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Mindfulness, or awareness is not only thoughts, but also involves heart, and body: it "gives us many more options for how we might choose to be in relationship to whatever arises in our minds and hearts, our bodies and our lives."
Introduction to the Second Edition
Personally, from my very first exposure to the practice of mindfulness, I was astonished and heartened by its nurturing effects in my own life. That sense has not diminished over the past forty-five-plus years. It has only deepened and grown more reliable, like an old and trustworthy friendship, sustaining in even the hardest of times, and at the same time, hugely humbling.
[quote, William James]
“… we all have reservoirs of life to draw upon of which we do not dream.”
It comes directly out of our ability to take a larger perspective, to realize that we are bigger than who we think we are.
Since no map completely describes a territory, ultimately it has to be experienced in order for us to know it, navigate within it, and benefit from its unique gifts. It has to be inhabited or, at the very least, visited from time to time, so that we can experience it directly, firsthand, for ourselves.
In the case of mindfulness, that direct experiencing is nothing less than the great adventure of your life unfolding moment by moment, starting now, where you already are, wherever that is, however difficult or challenging your situation.
from our point of view, as long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you, no matter what is wrong.
Over the next eight weeks, we are going to pour energy in the form of attention into what is right with you—much of which we never notice or take for granted, or don’t fully develop in ourselves—and let the rest of the medical center and your health care team take care of what is “wrong,” and just see what happens.
As you will see, it involves a willingness to drop in on yourself, to live more in the present moment, to stop at times and simply be rather than getting caught up in endless doing while forgetting who is doing all the doing, and why.
And part of the beauty of it, as we shall see, is that you don’t have to do anything other than to pay attention and stay awake and aware.
at the end of the eight weeks, you can tell us whether it was a waste of time or not. But in the interim, even if your mind is telling you constantly that it is stupid or a waste of time, practice anyway, and as wholeheartedly as possible, as if your life depended on it. Because it does—in more ways than you think.
“A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.” Here is the first paragraph of that paper:
Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, and contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation. Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost. Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and “to be here now.” These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Are they right?
“No matter what people are doing, they are much less happy when their minds are wandering than when their minds are focused,” and “we should pay at least as much attention to where our minds are as to what our bodies are doing—yet for most of us, the focus of our thoughts isn’t part of our daily planning … we ought to [also] ask, ‘What am I going to do with my mind today?’”
As you will see, becoming aware of what is on our minds from moment to moment, and of how our experience is transformed when we do, is precisely what mindfulness practice
And just for the record, mindfulness is not about forcing your mind not to wander. That would just give you a big headache. It is more about being aware of when the mind is wandering and, as best you can, and as gently as you can, redirecting your attention and reconnecting with what is most salient and important for you in that moment, in the here and now of your life unfolding.
We don’t even have to ask using thought alone, for we are capable of feeling how it is in the mind, in the heart, in the body—right in this moment. This feeling, this apprehending, is another way of knowing for us, beyond merely thought-based knowing. We have a word for it in English: awareness.
To cultivate mindfulness, requires that we pay attention and inhabit the present moment, and make good use of what we see and feel and know and learn in the process. As you will see, I define mindfulness operationally as the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
Awareness is not the same as thinking. It is a complementary form of intelligence, a way of knowing that is at least as wonderful and as powerful, if not more so, than thinking.
Moreover, when we speak of mindfulness, it is important to keep in mind that we equally mean heartfulness. In fact, in Asian languages, the word for “mind” and the word for “heart” are usually the same. So if you are not hearing or feeling the word heartfulness when you encounter or use the word mindfulness, you are in all likelihood missing its essence. Mindfulness is not merely a concept or a good idea. It is a way of being. And its synonym, awareness, is a kind of knowing that is simply bigger than thought and gives us many more options for how we might choose to be in relationship to whatever arises in our minds and hearts, our bodies and our lives. It is a more-than-conceptual knowing. It is more akin to wisdom, and to the freedom a wisdom perspective provides.
paying attention to our thoughts and emotions in the present moment is only one part of a larger picture. But it is an extremely important part.
Over the years, I have increasingly come to realize that mindfulness is essentially about relationality—in other words, how we are in relationship to everything, including our own minds and bodies, our thoughts and emotions, our past and what transpired to bring us, still breathing, into this moment—and how we can learn to live our way into every aspect of life with integrity, with kindness toward ourselves and others, and with wisdom.
“We know that people are happiest when they’re appropriately challenged—when they’re trying to achieve goals that are difficult but not out of reach. Challenge and threat are not the same thing. People blossom when challenged and wither when threatened.”
“If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network—about your friends and family, and the strength of your bonds with them.”
mindfulness, as we’ve seen, is all about relationality and relationship—with yourself and with others.
Even the tiniest manifestation of mindfulness in any moment might give rise to an intuition or insight that could be hugely transforming.
