do and explained how being in the present moment could improve their lives, the lives of others, and the world around them.
“Life itself is the real meditation practice, and part of the challenge is how much of it are you going to be present for or are you going to miss because you are lost in thought and the own story of me and the narrative and the past and the future,” he said.
The next Dialogues public lecture will be held March 25, 2024, at Janelia. If you live in the Washington, DC, area and would like to receive announcements about upcoming Dialogues events, please join our mailing list.