Riku Sayuj's Reviews > Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
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Sep 14, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: spiritual, r-r-rs
Read on March 07, 2012


Dear Brother,

When you first asked me about how to practice meditation (was it last week?), I gave you a few vague answers and then dismissed it from my mind, thinking that while it is impressive that you consider it seriously, it is not really vital to you right now. But, yesterday when you spoke about how difficult it is to study for more than two hours continuously, I realized that there might be more to it. That conversation set me thinking about a concept called " Digital Natives ". You would definitely qualify to be one. Digital Natives are supposed to have shorter attention spans and a greater propensity to multi-task. They are more at home using technology or entertainment as well as education and even blend the two in exotic mixes. Most of the characteristics of the Digital Natives, like their appetite for knowledge, their openness to stimuli and their connectedness with this world of constant change, are all very positive traits. I too consider myself as a Native, even though, Tarun, who  introduced me to the concept would disagree and try to classify me as a Digital Immigrant.

Having said all that, we also have to consider if these so-called positive traits might not also have the negative effects that the older generation attributes to it? Could there be a fundamental fleetingness encroaching into our natures? Could small things like it being harder and harder to spend long hours concentrating and a lot of my friends complaining that they can hardly find the energy to read anymore be side-effects of this life-style? What can we do to keep the positive side of this information age and yet not lose our ability to concentrate and to put in focussed effort when required?

As I thought of these things, I felt that maybe meditation may indeed be the answer for you and many like you and also to myself. So I spent a few hours researching and browsing about on this and stumbled on this wonderful book about meditation. I kept you and sis in mind as I read this and I think I might have an adaptation of the ideas that might help in our daily lives that might help you enjoy your hours spent studying and also make them more productive as well as longer.

I hope you can find the fifteen minutes needed to read this rambling of mine. As I keep telling you, 24 hours is a long time and we all have more than enough time to do more than earn a living and worry about school during a day. We have more than enough time to read, to meditate, to sleep and dream and to take a quiet walk. Shall we start?

What is Meditation?

Think of this present moment as a mirror. A mirror reflecting the past and the future. You have to understand and accept this reflection of yourself in this mirror. You have to be aware of this present moment in all its depth and fullness. Do not judge it. Just know it. See it completely and entirely. Every. Single. Detail.

The present moment exists whether you like it or not. Whether it is enjoyable or not. And even if time passes, the mirror stays still. it is always the present moment in which you find yourselves. You cannot change it, you need not judge. You can only understand anad accept it. It just IS. If you can do this, only then will you know what to do next.

This practice is called "Mindfulness" and is the core of Meditation. I know the last two paragraphs might have been too abstract for your tastes, but indulge me and read it again please? Don't worry, even though I wrote it, I too don't understand it.

Unless we become "Mindful", we may never quite be where we actually are, never quite touch the fullness of our possibilities. Instead, we lock ourselves into a personal fiction that we already know who we are, that we know where we are and where we are going, that we know what is happening - all the while remaining enshrouded in thoughts, fantasies, and impulses.

To be "Mindful" is to wake up from this constant ignorance about yourself, your surroundings and your situation. To find your path in life, you will need to pay more attention to this present moment. It is the only time that we have in which to live, grow, feel, and change.

The work of waking up from these dreams is the work of Meditation, the systematic cultivation of wakefulness, of present-moment awareness. 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.

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through a continual attending to it with care and discernment. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted. It has to do with waking up and seeing things as they are. In fact, the word "Buddha" simply means one who has awakened to his or her own true nature.

All these ordinary thoughts and impulses run through the mind like a coursing river, if not a waterfall. We get caught up in the torrent and it winds up submerging our lives as it carries us to places we may not wish to go and may not even realize we are headed for.

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."

The Practice Of Meditation

I know that you like to sit and meditate. But is it the only way? Not really. You can meditate while sitting, while walking, while standing or while lying down. Once you have some practice, you can even meditate while eating and while bathing and even while studying. That should be the goal. To be able to live every moment with that wakeful awareness called "Mindfulness".

How to start then? I know it is hard to start meditating. there is always a hundred other things to do. You could be studying or reading or doing something else. DOING something is SO important. Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. You have to learn to "Stop". Literally. Just stop doing things. Could you stop wanting to do things? Stop wanting to improve or get somewhere in life? For five minutes? Surely?

