15 May 2023
From Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are:
Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is. It is about coming to realize that you are on a path whether you like it or not, namely, the path that is your life. Meditation may help us see that this path we call our life has direction; that it is always unfolding, moment by moment; and that what happens now, in this moment, influences what happens next.
I lucked into reading this book at the right time, when I was ready to do the work it proposes and open to the possibilities it presents. I found it to be a gentle and nurturing introduction to mindfulness — “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” — and a practical overview of how to cultivate it through meditation. I also found it to be a peaceful companion to pick up and just enjoy “the bloom of the present moment” with. I’d find myself looking forward to when I could pause to share time with this book.
It guided me, in an unstructured way, into meditating. I’d read a bit of the book and then try meditating. Or, I’d try meditating and then read a bit of the book. The line between the two could blur, and reading the book slowly, carefully, and openly became a bit like (I at least imagine, having never participated in one…) a guided meditation session in itself.
This book has provided some serious upgrades to my thinking, perceiving, and ultimately, being.
It gave me some powerful visual metaphors: imagining my mind as a lake; my thoughts as the winds that blow across its surface; my emotions as the waves that get stirred up. Sometimes all is tranquil; sometimes light waves start lapping at the shore; sometimes rough and stormy ones come crashing down on it. I can observe these conditions without getting caught up in them. Or imagining myself as a mountain, rooted deep in the ground and shooting into the sky, yet for all that might, humbly and tolerantly observing all that comes and goes.
It provided practical techniques, like finding my breath while meditating — in, out, in, out — as an anchor to the present moment. It also helped me start to find my breath when I’m not meditating, and to glimpse how it’s probably possible to transcend the meditating/not meditating boundary such that I’m always mindful and in the present moment.
It helped me discover that my mind’s eye has peripheral vision too, and that if I expand my awareness to include this periphery, it has an immediately calming effect: instead of being trapped inside my own thoughts, I lovingly encompass them (positive and negative) and hold them in acceptance.
These upgrades have generally led me to see how if I improve my awareness, and see things as they actually are, here and now, in this moment, just about everything else naturally falls out from that. I’m finding that living in this awareness and acceptance is more efficient, and that things can at times even become effortless, because I’m no longer straining against my own judgments, or insecurities, or whatever.
It’s not as if it’s easy, though, or that I can always sustain this, or that I even know how far I am in whatever this journey is. And I often find myself back at the beginning, and have to just set out anew, one breath at a time.
I could go on, but I hesitate, and have already shared more than I prefer, if only because I wish to preserve the positive intuitions that this book has instilled in me, and to protect them from any judgment that somebody else might bring to bear on them. But my desire to keep my own experience with this book private is overridden by my hope that sharing it might help somebody else start to form theirs.
So I’ll just leave it at this: this is one of those rare books that’s so good, I started rereading from the beginning as soon as I’d reached the end. I imagine I will do so again and again, and I’m certain I’ll get something new out of it every time I do.
It’s timeless and true.