First I thought I had written down the wrong address. Looking for the UCSD Center for Mindfulness, I was certain I was going to see lush gardens, floating lotus-flowers on a lake and at least one Buddha-Statue. But no--as it turns out, there were no such things at this center. It is on the second floor of one of the nondescript office-buildings you can find anywhere in the United States. The practice room is a converted conference room; the huge flat screen television still hangs on the front wall and mercilessly shines light on meditating students.
The students are here for an eight-week-class on Mindfulness Stress Reduction. Started by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, these classes are now offered in over 200 places worldwide. And even though big parts of the class are based on Buddhist teachings, everyday practices in modern day life are always emphasized. “Stress reduction would not be a problem if we lived in a forest monastery and all we had to do was take our bowl and have it filled with rice every day, and sweep the floor. But we don’t live this life!” explains Steven Hickman, director of the UCSD center. “People meditate with the phone ringing, the cat climbing on them, kids coming and going!”
The students I talked to saw some impressive results. Jeff, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis two months ago, and reacts overly sensitive to medication, has less anxiety. “The classes help me cope quite a bit, relax and accept what I have, make me more calm and understand things a little clearer!” Jess, who is still mourning a traumatic miscarriage, attends Buddhist meditation retreats, and values the no-frills attitude of the teachings which no attachment to any religious beliefs, “The classes here have more clarity, more granularity, are more specific. I like that they connect mindfulness and meditation to science.“ Linda who gets upset easily over TV-news and her rebellious child still has a hard time meditating for more than a few minutes. But she also sees results: “I still get angry, but I am not swallowed up by it. I can look at it with a clear head rather than through the fog of anger and contempt.”
To director Steve Hickman these experiences are the best reward for his work. He wants people to understand: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is not about getting into a worry-free, spaced-out state of mind. “It’s about being okay with things as they are. Just acknowledge things without trying to fix them. Because usually it is when we try to change or fix what is going on in our minds it messes things up even more.”