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A Mindful Foundation

September 21, 2015

In his 40-plus year career, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, has become a pioneer for mindfulness-based practices nationwide and abroad. Since founding the renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, Kabat-Zinn has traveled throughout the world, giving lectures and generously sharing his expertise as others cultivate the practice of mindfulness in health care settings, schools and communities. He has written a dozen books on the topic—and countless articles. So when he shared a particularly candid reflection with Mary Jo Kreitzer, PhD, and her team shortly after she founded the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing, she was not quick to forget it.

“He told us that in the first year after he had opened his clinic, it felt more like he had founded a center of mindlessness and stress production,” says Kreitzer. “His advice was, ‘Don’t just do the work; live the work; think about how you can incorporate mindfulness into everything you do at the center.’ And we have taken that advice very much to heart.” This fall, Kreitzer and the team at the Center will once again welcome Kabat-Zinn to Minnesota as he helps celebrate the Center’s 20th anniversary.

“Jon hasn’t been back here in a while, and he is such an important thought leader in the field,” she says. “We just couldn’t think of anyone
who would be a better fit for this event.”

Kabat-Zinn first met Kreitzer in 1999, when he was in the early stages of forming what is now the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health. Representatives from eight academic medical institutions had convened for a kick-off meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Kreitzer was one of them. “She was with one of the deans from the University of Minnesota, and I had so much respect for what she was trying to do,” recalls Kabat-Zinn. “We hit it off immediately, and our friendship and collaboration began.” 

Kabat-Zinn credits the Center as one of the pioneering institutions to bring mind-body medicine out of “the fringe” — into the realm of mainstream medicine. “She and her colleagues are shifting the bell curve of people’s attitudes toward spirituality and healing and helping them participate in their own movement toward optimizing their health and wellbeing, no matter where they are along that journey,” he says. “The Center has helped show people that whether you have a cancer diagnosis or heart disease or chronic pain, it’s workable to do this ‘interior work’ as a complement to whatever your health care team can do for you.”

The respect between the two friends is very much mutual. Kreitzer says she feels fortunate that Kabat-Zinn connected with the Center in those early years. Thanks in part to Jon’s memorable advice, she and her team wove mindfulness into the Center early on—and it continues to be part of its fabric today. “It’s much more extensive than holding mindfulness classes or teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction. Mindfulness is what we try to bring into all of our teaching and research and consultation. Jon has had a huge influence on keeping us on track with that.”

For 20 years, since the Center’s founding, Kreitzer and her team have created innovative coursework on mindfulness, conducted research on the effect of mindfulness-based practice on chronic diseases and conditions, and began preliminary work to bring mindfulness-based stress reduction into elementary and secondary schools. Kabat-Zinn says the laying of such a solid foundation will allow the Center to dig deeper in the years ahead. “One of the things I would look for in the Center’s future is that kind of continued collaboration with the different medical disciplines — to look at the cost-effectiveness of mind-body-related interventions, their value with different kinds of chronic medical conditions, and also work across the lifespan. The Center is doing many of these things already, but to move forward, we will still need a lot more penetration into medicine and health care—and that presents an opportunity for us for make an even bigger difference in the future.”

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The Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing blog covers a range of integrative health and wellbeing topics. For more information about our blog, contact us at csh@umn.edu