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Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield on practicing "sensitivity to now"

Jack Kornfield

A different energy filled the Cemex auditorium of the Stanford Graduate School of Business the evening in May that Jack Kornfield, PhD, spoke. Attendees showed up early, chatted calmly or sat quietly and were asked to turn off their phones. A petite woman with red-rimmed circular glasses seemed to be performing a walking meditation through the ailes and across the stage as she helped people get settled. Kornfield eased into an armchair flanked by plants and spoke softly into a microphone, explaining that he had been under the weather and we would just have to listen closely.

The Buddhist teacher, author, doctor of clinical psychology and founder of Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, Calif., gave a talk called "Mindfulness, Love and Graceful Living in Fast Times." The event was part of the TT & WF Chao Distinguished Buddhist Practitioner Lectures at Stanford, co-sponsored by the Ho Center for Buddhist Studies and Stanford Continuing Studies.

"Buddhist teachings at their heart are a science of the mind," Kornfield said, explaining that the original teachings of Buddhism are a description of human happiness and human suffering. While recent scientific studies have attempted to quantify health benefits of meditation and mindfulness, Kornfield spoke more to the heart of why the practices mattered. He also led the audience in a close-eyed guided meditation to move from talk to action, practicing "sensitivity to now."

Kornfield explained that loving-kindness, a type of meditation, requires presence, which he described as possessing "clarity, graciousness and respect" allowing you "to see what's so without reacting to it." Rather than sit still in response to human suffering, however, a present mind chooses how to act. "Mindfulness teaches you to listen to your body and feelings," he said, emphasizing that mindfulness must be paired with loving-kindness for good effect. "We live our life from feelings, but we're not always aware of them."

Addressing the fast pace of a technology-filled society, Kornfield reminded the audience, "You can take a break, a walk, a meditation" to step out of the rhythm of multi-tasking. Bringing the practice of presence beyond the forest or retreat center, he used email as an example of how to bring mindfulness and loving-kindness to your and others' everyday experience. "Before you press send, ask, 'What's my best intention?'" Revise as necessary.

Previously: Research brings meditation’s health benefits into focus, The science of willpower and Stanford scientists examine meditation and compassion in the brain
Photo by Chris Wesselman Photography

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