How I accidentally went on my first meditation retreat
This summer I had the opportunity to attend a weeklong retreat in upstate New York led by Jon Kabat Zinn and Saki Santorelli. Actually, I signed up for a professional training workshop for people who were considering becoming Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teachers, but like MBSR itself, it was a bit of a bait and switch--but in a good way.
MBSR is a very beneficial adaptation of traditional zen practice. I first encountered MBSR in a Bill Moyers PBS special called Healing and the Mind, and I leaned into MBSR when I struggled with insomnia in 2002. In my own personal experience with MBSR, I never heard a word about dharma, buddhism, or zen.
The MBSR “training seminar” I attended this past summer was fascinating, in that Zinn and Santorelli pulled the curtain back to reveal just how zen they are and how zen MBSR is (and oddly, by association how zen, at least viewed through a certain lens, I might be).
I realize how totally ridiculous it is to talk about “how zen” something is or is not; these words lead inevitably down an imaginary rabbit hole. But especially, because I was recently asked by Momma Zen, to show up somewhere as a “zen mom” the whole thing of what is zen anyway, has been up for me. And between going to this meditation retreat (aka professional workshop), and being asked to show up as a zen mom...I guess I’ll say this. Sure, I’ll answer to zen and, as to what is zen is, I’ll rely on the venerable Justice Potter’s yardstick “I know it when I see it.
I am so grateful to Zinn and Santorelli for tuning their words so that I could show up. I don’t know if I would have signed up for a 7-day meditation retreat, but now that I have, I’ll go again. And this is how their work is so genius--MBSR invites real people using words that resonate with their lives by naming their suffering (are you stressed? do you want to be more professional?), and then gets them to practice.
MBSR, at its very core, is practice. It is meditation served up in three ways: breath meditation, yoga meditation, and body scan meditation. It acknowledges who we are today, by speaking to what ails, and offers a practice, a way, that opens us to become more wholly ourselves--not more zen, not more enlightened, not more buddhist--just more aware in the moment so that we can be there for ourselves and others. Call it what you want, or don't call it anything at all.