Once you have accepted this and is ready to meditate, try to ease into it. You may want to go to the next room first, to the drawing room or the kitchen. Then walk slowly and deliberately to the spot you have decided to meditate in. Meditate as you walk. As you approach the spot, stand there for some time. Meditate as you stand. Now, slowly and with dignity sit down.

Walking Meditation

Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "Peace is every step."

Sometimes it is very difficult to just sit down. Walking is easier. Try walking formally before or after you sit. Try a period of walking meditation. Keep a continuity of mindfulness between the walking and the sitting. Ten minutes is good, or half an hour. Remember once again that it is not clock time we are concerned with here.

The walking is just as good as the sitting. What is important is how you keep your mind.

In walking meditation, you attend to the walking itself. Walking meditation can best be done by imagining a river. Imagine that you are a flowing river. Steady and changing, moving in time, but always yourself. Aware of every boulder and every turn. Be aware of every step.

Standing Meditation

Once you have reached the spot, don't abruptly sit down. Remember that we are trying to keep a continuity of mindfulness between the walking and the sitting. Stand still for some time and try to meditate. Standing Meditation is best learned from trees. Imagine yourself to be a tree. Feel your feet developing roots into the ground. Feel your body sway gently, as it always will, just as trees do in a breeze. Sense the tree closest to you. Listen to it, feel its presence.

You can try standing like this wherever you find yourself, in the school, in the football ground, by a river, in your living room, or just waiting for the bus.

Sitting Meditation

Finally, sit down. But sit down with an intention. Sit with dignity. It helps to come to the bed or to the chair or to the floor with a definite sense of taking your seat. Sitting meditation is different from just sitting down casually somewhere. Sitting down to meditate, our posture talks to us. It makes its own statement. If we slump, it reflects low energy, passivity, a lack of clarity. If we sit ramrod-straight, we are tense, making too much of an effort, trying too hard.

To describe the sitting posture, the word that feels the most appropriate is "dignity." If you are told to sit like a king from Lord of the Rings, how would you sit? That is dignity. A Royal Posture. I try to tell this to myself when I sit down to work, or write. To sit with dignity. You should try this while sitting down to study too. It makes a difference in you attitude. When we take our seat in meditation and remind ourselves to sit with dignity, we are coming back to our original worthiness. That in itself is quite a statement.

How you hold your hands is also important. that too is a way of making a statement, to yourself, to your mind. The hand positions are called "Mudras" in formal terminology and they embody different attitudes. There is no one right way to keep your hands. You may experiment with different ways yourself in meditation. Try sitting with your hands palms down on your knees. Notice the quality of self-containment here. This posture might feel to you as if you are not looking for anything more, but simply digesting what is. If you then turn both palms up, being mindful as you do it, you may note a change in energy in the body. Sitting this way might embody receptivity, an openness to what is above, to the energy of the heavens. I personally prefer the hands kept together in the lap, with the fingers of one hand lying atop the fingers of the other, the thumb-tips gently touching as if I hold the universe in me.

All our hand postures are supposed to be mudras in that they are associated with subtle or not-so-subtle energies. Take the energy of the fist, for instance. Try making a fists as if in anger. Feel the tension, the hatred, the anger, the aggression, and the fear which it contains. Then, in the midst of your anger, as an experiment, try opening your fists and placing the palms together over your heart in the prayer position. This is probably what Gandhiji did when he was assassinated at point-blank range. He put his palms together in this way toward his attacker, uttered his mantra, and died.

Now, on to the meditation itself. In Sitting Meditation, the image of a mountain might be most helpful. Imagine yourself to be a mountain, invoking qualities of elevation, massiveness, majesty, unmovingness, rootedness - bring these qualities directly into your posture and attitude.

How long should you sit like this? As long as you like, of course. It is quality not quantity that matters. Forming the intention to practice and then seizing a moment - any moment - and encountering it fully in your inward and outward posture, lies at the core of mindfulness. Long and short periods of practice are both equally good. In a line six inches long, there are an infinite number of points, and in a line one inch long there are just as many. Well, then, how many moments are there in fifteen minutes, or five, or ten, or forty-five? It turns out we have plenty of time, if we are willing to hold any moments at all in awareness.

