Ten years ago, Linda entered the classroom at the hospital where I teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, using a special walker that she could maneuver with one hand as one arm was in sling. The walker had a pouch in the front, in which sat her bright-eyed service dog a small white poodle named Kudzu. Whereas Kudzu looked me square in the eye as if to say “what are you going to do to my person?” Linda’s eyes were cast down as she looked around nervously for a place to sit. I approached her, greeted her and helped her get situated. She sighed. “It’s really stressful coming to this stress reduction program, but then everything is stressful”.

“I know it is Linda, and I appreciate your efforts to be here.” I had met Linda at the orientation session where folks from the community come to learn about MBSR and see if the class is right for them. It also gives me time to meet with those who do sign up and make sure it is a good fit. What I knew about Linda was that she had recently moved to the Southern California Desert from Seattle where she had been an engineer, highly positioned in a tech company. In the last year she come down with a complex neurological disorder that could not be easily diagnosed or treated. She suffered from seizures, chronic pain and frequent falls. She could not take care of herself.

When we met last week she told me, “I’ve pretty much lost everything. My career, my work in social action, my partner and my tennis which was like a religion to me. I am in incredible pain physically and emotionally. I am under clinical trials at the Mayo clinic, but I want to take as much of the class as I can.  It’s my last resort. Do you think it can help me?”

“I think this is an important question, one that we might explore together over the next eight weeks. I try not to make guarantees but I have seen this program serve and transform many lives, lives of people in quite challenging situations as you are in now. I feel it is worth a try.” I said. “It seems like you have a lot of courage and determination.” She visibly brightened just for a moment as if she had forgotten there was more to her than her disabilities.

I suspect that if you’ve picked up this book you may have some sense of what MBSR is and what Linda was about to embark on. If not, stick with me! I suspect that while you may not have had the exact type of illness or losses you have been touched by pain and grief in some form. Perhaps your suffering is the tremendous loss of a child or spouse, a great change in your finances, your work load, or the pain of the planet itself. I suspect you too have suffered and looked for answers simply because you too are human.

During the eight weeks of the class Linda applied the same diligence she had used in her many fields of success prior to her illness. She found great peace in the meditation practices and began to relate to her situation differently. In the third class she said, “This week when I had a flare up instead of saying ‘This is a bad day’, I found myself saying ‘this is a bad moment’ and then later, ‘This is a different day.’ In fact I am gradually replacing the words bad or hard with different. It changes the way I feel about it.”

By the end of the class, on the outside not much had changed. Linda was still undergoing diagnostic testing. She had not gotten her job, her partner or her tennis back. But something changed on the inside. She was at peace a great deal more of the time. “I’m starting to be OK with the life I have now, which eight weeks ago I didn’t think was possible.”  Linda’s relationship to her situation changed dramatically, through her participation in this program founded upon meditative practices. At the end she gave me an exquisite orchid that blooms twice a year and whenever I see it I think, “Ahh, Linda is blooming too”.  We’ve stayed in touch all these years and so I know that she is.

She called me two weeks after the program ended and said she wanted to learn more about the origins of these practices that had helped her so much and to delve into the teachings of the Buddha. In my experience of teaching MBSR this is not that common, for many people the program stands them in good stead and their continued practice sustains them for years to come. When it does happen I support the student as I did with Linda. I invited her to come and practice at the Buddhist Center where I, along with several other teachers practice and teach in the Buddhist tradition every Sunday. I also suggested some books, and on her own she found a teacher, a Buddhist nun who worked with her one on one.

She became a regular at the center, and even volunteered at special events, she and Kudzu sitting at the registration table for our classes and daylong retreats. After about five years she started a group for people in chronic pain.  She said, “I want to pass the great relief I’ve found on this path on to others.”

When the idea of this book came up I thought Linda would be great person to talk with. I asked, “What, if anything, did exploring the teachings of the Buddha add to your practice, and/or your life?”

“It helped me put my suffering in a bigger container.” She said succinctly. I thought I knew what she meant, but I asked her to say a little more.

“You know the story about the salt?” She asked. “Tell me” I said.

“There was a student of the Buddha who despite years of practice suffered terribly. One day after trying many things the Buddha told him to take a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water and drink it down. “How did it taste?” he asked

“Very salty.”

“Now put in this large jug. How does it taste now?”
“Not so salty.”

“And now put the salt in the stream here and drink from the stream.”

“The student did as instructed and his suffering was alleviated, he became free.” She said. “That is what continuing on the path of the Buddha has done with me and my condition. The stream for me is seeing my wholeness and the whole of humanity. I also appreciate the teachings on ethics and the connection to our hearts through the teachings on lovingkindness. To be honest Beth, those were missing from my life even before I became ill. I had lost a connection to my deepest values and to my capacity to care in my drive to succeed and in my constant busyness. I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, but I love the teachings and am grateful for the path”.

This time spent with Linda over a cup of tea told me exactly what I needed to know to write this book. As you’ll discover shortly, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, was founded on Buddhist teachings, and many people like myself came to MBSR through the “Dharma door,” that is we were Buddhist practitioners, long before we learned about the riches of MBSR. When we did discover them it seems like a skillful vehicle to offer relief to people who might not want to come through that door. And the flip side is when I teach MBSR to Buddhist practitioners they say, “ I learned so much through the connection to my body. I learned how to apply my practice in everyday life in a way I never saw before, or “I now really get the Mind-body Connection.”

Whatever direction you come from my wish is that this book and the ancient and modern teachings it is founded upon, will offer you another facet of the jewel that is your own wisdom and your own goodness. My hope is that it will connect you to your values and your heart and allow you to place your suffering in a much bigger container, the whole universe.

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