I had the privilege and pleasure to spend about 10 hours in the presence of Jon Kabat-Zinn a couple if weeks ago. It was exactly the experience I needed at that time, a worthwhile reminder of the invaluable quality of mindfulness.
Jon was in the Twin Cities to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota. I had the same privilege in 2005 when the Center was celebrating its 10th anniversary. 10 years ago I was just beginning to carry this message about change, after losing my hand to cancer in 2003. I had been aware of and practicing mindfulness for 10 years before that time, however; having taken a class in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Jon is the program’s founder and his book, Full Catastrophe Living is the central text. My decision to take the course came along with the great need and genuine desire to grieve well the death of my sister, Kristin. She had died of malignant melanoma early in November of 1991. I knew I did not have the resources necessary for that journey.
Mindfulness, defined as full awareness, Is a subject that I know and subscribe to practicing. I am certainly not expert or perfect in my knowledge nor my practice, but I am keenly aware of it’s value and benefit. Presence, the ability to “be” where you are in the present moment, is a key characteristic of mindfulness. This is the goal of meditation: simply being present to this moment and the next moment and the one after that, for the infinite number of moments we have to live. No matter what form of meditation you practice (and there are many), presence is the conditioning that allows for a whole-hearted response to life’s experiences – good, bad or otherwise; mindfully embracing whatever is happening at any given moment. Being present, saying “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” is the path to awareness and acknowledgment of the richness of life, both the joy and the sorrow.
That is why I was drawn to mindfulness and found it so invaluable in my grieving journey. Every grieving journey is a unique one. There is no road map with which to travel, no time table and no neat progression from one state to the next. It is a necessary, even mandatory journey of awareness, acceptance, integration and …. of what or who is gone. It is a narrow spot, a loss, a change requiring awareness, attention, presence and patience.
Patience is not passively waiting until the pain goes away or while someone else does something. It is an honest, gentle relationship with yourself and the moments of your life. Patience is another key characteristic of mindfulness. When I find myself saying, “I don’t have time for meditation today.”, I (kindly)remind myself that it only takes a minute, a few short breaths, to bring myself around to awareness of what life is showing me at that given moment. That moment is a gift.
Presence and patience are two of the pearls on my string. Oysters create pearls as a result of sand getting inside and causing irritation. If you are at all familiar with my message, you know how important sand is. My pearls have been created by being mindful of the irritation that has gotten inside the hourglass of my life, either by accident, design or happenstance. My sand has been refined and redefined many times by my narrow spots. When I sit, mindfully, with patience and presence, I find the pearls while sifting through and discovering my sand’s new arrangement. It is always a worthwhile endeavor. You know what happens to the oyster that fails to create a pearl. Death will happen to all of us at sometime. I have set the intention to be mindful and create as many pearls as possible until that eventuality. Join me?
Listen to an interview with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn