Affectionate Awareness

Sounds True is not only a great publisher but Tami Simon does these unbelievable great and meaty interviews with some of her authors and thinkers and writers.

The other week she interview Jon Kabat-Zinn, which you can listen to here or download from iTunes.

Here are some of my favorite passages….

I love this way of looking at “failure”

you can’t imitate anybody else. You have to find your own way, and life being the teacher will show you every time you get caught, every time you get hung up, every time you get attached. All of the things that we most think might be failures are actually just lessons—just the way, I think, Thomas Edison said, after his thousandth try resulted in the light bulb, but [he had] 999 failures, he said, “Those weren’t failures at all. I had 999 ways of knowing how not to make a light bulb.” And so, in that sense, that again is a kind of generous way of looking at it.

Regarding brain research on the effects of meditation:

all this brain research that’s coming out that’s showing not only changes in the activity of the very important regions of the brain that have to do with learning, that have to do with memory, that have to do with executive function and decision-making and emotion regulation. [They’re] not only finding changes in activation of various regions of the brain and the direction of what you might call great cognitive control or greater executive functioning and great emotional intelligence, but they are actually now seeing structural changes in many of these regions of both the neo-cortex and limbic system—the emotional domain of the brain.

So in eight weeks, in MBSR, they’re seeing thickening in various regions of the hippocampus and certain regions of the insula and the neocortex, and then the thinning of the amygdala. If these results turn out to be true, it is really demonstrating (and the irony is that it’s through meditation research) that the human brain is really an organ of experience and it responds to experience by changing its own structure. And its structure is the most complex structure in the known universe, and consists of over a hundred billion neurons, and neurons are only half the population of the human brain. [Those] hundred billion neurons [have] so many connections that, for our purposes, the number of synaptic connections is infinite.

And another, regarding “affectionate attention”:

Mindfulness is—you know, the way I define it operationally, is “the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” And the “non-judgmentally” is the real kicker, because we have judgments and ideas and opinion about just about everything. But that’s where the affectionate attending comes in. It’s not some kind of cold clinical perspective [where] we’re taking on things as you would if you were just thinking about things. It’s actually experiencing a sense of being in relationship to everything that is being experienced because the reality is all relational.

I mean, you can’t touch without being touched, and by extension, all the senses are in some way relational. If you don’t think that when you see that you’re being seen by the world—well, you may not feel that way if you’re living in New York City where everybody averts eye contact. But if you tried to spend the night in the rainforest in the Amazon, say, you’ll have the feeling that you’re being seen, not just that you’re seeing. That you’re being heard, that you’re not just hearing. And you’re being smelled and it’s not just you smelling. And you could very well be being tasted, too, by small creatures, as well as potentially [be] lunch for big creatures.