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Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Some of my favourite excerpts…

Guess what? When it comes right down to it, wherever you go, there you are. Whatever you wind up doing, that’s what you’ve wound up doing. Whatever you are thinking right now, that’s what’s on your mind. Whatever has happened to you, it has already happened. The important question is, how are you going to handle it? In other words, “Now what?” Like it or not, this moment is all we really have to work with. Yet we all too easily conduct our lives as if forgetting momentarily that we are here, where we already are, and that we are in what we are already in. In every moment, we find ourselves at the crossroad of here and now. But when the cloud of forgetfulness over where we are now sets in, in that very moment we get lost. “Now what?” becomes a real problem.

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an attempt to appreciate the deep mystery of being alive and to acknowledge being vitally connected to all that exists. Amanda’s note: about spirituality.

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Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us. This process doesn’t magically happen by itself. It takes energy. We call the effort to cultivate our ability to be in the present moment “practice” or “meditation practice.”

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TRY: Reminding yourself from time to time: “This is it.” See if there is anything at all that it cannot be applied to. Remind yourself that acceptance of the present moment has nothing to do with resignation in the face of what is happening. It simply means a clear acknowledgment that what is happening is happening. Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do. What happens next, what you choose to do, that has to come out of your understanding of this moment. You might try acting out of a deep knowing of “This is it.” Does it influence how you choose to proceed or respond? Is it possible for you to contemplate that in a very real way, this may actually be the best season, the best moment of your life? If that was so, what would it mean for you?

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“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

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Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It’s the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it. This doesn’t mean you can’t hurry when you have to. It is possible even to hurry patiently, mindfully, moving fast because you have chosen to.

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Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself? LAO-TZU, Tao-te-Ching

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Hard as it may seem, try not to push the river in that moment but listen carefully to it instead. What does it tell you? What is it telling you to do? If nothing, then just breathe, let things be as they are, let go into patience, continue listening. If the river tells you something, then do it, but do it mindfully. Then pause, wait patiently, listen again.

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TRY: Recognizing the ways in which you meet obstacles with harshness. Experiment with being soft when your impulse is to be hard, generous when your impulse is to be withholding, open when your impulse is to close up or shut down emotionally. When there is grief or sadness, try letting it be here. Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. Notice any labels you attach to crying or feeling vulnerable. Let go of the labels. Just feel what you are feeling, all the while cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, riding the waves of “up” and “down,” “good” and “bad,” “weak” and “strong,” until you see that they are all inadequate to fully describe your experience. Be with the experience itself. Trust in your deepest strength of all: to be present, to be wakeful.

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I like to practice voluntary simplicity to counter such impulses and make sure nourishment comes at a deep level. It involves intentionally doing only one thing at a time and making sure I am here for it.

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I practice saying no to keep my life simple, and I find I never do it enough. It’s an arduous discipline all its own, and well worth the effort. Yet it is also tricky. There are needs and opportunities to which one must respond. A commitment to simplicity in the midst of the world is a delicate balancing act. It is always in need of retuning, further inquiry, attention. But I find the notion of voluntary simplicity keeps me mindful of what is important, of an ecology of mind and body and world in which everything is interconnected and every choice has far-reaching consequences. You don’t get to control it all. But choosing simplicity whenever possible adds to life an element of deepest freedom which so easily eludes us, and many opportunities to discover that less may actually be more.

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But concentration practice, however strong and satisfying, is incomplete without mindfulness to complement and deepen it. By itself, it resembles a state of withdrawal from the world. Its characteristic energy is closed rather than open, absorbed rather than available, trancelike rather than fully awake. What is missing is the energy of curiosity, inquiry, investigation, openness, availability, engagement with the full range of phenomena experienced by human beings. This is the domain of mindfulness practice, in which onepointedness and the ability to bring calmness and stability of mind to the present moment are put in the service of looking deeply into and understanding the interconnectedness of a wide range of life experiences.