Once you are sitting, there are many ways to approach the present moment. All involve paying attention on purpose, non-judgmentally. What varies is what you attend to and how.

It is best to keep things simple and start with your breathing, feeling it as it moves in and out.

Sit and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking mind will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind until, at some point, the anchor line grows taut and brings you back. This may happen a lot. Bring your attention back to the breath, in all its vividness, every time it wanders. Keep the posture erect but not stiff. Think of yourself as the mountain.

Breathing

Our breathing can help us in capturing our moments. It's surprising that more people don't know about this. After all, the breath is always here, right under our noses.

To use your breathing to nurture mindfulness, just tune in to the feeling of it - the feeling of the breath coming into your body and the feeling of the breath leaving your body. That's all. Just feeling the breath. Breathing and knowing that you're breathing.

Use your breath to help you to stay in the moment - feeling your own body standing, breathing, being, moment by moment. Thoughts will come up which will pull your attention away. Work with those perceptions, thoughts, feelings and impulses, memories and anticipations. Accept them. Reflect them in the mirror that is the present moment. See them clearly and let them go with the outgoing breath.

Ending The Meditation

Toward the end, if you are not particularly attentive, before you know it you'll be off doing something else, with no awareness whatsoever of how the meditation came to an end. The transition will be a blur at best. You can bring mindfulness to this process by being in touch with the thoughts and impulses which tell you it's time to stop. Whether you've been still for an hour or for three minutes, a powerful feeling all of a sudden may say, "This is enough." Or you look at your watch and it's the time you said you would quit.

As you recognize such an impulse, breathe with it for a few moments, and ask yourself, "Who has had enough?" Try looking into what is behind the impulse. Is it fatigue, boredom, pain, impatience; or is it just time to stop? Whatever the case, rather than automatically leaping up or moving on, try lingering with whatever arises out of this inquiry, breathing with it for a few moments or even longer, and allowing the moving out of your meditation posture to be as much an object of moment-to-moment awareness as any other moment in the meditation. Bring awareness to how you end your meditations. Don't judge it or yourself in any way. Just observe, and stay in touch with the transition from one thing to the next.

You may even do the Standing Meditation and then the Walking Meditation again to end the period of Meditation. Stand up slowly, imagine being a Tree. Become a River and flow out of your room. Go to the balcony, enjoy the breeze as a tree again and then come back refreshed for a fresh day of studying.

This technique of learning to transition slowly in and out of things might soon help you to do things that you consider "tasks" to be accomplished more easily. Adopt this attitude before you start your daily exercise, before you sit down to study, before you go jogging, maybe even as you sit down to write the board exams. Let a continuum help you shift gears into things, so that you don;t postpone or cancel them.

Also use the technique of examining your intentions when you feel the need to stop an activity. Imagine you are studying, or jogging, or exercising. You feel the need to stop. Ask yourself why. Are you tired? Whatever be the answer, breathe with it a few times. Breathe with this idea that you want to stop. Then continue the activity for some more time. The more your practice this, the more you will find that your attention span is increasing.

Everyday Meditation

In time you can extend this feeling of awareness and 'wakefulness' to everyday activities. Start slowly. Take deliberate small steps first. Maybe before you sit down to study?

Try to recognize the beauty of the present moment in your daily life. If you are up early in the morning, try going outside and looking (a sustained, mindful, attentive looking) at the stars, at the moon, at the dawning light when it comes. Feel the air, the cold, the warmth. Realize that the world around you is sleeping. Remember when you see the stars that you are looking back in time millions of years. The past is present now and here.

Thus, every now and then try Casual Meditation. Stopping, sitting down, and becoming aware of your breathing. It can be for five minutes, or even five seconds. Let go into full acceptance of the present moment, including how you are feeling and what you perceive to be happening. For these moments, don't try to change anything at all, just breathe and let go. Breathe and let be. Give yourself permission to allow this moment to be exactly as it is, and allow yourself to be exactly as you are. Then, when you're ready, move in the direction your heart tells you to go, mindfully and with resolution.

Conclusion

Meditation can indeed be done at any time. Take a break from time to time. Maybe during the advertisements of a cricket match, maybe while reaching for a glass of water while eating. Remind yourself: "This is it." 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.

