The Way of Awareness - An immersion Experience in Mindfulness and Heartfulness

Published by Martina Esberger on

Retreat June 2022 with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Will Kabat-Zinn

With great curiosity and joy I drove at the beginning of June towards Arlberg on the retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn and his son Will, announced since 2020. The 5-day retreat took place in Rankweil, a place in the German-speaking border triangle in the far west of Austria.


The Corona pandemic had brought travel to a complete standstill for some time. After more than two years of getting used to the new type of virus, long-haul flights across the Atlantic were possible again. The retreat took place under strong pandemic security precautions. Each participant had to be triple vaccinated and PCR tested upon arrival. The wearing of masks was recommended during the event and further antigen testing in between helped to detect any infectious events in a timely manner.

Nearly two hundred people interested in Mindfulness took the often long journey to spend a few days in silence with the pioneer of the modern mindfulness movement, to listen to his words and to be inspired by father and son.

Jon Kabat ZInn Arbor

Jon Kabat-Zinn ( June 5, 1944 in New York), professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester received his PhD in molecular biology from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). His research focused on mind/body interactions in the healing and clinical applications of mindfulness training for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders. The development and success of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, an 8-week mindfulness course combining exercises from Hatha Yoga, Vipassana, and Zen, helped bring mindfulness into the mainstream. Today, mindfulness training and MBSR courses are used around the world in hospitals, schools, universities, corporations, prisons, and in politics.

Mindfulness is often called the heart of Buddhist meditation, although it is much more than that. In its most basic manifestation, mindfulness is one of the basic functions of consciousness, without which there is no object perception at all. The Theravada monk and Buddhist scholar, Nyanaponika Thera, describes mindfulness as follows:

"The key to the knowledge of the spirit, opening even that which is hidden, and thus the point of application; The never-failing tool for the shaping of the spirit, and thus the pivot; The landmark of the liberation of the spirit won, and thus the height and final point."

Nyanaponika, Mind Training through Mindfulness, Verlag Beyerlein & Steinschulte, 2007

The sequence of the intensive retreat allowed us to perceive our own experience in all its facets, in harmony with awareness or continuous "awareness". At 6:00 am we were already sitting in silence on cushions, stools or on chairs. In the evening at 10:00 pm the day came to an end. Moving seamlessly from sitting meditation to walking or moving meditation, we maintained "awareness" moment by moment. Four of the five retreat days were spent in stillness, in resonance with ourselves, sitting, walking, standing, lying down, eating, and especially step by step in the walking meditation, during which the soles of our feet touched the floor, almost as if in dance. In specific times of mindful dialogue and sharing of individual experience, talking was allowed. The absence of communication with each other, a ban on cell phones and thus the constant distractions we are usually exposed to, led to the building of a very intense, subtle field in the meditation space that was palpable.

In the instructions and repeatedly commenting on participants' questions or experiences, Jon and Will addressed numerous applications of mindfulness, especially given the human condition, which includes pain, stress, illness, one's own assumptions and implicit biases, to include the larger contexts of human-driven climate disregulation and social inequalities.

Jon Kabat-Zinn_Father and Son

The interaction of father and son was a wonderful experience. The Buddhist-influenced wisdom of Jon and the natural, contemporary insights of Will made the retreat a touching, unique, inspiring experience for me personally. May there be many more retreats of this kind. I look forward to seeing them again and in the meantime I cultivate "Heartfullness" in connection with the ever present "awareness" that connects us all, here in the retreat and with all living beings of creation.

Images: Copyright author (image 1 and 3), Arbor Publishing 2022 (image 2 and 4).