Volume 9   Number 1     Fall 2015

Dialogical and Eastern Perspectives on the Self in Practice: Teaching Mindfulness-based
     Stress Reduction in Philadelphia and Seoul

Donald McCown
West Chester University of Pennsylvania

Heyoung Ahn
Seoul Graduate School of Buddhism

pp. 39-80

ABSTRACT. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight-week, group-based course that employs mindfulness meditation and other potentially self-reflective activities to help participants reduce stress and improve wellbeing. While acknowledging debts to various traditions of Buddhism and other “Eastern” philosophies and practices, MBSR presents itself as a secular practice and avoids any explicit statements about theories of the self.  However, the teacher’s seat in an MBSR course offers a view of the implicit conceptions of the self with which participants are engaged, often unreflectively, and presses teachers to undertake their own reflections on such conceptions, as well as on their own working theory or theories of the self.  The authors, who are highly trained and experienced MBSR teachers in two very different cultural contexts, in Philadelphia and Seoul, propose to use the privileged view from their teachers’ seats to observe and reflect on the theories of self that are at play in their MBSR classes. Through an exchange of letters describing their own practical experiences and theoretical commitments, the authors compare and contrast the conceptions of self that are at play in their classrooms and the theories underlying their pedagogical approaches. This epistolary dialogue explores in an open-ended fashion the practical utility of views of self from Buddhist traditions, with particular reference to Zen; from Hermans’s “dialogical self,” and from Gergen’s “relational being,” among others, inviting readers to their own reflections and conclusions.


 Keywords: self narratives; mindfulness meditation; MBSR; dialogical self; Buddhist Psychology