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If you hope to bring meditation into your life in any kind of long-term, committed way, you will need a vision that is truly your own—one that is deep and tenacious and that lies close to the core of who you believe yourself to be, what you value in your life, and where you see yourself going. Only the strength of such a dynamic vision and the motivation from which it springs can possibly keep you on this path year in and year out, with a willingness to practice every day and to bring mindfulness to bear on whatever is happening, to open to whatever is perceived, and to let it point to where the holding is and where the letting go and the growing need to happen.

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It has to do with first principles. If you believe in love, do you manifest it or just talk a lot? If you believe in compassion, in non-harming, in kindness, in wisdom, in generosity, in calmness, in solitude, in non-doing, in being even-handed and clear, do you manifest these qualities in your daily life? This is the level of intentionality which is required to keep your meditation practice vital, so that it doesn’t succumb to becoming purely a mechanical exercise, driven only by the forces of habit or belief.

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Awareness is not the same as thought. It lies beyond thinking, although it makes use of thinking, honoring its value and its power. Awareness is more like a vessel which can hold and contain our thinking, helping us to see and know our thoughts as thoughts rather than getting caught up in them as reality.

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Another way to look at meditation is to view the process of thinking itself as a waterfall, a continual cascading of thought. In cultivating mindfulness, we are going beyond or behind our thinking, much the way you might find a vantagepoint in a cave or depression in the rock behind a waterfall. We still see and hear the water, but we are out of the torrent. Amanda’s note: like this description for The Work.

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In the Zen tradition, group sitting meditations are sometimes ended with a loud wooden clacker which is whacked together forcefully. No romantic lingering with the sound of a soft bell to ease the end of a sitting. The message here is to cut—time to move on now. If you’re daydreaming, even slightly, when the clacker goes off, the sound will startle you and thereby point out how little you were actually present in that moment. It reminds you that the sitting is already over and now we are in a new moment, to be faced anew. In other traditions, the gentle ring of a bell is used to mark the end of group sittings. The softness of the bell brings you back too, and also points out whether your mind was on the loose at the moment it rang. So, when it comes to ending a sitting, soft and gentle is good, and hard and loud is good.

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TRY: Noticing the difference in how you feel and how you handle stress in periods when you are into the discipline of daily meditation and yoga practice and in periods of your life when you are not. See if you can become aware of the consequences of your more mindless and automatic behaviors, especially when they are provoked by pressures stemming from work or home life. How do you carry yourself in your body in those periods when you are practicing and when you are not? What happens to your commitment to remember non-doing? How does the lack of regular practice affect your anxiety about time and about achieving certain results? How does it affect your relationships? Where do some of your most mindless patterns come from? What triggers them? Are you ready to hold them in awareness as they grip you by the throat, whether your formal practice is strong this week or not? Can you see that not practicing is an arduous practice?

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All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the religious institutions originally worked with: reality. Reality-insight says…master the twenty-four hours. Do it well, without self-pity. It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning. One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition. Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms. Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick—don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice” which will put us on a “path”—it is our path. GARY SNYDER, The Practice of the Wild

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Fire was a comfort to us, our source of heat, light, and protection—dangerous but, with great care, controllable. Sitting by it gave us relaxation at the end of the day. In its warm, flickering light, we could tell stories and talk about the day past, or just sit silently, seeing the reflection of our minds in the ever-changing flames and the glowing landscapes of a magical world. Fire made the darkness bearable, and helped us feel secure and safe. It was calming, reliable, restoring, meditative, and absolutely necessary for survival. This necessity has

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Life gives us scant time for being nowadays, unless we seize it on purpose. We no longer have a fixed time when we have to stop what we are doing because there’s not enough light to do it by…we lack that formerly built-in time we had every night for shifting gears, for letting go of the day’s activities. We have precious few occasions nowadays for the mind to settle itself in stillness by a fire.

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TRY: Making a commitment to yourself to get up earlier than you otherwise might. Just doing it changes your life. Let that time, whatever its length, be a time of being, a time for intentional wakefulness. You don’t want to fill this time with anything other than awareness. No need to go over the day’s commitments in your head and live “ahead” of yourself. This is a time of no-time, of stillness, of presence, of being with yourself.

