The human mind needs its “down time”, too. We all require moments of rest to reflect on the day's events and to make sense of the world. A few hours' sleep each night is not the same as realising true peace of mind. And that, perhaps, is why mindful living has become such an attractive concept for so many people in recent years.
But where did this concept of “mindfulness” originate? For those who have only recently discovered the mindful approach to everyday life, it is often surprising to learn that mindfulness is not a recent creation at all. In fact, its roots and origins stretch back many centuries into the past.
[su_quote cite="Jack Kornfield"]
With mindfulness, we are learning to observe in a new way, with balance and a powerful disidentification.
[/su_quote]Perhaps what has been a more recent phenomenon has been the dissemination of mindful thinking across the planet – enabling new adherents to discover this ancient philosophy for the very first time. And, in achieving this, few teachers have been quite as instrumental as Jack Kornfield.
Jack's story began fairly typically. Born, one of the twins, to Jewish parents in 1945, Jack developed a deep fascination for the cultures of the Far East early on in life. Seeking to broaden his understanding, Jack enrolled at the prestigious Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; graduating in Asian Studies in 1967.
[su_quote cite="Jack Kornfield"]
Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.
[/su_quote]After university, Jack joined the United States Peace Corps and was soon assigned to work with a tropical medicines team in the Mekong River Valley – aiding the Public Health Service of Thailand. Working for some time in the northeastern Isan region of the country, Jack was able to use this time with the Peace Corps to visit many of the world's oldest Buddhist forest monasteries.
It was here that Jack took his first steps on what would become a lifelong journey of learning and understanding Buddhist mindfulness.
The Kammaṭṭhāna Forest tradition of northeastern Thailand is a unique process within Buddhist understanding. It is one which emphasises the balance between thought and action; teaching Buddhism as a process of training the mind to improve one's experiences of everyday life. To the adherents of the Kammaṭṭhāna process, thought precedes all existence.
That Jack Kornfield would find himself working in the Isan region of Thailand is therefore incredibly fortuitous. The introduction of mindful thought into the West can be traced back directly to this time, and Jack's chance encounters with the teachers of the forest tradition. Indeed, as we look back it 's hard to contemplate a way that these lessons could have arrived in the West, had Jack not visited the forest monasteries and become inspired by the teachings of Ajahn Chah at this time.
Jack Kornfield would spend much time with the venerable Ajahn Chah during this period and, under his tutelage, learned the fundamental lessons that he would later develop into Buddhist mindfulness. During his time in Asia, Jack would also meet and study with the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma, and Dipa Ma from India. Together, these three mentors would provide Jack with a broad understanding of meditation, Buddhist tradition, and the Vipassana movement.
The first retreat centre opened its doors in Barre, Massachusetts in February 1976. The cultural significance of that first Insight Meditation Society is such that it is widely regarded as being one of the very first organisations to pioneer the study of the Vipassanā tradition in the Western hemisphere.
By 1974, Jack had already become a founding faculty member of the Naropa Buddhist University in Boulder, Colorado. This was just the first of many positions Jack has held as an instructor and tutor in Vipassanā techniques. These lessons have taken Jack to countless countries around the globe, sharing his knowledge and communicating his insightful views in a way that connects with audiences of all backgrounds. Jack Kornfield is today considered one of the pre-eminent teachers of mindful thought: his approach is both scientific and spiritual, and always seeks to ground matters of universal significance into a context of the everyday. He holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Saybrook University and has led International Buddhist Teacher meetings with the Dalai Lama.
Today, Jack lives at the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California, which he founded, and where he teaches meditation and mindfulness. A passionate advocate for individual freedoms as well as spiritual well-being, Jack is a keen activist and has pioneered the use of social media and podcasting to share his vision of what a more mindful society can look like.
Jack's books have sold more than one million copies worldwide, and have been translated into twenty languages.
Many guided meditations and mindfulness trainings - for example with Tara Brach are available online.
Model Photo: colourbox.com Photo of Jack Kornfield: Marcy Harbut under CC2.0 License
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