During Krista’s recent interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, I was surprised to hear that he attended Haverford College, a small Quaker liberal arts school located just outside of Philadelphia. I helped with some of the Kabat-Zinn research prep and in the rush to compile links for Krista and get library books (in a state more skittish than mindful I should say), I completely missed Kabat-Zinn’s Haverford connection.

You see, I am also a Haverford graduate and, as I listened to Krista’s interview, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Haverford’s Quaker roots may have influenced Kabat-Zinn’s later study of mindfulness meditation. During my time at Haverford in the early 90s, students were not required to attend Quaker meeting, but there was a spell of about a year when I went pretty regularly on Sunday mornings. There I experienced what it’s like to sit in silence with others (on hard wooden benches no less).

After some unsuccessful Google searches, I contacted Haverford this week to see if they had any insights to share about Kabat-Zinn and a possible Quaker connection. Coincidentally, Haverford is putting the final touches on a feature article about Kabat-Zinn that will appear in the spring 2009 alumni magazine. Writer Gloria Hochman Eils Lotozo, from Haverford’s communications office, commented:

“He didn’t say there was a direct correlation between Haverford and meditation, but that his time there in that kind of intense, philosophical environment set the groundwork for his later excursions into meditation.”

I also learned that he lived in French House, which at that time looked out over the college’s iconic duck pond (I’ve posted a picture above so you can see the kind of view Kabat-Zinn may have enjoyed from his dorm room). He studied German, French literature, and Italian opera in addition to majoring in chemistry. Kabat-Zinn — known as Jon Kabat back then — graduated in 1964 when the college was still all-male and students were required to attend fifth day meeting. The yet-to-be published alumni magazine article reports that philosophy professor Douglas Steere had a big influence on him. Kabat-Zinn is quoted describing Steere’s legacy as “a kind of ethics and ethos that had to do with truthfulness and authenticity.”

If we can get an advance copy of the article, we’ll post it here in the coming weeks.

(photo: VictoryGrey/Flickr)


4/28/09 Update: Haverford has released a profile on Jon Kabat-Zinn entitled “Mediator in Chief” in their spring 2009 alumni magazine. You can link to it here.

Share Your Reflection



So how do you square the content of this show with the fact that its host is such an irredeemably awful, sour, angry, spiteful person?

Perhaps Kabat-Zinn was attracted to Haverford because of a predisposition to meditation. What brings anyone to meditation? I'm 58 now and find that meditation has, in effect, crept up on me over the last 20 years, give or take. No doubt I was open to receiving it. Still, though, being truly in this moment remains quite a challenge. Here's a sort of mantra that I've reflected on deeply during the last few years or so: In every moment, you are exactly where you need to be.

The photo of the duck pond is exquisite!

seems to me the Quaker idea of 'way opening' sort of waiting, iwith both attention and rest, for the next thing to happen in a tough circumstance, is present in what Kabat - Zinn says too.

to me music, listening,playing, and thinking about it, is useful in the disciplines he speaks of. too

I am currently studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which uses staying mindfully, in the moment, as one its core principles. Kabat-Zinn is frequently referenced, and I enjoyed very much both the podcast and your written comments about him. Thank you very much, and I will come back to look for the Alumni article. Rita M.