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I like to emphasize that each person is already the world authority on him-or herself, or at least could be if they started attending to things mindfully. A great deal of the information each of us needs to learn more about ourselves and our health—information we desperately need in order to grow and to heal and to make effective life choices—is already right at our fingertips, at the tips of, or rather, right beneath, our noses. What is required to participate more fully in our own health and well-being is simply to listen more carefully and to trust what we hear, to trust the messages from our own life, from our own body and mind and feelings. This sense of participation and trust is all too frequently a missing ingredient in medicine. We call it “mobilizing the inner resources of the patient” for healing, or for just coping better, for seeing a little more clearly, for being a little more assertive, for asking more questions, for getting by more skillfully.

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There can be no resolution leading to growth until the present situation has been faced completely and you have opened to it with mindfulness, allowing the roughness of the situation itself to sand down your own rough edges. In other words, you must be willing to let life itself become your teacher. This is the path of working where you find yourself, with what is found here and now. This, then, really is it…this place, this relationship, this dilemma, this job. The challenge of mindfulness is to work with the very circumstances that you find yourself in—no matter how unpleasant, how discouraging, how limited, how unending and stuck they may appear to be—and to make sure that you have done everything in your power to use their energies to transform yourself before you decide to cut your losses and move on. It is right here that the real work needs to happen.

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Once the universe is your employer, very interesting things start to happen, even if someone else is cutting your paycheck.

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I was infected with the idea of ahimsa right then and there in my living room, and I have never forgotten the moment it happened. I had heard it before. The attitude of non-harming lies at the heart of yoga practice and of the Hippocratic Oath. It was the underlying principle of Gandhi’s revolution and of his personal meditation practice.

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Here’s how mindfulness changes karma. When you sit, you are not allowing your impulses to translate into action. For the time being, at least, you are just watching them. Looking at them, you quickly see that all impulses in the mind arise and pass away, that they have a life of their own, that they are not you but just thinking, and that you do not have to be ruled by them. Not feeding or reacting to impulses, you come to understand their nature as thoughts directly. This process actually burns up destructive impulses in the fires of concentration and equanimity and non-doing. At the same time, creative insights and creative impulses are no longer squeezed out so much by the more turbulent, destructive ones. They are nourished as they are perceived and held in awareness. Mindfulness can thereby refashion the links in the chain of actions and consequences, and in doing so it unchains us, frees us, and opens up new directions for us through the moments we call life. Without mindfulness, we are all too easily stuck in the momentum coming out of the past, with no clue to our own imprisonment, and no way out.

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The spirit of inquiry is fundamental to living mindfully. Inquiry is not just a way to solve problems. It is a way to make sure you are staying in touch with the basic mystery of life itself and of our presence here. Who am I? Where am I going? What does it mean to be? What does it mean to be a…man, woman, child, parent; a student, a worker, a boss, an inmate; a homeless person? What is my karma? Where am I now? What is my way? What is my job on the planet with a capital J? Inquiry doesn’t mean looking for answers, especially quick answers which come out of superficial thinking. It means asking without expecting answers, just pondering the question, carrying the wondering with you, letting it percolate, bubble, cook, ripen, come in and out of awareness, just as everything else comes in and out of awareness.

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There’s no timetable for inquiry. It’s like a pot sitting on your shelf. It’s ready to do the cooking whenever you are ready to take it down, put something in it, and heat it on the stove. Amanda’s note: like circle!

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By recognizing and letting go of selfing impulses, we accord the universe a little more room to make things happen. Since we are folded into the universe and participate in its unfolding, it will defer in the face of too much self-centered, self-indulgent, self-critical, self-insecure, self-anxious activity on our part, and arrange for the dream world of our self-oriented thinking to look and feel only too real.

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These trials are not impediments to either parenting or mindfulness practice. They are the practice, if you can remember to see it this way.

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If you look up the word “spirit” in the dictionary, you will find that it comes from the Latin, spirare, meaning “to breathe.”

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Perhaps ultimately, spiritual simply means experiencing wholeness and interconnectedness directly, a seeing that individuality and the totality are interwoven, that nothing is separate or extraneous.

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For more information, as well as to order, see: www.mindfulnesstapes.com

 

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