If nurtured consistently, those nascent efforts to be more mindful often grow into a new and more robust, more stable way of being.
if we can sustain our awareness, it shapes the future—and the quality of our lives and relationships, often in ways we simply cannot anticipate.
JON KABAT-ZINN, MAY 28, 2013
This book is an invitation to the reader to embark upon a journey of self-development, self-discovery, learning, and healing.
MBSR: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. 20,000 people over 34 years.
From the perspective of mind-body medicine, mental and emotional factors, the ways in which we think and behave, can have a significant effect, for better or for worse, on our physical health and our capacity to recover from illness and injury and lead lives of high quality and satisfaction, even in the face of chronic disease, chronic pain conditions, and endemically stressful lifestyles.
It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to.
developing new kinds of agency, control, and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacity for paying attention and on the awareness, insight, and compassion that naturally arise from paying attention in specific ways.
But if escape and avoidance become our habitual ways of dealing with our problems, the problems just multiply. They don’t magically go away.
facing our problems is usually the only way to get past them.
When we are able to mobilize our inner resources to face our problems artfully, we find we are usually able to orient ourselves in such a way that we can use the pressure of the problem itself to propel us through it, just as a sailor can position a sail to make the best use of the pressure of the wind to propel the boat.
if you know how to use the wind’s energy and are patient, you can sometimes get where you want to go. You can still be in control.
you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to the feel of the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.
Some of our biggest stresses actually come from our reactions to the smallest, most insignificant events when they threaten our sense of control in one way or another.
“Zorba, have you ever been married?” to which Zorba: "Am I not a man? Of course I’ve been married. Wife, house, kids … the full catastrophe!”
It was not meant to be a lament, nor does it mean that being married or having children is a catastrophe.
Zorba’s response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, traumas, tragedies, and ironies.
ever since I first heard it, I have felt that the phrase “the full catastrophe” captures something positive about the human spirit’s ability to come to grips with what is most difficult in life and to find within it room to grow in strength and wisdom. For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is deepest and best and ultimately, what is most human within ourselves.
The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything.
This art will involve learning to see ourselves and the world in new ways, learning to work in new ways with our bodies and our thoughts and feelings and perceptions, and learning to laugh at things a little more, including ourselves
We might extend Zorba’s list to include not only wife or husband, house and children, but also work, paying the bills, parents, lovers, in-laws, death, loss, poverty, illness, injury, injustice, anger, guilt, fear, dishonesty, confusion, and on and on.
his sadness was so apparent that I sat down and talked with him then and there. He said, half to me and half to the air, that he no longer wanted to live, that he didn’t know what he was doing in the Stress Reduction Clinic, that his life was over—there was no more meaning in it, he had no joy in anything, not even his wife and children, and no desire to do anything anymore.
After eight weeks, this same man had an unmistakable sparkle in his eyes.
He went on to say that he realized that he had never told his children he loved them when they were growing up but was going to get started now, while he still had the chance. He was hopeful and enthusiastic about his life and was able for the first time to think about selling his business. He also gave me a big hug when he left, probably the first he had ever given another man.
That first day, he told the class that the pain was so bad he just wanted to cut off his feet. He didn’t see what meditating could possibly do for him, but things were so bad that he was willing to give anything a try. Everybody felt incredibly sorry for him.
The transition from wheelchair to crutches to cane spoke volumes to us all as we watched him from week to week. He said at the end that the pain hadn’t changed much but that his attitude toward his pain had changed a lot.
Usually people leave the program thanking us for their improvement. But actually the progress they make is entirely due to their own efforts. What they are really thanking us for is the opportunity to get in touch with their own inner strength and resources,
When they began, it was with thoughts that the program could or might or probably wouldn’t do something for them. But what they found was that they could do something very important for themselves that no one else on the planet could possibly do for them.
This “work” involves above all the regular, disciplined cultivation of moment-to-moment awareness, or mindfulness—the complete “owning” and “inhabiting” of each moment of your experience, good, bad, or ugly. This is the essence of full catastrophe living.
One way to think of this process of transformation is to think of mindfulness as a lens, taking the scattered and reactive energies of your mind and focusing them into a coherent source of energy for living, for problem solving, and for healing.
it is no accident that mindfulness comes out of Buddhism, which has as its overriding concerns the relief of suffering and the dispelling of illusions.
all you need to remember is to suspend judgment for the time being—including any strong attachment you might have to a desired outcome, however worthy and desirable and important it may be—and simply commit yourself to practice in a disciplined way, observing for yourself what is happening as you go along.
What you will be learning will be coming primarily from inside you, from your own experience as your life unfolds from moment to moment, rather than from some external authority, teacher, or belief system. Our philosophy is that you are the world expert on your life, your body, and your mind, or at least you are in the best position to become that expert if you observe carefully.
Part of the adventure of meditation is to use yourself as a laboratory to find out who you are and what you are capable of.
I/ The Practice of Mindfulness: Paying Attention
1 - You Have Only Moments to Live
[quote, NADINE STAIR]
Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.