Mindfulness of This Moment
Jon Kabat-Zinn


One of the main reasons we use intensive training in mindfulness meditation at our clinic is that most of the time, most people are unaware they are not in this moment--and that learning, growth, healing, and the shaping of new directions always come out of this moment.  Nor are they aware that they are thinking constantly and that our behavior is virtually dictated by our reactions to our own thought content--which we misperceive as being true.  We believe our thoughts unquestioningly and react to them emotionally, although they are mostly inaccurate.

Let's take a thought that's not necessarily a fact, like the thought, "I'm over the hill; it's all downhill from here."  Many people believe this when they reach a certain point in their lives.  They feel they didn't get where they were "supposed" to get.  They look in the mirror and realize, "My God, I'm not going to achieve those things."  And then the thought comes up, "It's all over for me," or "I've wasted my life."  In such moments, you might not realize that that's just a thought.  You instinctively believe it.  That collapse can spiral you into depression, overwhelming you with feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

Now, our thoughts are forming maybe a thousand times a second, so they have a very powerful way of coloring our lives--our views, our relationships, the feelings we experience, the things we take on or don't take on, the choices we make, and everything else.  Usually we have no idea this is being driven by inaccurate, reactive thinking.

Meanwhile, here we are, missing the fullness of the present moment, which is where the soul resides.  It's not like you have to go someplace else to get it.

So the challenge here is, Can we live this moment fully?  When you ask a group of people to spend five minutes watching their own breaths moving in and out of their bodies, just as an experiment, with people who have never meditated before (you don't even have to call it meditation), they discover, often with great surprise, that their minds are like bubbling vats, and it's not so easy to stay on the breath.  The mind has a life of its own.  It carries you away.  Over a lifetime, you may wind up in the situation where you are never actually where you find yourself.  You're always someplace else, lost, in your head, and therefore in a kind of dysfunctional or nonoptimal state.  Why dysfunctional?  Because the only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets.  You're only here now; you're only alive in this moment.

When people make this discovery, it is an experience of waking up to a realization, a reality, they did not know before:  most of the time, we're operating in an automatic-pilot mode that is more asleep than awake.  When you have that realization, you begin to see differently and then act differently.

The past is gone, and I don't know what's coming in the future.  It's obvious that if I want my life to be whole, to resonate with feeling and integrity and value and health, there's only one way I can influence the future:  by owning the present.  If I can relate to this moment with integrity, and then this moment with integrity, and then this moment with integrity, wakefully, then the sum of that is going to be very different over time, over mind moments that stretch out into what we call a life, than a life that is lived mostly on automatic pilot, where we are reacting and being mechanical and are therefore somewhat numb.

The autopilot mode switches on in virtually every domain in life.  It happens at work, it happens at home, it happens in the family, it happens in the car, it happens when you're alone.  Most of the time, if you're not really paying attention, you're someplace else. . . .

It's important to practice mindfulness, because most of the time we are practicing the opposite.  Every time we act with frustration, sadness, or anger and we don't hold that reaction in our awareness, it takes on a life of its own--it "does us" instead of us doing it, whatever it is. . . . Over time what you're doing is practicing mindlessness.  By not being fully awake in each moment, you are getting better and better at reacting, or going numb.  As you get older, a lifetime of not paying attention and not nourishing what is deepest and most important has profound consequences.  The details and excitement of youth, work, ego gratification, the pursuit of name and fame, all fall away.  What you're left with is the fundamentals you have been practicing.  If you've been practicing resentment for fifty years, if you've been practicing not being sensitive to other people's feelings, if you've been practicing being on some colossal ego trip, it doesn't just stay the same--that would be bad enough.  It builds.  It ends up imprisoning you.  You get more and more locked into that behavior.

Whereas, if you're practicing mindfulness, it doesn't matter if you get angry or depressed or irritated or contracted.  The eddy or whirlpool in the mind or heart becomes the object of your attention because it's as worthy of attention as anything else.  You're not editing your life; you're not saying, "This is good and this is bad, this is soulful, this is spiritual, I want this, I don't want that."  You're saying, "The whole of it is my life as long as I'm willing to hold it in awareness."

Authors such as Lynn Andrews,
Wayne Dyer, Robert Fulghum,
Bernie Siegel, Marianne
Williamson, and Ram Dass
offer suggestions and
observations about nourishing
the soul through meditation,
prayer, and the contemplation
of nature. Many writers offer
glimpses into their own daily
routines and explain, briefly,
how they manage to maintain
an enthusiasm for life and a vital
sense of that mysterious,
timeless part of ourselves
that we call the soul.

For more on mindfulness, click here.


Mindfulness is being aware of yourself, others, and your surroundings
in the moment.  When consciously and kindly focusing awareness on life
as it unfolds minute by precious minute, you are better able to savor
each experience.  Also, being closely attentive gives you the opportunity
to change unwise or painful feelings and responses quickly.  In fact, being
truly present in a mindful way is an excellent stress reducer and, because
of that, can be seen as consciousness conditioning, a strengthening
workout for body, mind, heart, and spirit.

Sue Patton Thoele


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