“What brought you here?”

In the late 1970s, Jon Kabat-Zinn was at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and he thought the mindfulness practices he’d been experimenting with could help patients there. 

This was viewed with skepticism and even derision, but he persisted, starting in conference rooms with small groups of people. He called his eight-week program the “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic” or MBSR. The focus on clinical benefits in a hospital setting helped to normalize what was then an exotic set of practices unsupported by science. 

40 years laters, there are MBSR instructors in more than 30 countries, and almost 80% of medical schools are involved in some kind of mindfulness training or research. 

When someone first entered the clinic, Kabat-Zinn began by asking them, “What brought you here?” Then he listened.

“I learned from this listening that our patients came to the Stress Reduction Clinic for a lot of different reasons that, in the end, were really just one reason: to be whole again, to recapture a spark they once felt they had, or felt they never had but always wanted.”

Most people were looking for something they weren’t getting - from their doctor or from life - and had decided they wanted to take some steps for themselves. 

“They came because they wanted to take charge in their own lives….
They came because some aspect of their lives wasn’t working for them anymore…
And perhaps, above all, they came, and stayed, because we somehow managed to create an atmosphere in the room that invited a deep and open-hearted listening, an atmosphere that the participants could recognize as benign, empathic, respectful, and accepting. That kind of feeling tone, unfortunately, can be an all-too-rare experience.”

The MBSR Program is a good model for what WOL can accomplish, both in how it normalized basic human practices that help individuals realize more of their potential, and how it scaled the changes. I included the question as the first exercise in Week 1 of a Working Out Loud Circle.

As with MBSR, people join WOL Circles for all sorts of reasons. They want to be more effective, accomplish a goal, explore a topic, earn access to new opportunities. But the underlying reason is often a sense that there could and should be more to work and life, “to recapture a spark they once felt they had, or felt they never had but always wanted.”

Since you’re reading this, you’re interested in WOL for some reason. What is it? What brought you here?