About the presenter: Stefan Bogdanov was born in 1946 in Sofia, Bulgaria. He has been a stutterer since about three years old. Had different useless logopedic treatments. Graduated from the English gymnasium in Sofia in 1965. Then left Bulgaria for Switzerland and graduated in 1974 with a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Berne, Switzerland. Married with two children. Professional career as applied biochemist at the Swiss Bee Research Centre for 24 years. Member of the Toastmasters Club of Bern since 2002, holding the Advanced Communicator Bronze. Retired to new bee product research activities since 2006 at www-bee-hexagon.net. Hobbies: guitar playing, singing and foreign languages.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to the author before October 22, 200.

Addressing Fear Through Meditation: Zen and Stuttering

by Stefan Bogdanov
from Switzerland

Like probably any person who stutters (PWS), I dream to attain a special state of mind which will allow me to be fluent. Every PWS experiences moments of fluent speech and thus a "fluent mind". So why not try to reach this fluent mind forever? The effortless spontaneous and fluent, so called "Zen speaking" is described in John Harrisons's article Zen in the art of Speaking,(www.mnsu.edu/comdis/kuster/Infostuttering/Harrison/Zenandspeaking.html)

I started Zen practice when I was 25 years old, seeking a solution to a life crisis. Although I have practiced Zen for many long years I would never recommend to PWS to do Zen or mindfullness meditation in order to achieve fluency. We should never begin meditation practice because we want to get rid of something or to become something. We should start such practice because we want to address our life problems, to make our life more meaningful and to understand why we suffer. But somewhere in the back of my mind I was also hoping to get relief from my stutter. At that time I got an answer for my life crisis, but I did not get any improvement in my speaking. On the contrary, after intensive Zen sittings and sessions I had more speaking problems which resulted from my increased body tension. At that time the sitting periods in Zen meditation sessions in the West were quite long and which is strenuous for people who are not used to sitting for a long time. My experience is that sitting periods for PWS should not be longer than 25-30 minutes, in order to avoid body strain and tension. Also, meditation can be practiced by sitting comfortably on a chair.

After 10 years of Zen practice I started practicing Vipassana, or mindfulness Buddhist meditation, which is very similar to Zen. In both methods the student meditates while registering breath, thoughts and feelings without interfering with them. Then, at the age of 40 I stopped formal meditation practice, thinking that it would be possible to be mindful during the day while concentrating fully to my daily activities.  Now I regret this, because I know that regular meditation is necessary for mindful daily activity.

After my retirement I resumed my meditation practice for half an hour every morning. At present I prefer to sit by myself, although on other occasions I have found it good to sit in a group.

How does mindfulness meditation address my fears and especially my speaking fears? The mind, conditioned to my experience, constantly produces fears, ideas and expectations of how I am going to speak, to react, what might be happening to me, etc. And regarding stuttering, it produces fears that I might block at my t's and p's.

Apart from blocking fears, similar mind games are played in every human brain. Zen and other correct meditation techniques work against this game by being constantly aware of it in the present moment. The habit of imagining how I would speak in the future and what I should do to prevent my stuttering was a major factor in my chronic blocking. In my Toastmasters practice I experience that my speech is at its best when I can concentrate on the subject, connect to the audience and just be myself. Being mindful when others talk is also very helpful. This keeps the mind busy and helps stop the habit of worrying about the future.

Meditation practice aims at developing an empty, open mind, addressing reality from moment to moment. This is the mind of the always curious little child. When I sit I sit, when I eat, I eat, when I drink, I drink. And when I speak, I speak. A Zen saying says: "Spontaneity is the only truth." By this "just observing," my speaking fears were reduced and which allowed me to speak more fluently.

Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a technique based on mindfulness meditation, and was developed by Jon Kabat Zin, Massuchusets. This technique has a proven effect on symptom reduction of many body and mental diseases, the most interesting for PWS being stress and fear reduction. I would recommend this technique to PWS wishing to address and eventually reduce their speaking fears.

Zen, mindfulness or similar meditation practice could be helpful for those PWS who want to address their life problems, to understand why they suffer and to make their life more meaningful and fulfilling. By addressing our whole self we understand that our stuttering is suffering and that it is connected to many different aspects of our life.

I am now generally fluent when I talk or give a speech. On occasions I might still experience tension and stutter, but this, too, is OK. My speaking fears have not completely disappeared, although they have significantly decreased. But I am patient. I sit regularly and try to practice mindfulness in my daily life. I am confident that my meditation practice transforms my mind and my daily life, and as a result, also my speech, little by little.

We cannot see how grass grows but it does.

Further Reading

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to the author before October 22, 2009.

SUBMITTED: January 7, 2009
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