Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the stress reduction program mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), is also a founding member of the Cambridge Zen Centre. In this small volume titled “Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief”, Kabat-Zinn offers a few techniques revolving around the practice of mindfulness, to alleviate both the physical distress as well as the mental anguish suffered by people gripped by chronic pain. These are patients who have been advised at various stages in their lives by a myriad of medical practioners to “learn to live with pain”. This “community of the afflicted”, according to the author can take recourse to MBSR whose objective is to strive to be at ‘home’ with pain if not transcending it.
The recognition that living with pain is a type of ‘minuet’ is the first stage in overcoming an attitude of resignation and a defeatist reconciliation. Urging his readers to “tune in”, Kabat-Zin appeals to them to turn pain into an ally. If one was to experience pain experientially and experimentally then the attribute of pain ceases to be an irritant. The once dreaded usurper of hopes transforms first into a trusted ‘teacher’ before donning the mantle of a friend.
The MBSR therapy spans eight weeks in its entirety and requires the eager beaver to unfailingly devote a certain stretch of time on a daily basis. There are no set limits for the number of minutes or hours that one ought to engage on MBSR. So long as the practice is sustained and consistent, even a few minutes each day in the initial phases would suffice, according to the author. The concept of MBSR took shape for the first time in the year 1979 at the University of Massachusetts. Currently, MBSR is being implemented across medical centres around the world.
At the nub of MBSR is the concept of ‘moment-to-moment awareness’. In the same vein in which we come consciously or even unconsciously aware of bodily sensations such as sound, smell, sight, touch etc. one can also develop an acute awareness of the pain in the ‘now’. Developing awareness does not mean recognising the pernicious nature of the pain and wallowing in it but being non-judgmental about the entire experience. The key is to develop an awareness of the pain, in pain. The book lays out seven principles to alter the experiencer’s relationship with pain.
Living and inhabiting the present moment, tuning away from default options such as self-blame and a compulsive recourse to drugs etc are some of the suggestions. There is also a guided meditation technique that is available in the book for the interested and the uninitiated. The potential of MBSR seeks to rend asunder ‘outcomes’, and not being attached to outcomes, including those that are as natural and understanding as it is to ‘want some.’
Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief is a reliable primer for all those who are interested in engaging in the practice of MBSR.
(Mindfulness Meditation for Pain Relief: Practices to Reclaim Your Body and Your Life – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is published by Sounds True Publishing and will be available for sale on the 4th of April 2023)
Thank You Net Galley for the Advance Reviewer Copy!