How Mindfulness came to the West - part 1

Forty years ago [1978] Mindfulness was an exciting synthesis of eastern philosophy and western psychology. Jon Kabat-Zinn , a microbiologist at the university of Massachusetts medical centre, coined the term mindfulness [from the same roots as meditation] because the practice of meditation was seen as too controversial at that time in the West, too ‘new age’, too ‘hippie’.

However, it was the hippie generation of young travellers to the East in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s (the Beatles embraced the hippies) who brought yoga and meditation to the West, and began to teach. Some of these travellers seeking experience, hospitality, and ‘enlightenment’ found themselves in Buddhist monasteries and Hindu ashrams imbibing the teachings, experiencing altered states of consciousness, and becoming monks and nuns in India, Tibet, Thailand, across Laos Vietnam, Cambodia, and China to Japan.

Of course there were other explorers of the mind in the East before them including Christmas Humphreys, Allan Watts, and in the 60’s Ram Dass [aka professor Richard Alpert of Princeton University] to name a few.

My own [Jini’s] Zen Master, Roshi, Sister Elaine McInnes, a Canadian Roman Catholic nun [originally trained as a concert flautist], inspired by Pope John XX111’ s 1962 encyclical (document concerning Catholic doctrine) which said that the religious should go out from their monasteries and convents to explore other beliefs and religions, took herself to Japan to study Buddhism and become a Buddhist nun, while maintaining her Roman Catholic nun status!

Thus she contributed to the secularisation of meditation. Over a period of 40 years she studied and became a Roshi in Japan and then founded a Zendo (a meditation hall) in the Phillipines and taught meditation to prisoners in jail, and in the 90’s moved to Oxford and took over the running of the Prison Phoenix trust [a charity to teach yoga and meditation to inmates in prison in England] and founded the Oxford Zendo. And then I got involved!…

Back to News / Blog Index