Mindfulness has become a buzzword for being in the moment and appreciating everything that our daily lives encompass, but it is also a deeply valuable practice for helping us deal with all sorts of life challenges. Here, Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the foremost authorities on mindfulness, describes how it can help us come to terms with life’s inevitable ups and downs.
Mindfulness is a wise and potentially healing way of being in relationship to what befalls us in life. And, improbable as it may sound, that includes anything and everything you, or any of us might encounter. Even when facing extremely challenging life circumstances or in their aftermath, there is profound promise associated with the cultivation of mindfulness. You may be surprised at just how wide-ranging its effects are or could be if you are open to at least putting your toe in the waters of formal and informal meditation practice and seeing what unfolds.
As the majority of people who take a MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) programme discover, as well as those who come to mindfulness through some other door, the curriculum is none other than life itself: facing and embracing your life as it is, including whatever you may be dealing with in any given moment. And underscore ‘whatever’. The challenge, as it always is with mindfulness as a practice and as a way of being, is this: how are you going to be in wise relationship to this moment as it is, however it is, including all the annoying, unwanted and terrifying elements that arise on occasion and need facing? Is it possible to be open to the lessons you can learn from approaching life – and all your moments – in a new way?
In my vocabulary, the word healing is best described as coming to terms with things as they are. It doesn’t mean fixing, and it doesn’t mean curing, as in fully restoring an original condition, or making whatever it is that is problematic simply go away. The process and practice of coming to terms with things as they are very much does mean investigating for yourself whether you actually even know how things are or if you just think you do – and therefore, in the very way you choose to go about thinking about your situation, mistake the actuality of things for your narratives about them. Coming to terms with things as they are involves experimenting with how you, we, all of us might redefine and thereby transform our relationship with what is actually so, virtually moment by moment.
When we extend our formal meditation practice into everyday living, life itself becomes our best mindfulness teacher. It also provides the perfect curriculum for healing, starting from exactly where you already are. The prognosis is excellent: that you too can benefit from this new way of being if you throw yourself wholeheartedly into the practice and make use of the various doorways available to you by virtue of who you are and the circumstances in which you find yourself. Every circumstance, however unwanted or painful, is potentially a door into healing. In the world of mindfulness as a practice and as a way of being, there are many, many doors. All lead into the very same room, the room of awareness itself, the room of your own heart, the room of your own intrinsic wholeness and beauty. And both that wholeness and that beauty are already here, and already yours, along with your intrinsic capacity for wakefulness, and thus, wisdom, even under the most trying circumstances.
Within the very cultivation of mindfulness itself, as a formal meditation practice and as a way of being, we discover that we have powerful innate resources that we can draw upon in the face of what is unwanted, stressful, painful or terrifying. We learn that we have countless opportunities to turn toward and to befriend whatever arises rather than to run away from it all or wall it off – to put out the welcome mat so to speak. Why? For the simple reason that it is already here. And the same applies to the wanted, the pleasant, the seductive, to entanglements of all kinds. Those experiences too can become objects of our attention so that we can perhaps be less caught by them or even addicted to them in ways that cause us and others harm or deflect us from our larger intentions and purpose.
This is precisely where mindfulness comes in. It is indeed a new way of being . . . a new way of being in relationship to things as they are in this moment, whether or not we like the circumstances we find ourselves in, and no matter what we think might be the implications those circumstances could portend for the future. In key moments, through the practice itself, we can explore and learn to abide in not knowing, and having that not knowing be OK, at least for now. Getting more familiar and even comfortable with knowing that we don’t know is its own form of profound and healing intelligence. For one thing, it frees us from extremely limiting or largely inaccurate narratives, often fear-based, which we never tire of telling ourselves but hardly ever examine as to whether they are actually true, or true enough for the circumstances we find ourselves in. Most thoughts that have the word should in them probably fall into this category. We think things should be a certain way, but is that actually true?
Adopting mindfulness as a way of being invites what might at first seem to be a tiny shift in how you see yourself and how you see the world. However tiny it may be, it is also huge, profound, and possibly liberating,
Extract from The Healing Power of Mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn, published by Piatkus on 22 November 2018.