The Mindful Society:
The Secret of Success for MBSR
Boyce talks to the authors of the new, groundbreaking interactive book, A
Stress Reduction Workbook, and reports on his visit to the annual
the Center for Mindfulness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn has this story he likes to tell about the early days of the stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester. It was 1979 and he had found space in a basement room to offer training to a few patients who—like most people who take up Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction—were looking for relief from pain. The participants were spread out around the room, lying on their backs on the floor, when a squad of doctors in white lab coats stormed in. They wanted to know what was going on. Kabat-Zinn told them his group was scheduled to use the space, and the head doctor responded, “Are these our patients?” Told that was indeed the case, the doctor didn’t protest. “Very well then,” he said, “we’ll find another room.”
Kabat-Zinn recounts this incident to illustrate that a crucial reason for the acceptance and spread of MBSR is that, in essence, it’s simply about helping people. However, another key component is the way that he and Saki Santorelli, director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, have protected the integrity of the eight-week program—now completed by more than eighteen thousand people and offered in over 250 hospitals—without trying to exert strong control over it. They’ve provided guidance to people who have developed offshoots, so long as the offshoots aren’t called MBSR, and they have allowed the elements that make up the program to be offered in creative ways.
One of the latest projects they’ve given their blessing to is the publication of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, by Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein. The book, which provides graded, guided instruction and inquiry supplemented with audio instructions, grew out of work Stahl and Goldstein did on providing stress reduction training through distance learning. Users of the workbook are encouraged to engage in the readings and practices according to a timeline and to connect with others who are doing the same through the www.mbsrworkbook.com website.
The authors see the workbook as a “technology” that goes beyond the traditional book: readers are regarded as users who can become part of a loosely organized community through the website and social networking tools like Facebook. The book reaches out to people who are, as Stahl told me, in “pain, stress, and difficulty, as I have been.” Rather than a “static read,” it is conceived of as a guidebook for a journey.