May Meditation help you in the full development of your true potential. It is a way of being, of living life as if it really matters, moment by moment by moment. Make it part of you daily life, rather than merely as a technique or as one more thing you have to do during your already too busy day.

The deepest of bows to you for having the courage and perseverance involved in throwing yourself wholeheartedly into this adventure of a lifetime. May every breath you take in mindfulness, in your everyday life, make you smarter, wiser, more compassionate and kinder. Moment by moment, breath by breath.

Yours Truly,

R.

PS. If interested in a slightly more detailed version, please visit here.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 64) (64 new)


Jenn(ifer) this is a good one!


Riku Sayuj Jennifer wrote: "this is a good one!"

it really was :)


Jenn(ifer) Wow. Nicely written. Mindfulness is so very important... It's what takes us from being a human doing to a human being (as my yoga teacher likes to say) :)


Riku Sayuj Jennifer wrote: "Wow. Nicely written. Mindfulness is so very important... It's what takes us from being a human doing to a human being (as my yoga teacher likes to say) :)"

Nice quote! :)


Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "The problem with meditation here in the states is many people think it's the work of the devil - I'm not lying. These people think that it opens the mind to the devil. This is most unfortunate. Fo..."

I hope you continued your experiments... It is gradual process, and it increases with time.


Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "The problem with meditation here in the states is many people think it's the work of the devil - I'm not lying. These people think that it opens the mind to the devil. This is most unfortunate. Fo..."

And that is a strange thing to know. I thought meditation now had more currency in the US than in the metropolitan east..


message 7: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Beautifully done, Riku. You said it all wonderfully well, and I agree with all of the comments above.

I do some of these exercises every day. Over a period of years, I have learned to stop myself when things get going too fast, and just be in the moment. The breathing and other techniques, just as you described, are tremendously effective.

I learned this from Kabat-Zinn, from this book and his Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. In an interview, he was asked to confirm that his books are all about 'living for the moment'. He said no - they are all about 'living IN the moment'.

That crucial distinction makes all the difference, just as you said. I hope that many will see this and learn from it.


message 8: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal Nice review Riku! For quite sometime now, I have been trying, as the author put it, The walking, sitting and breathing meditation, without being too aware of what I was doing. It came out from within, and as I concentrated more, it certainly helped me to understand things more clearly, and also to listen more. Good to know that there is a book which delves more into it and thanks to you for sharing your reviews. Hope to read it soon :)

Liked the lines : " 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. "


Riku Sayuj Jim wrote: "Beautifully done, Riku. You said it all wonderfully well, and I agree with all of the comments above.

I do some of these exercises every day. Over a period of years, I have learned to stop myself..."


It is not "new-age" or spiritual. It is the same kind of self-awareness you would have to practice if you were a hunter or a long-distance runner. That is why this is deeply scientific and hence ver very useful.


message 10: by Riku (last edited Mar 08, 2012 06:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Rakhi wrote: "Nice review Riku! For quite sometime now, I have been trying, as the author put it, The walking, sitting and breathing meditation, without being too aware of what I was doing. It came out from with..."

Glad that you liked it! But, from my understanding, you ideally should practice a bit of formal meditation before extending it into informal setting. It is much harder otherwise.


message 11: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Moonbutterfly wrote: "That is very true, but we have many people here that still hold this viewpoint. These people tend to be older, less worldly, don't read much, live in the south, or they are deeply religious. Many C..."

I sincerely hope that changes... As I told to Jim above, this sort of meditation ties in fundamentally with our evolutionary history, at least in my opinion it does.


message 12: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Riku wrote: "It is not "new-age" or spiritual. It is the same kind of self-awareness you would have to practice if you were a hunter or a long-distance runner. That is why this is deeply scientific and hence very useful."

Yes, exactly! It is a combination of old and new. The skills are ancient in origin, but most of us have to learn or re-learn them. The science is evolving and maturing daily, as Moonbutterfly said. The need is as current as today's migraine or tension headache (the latter is much too familiar in my life).

I probably mentioned this before in our discussions, but Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom discusses in some depth the current scientific picture of these concepts, and has a lot of practical advice as well. I can highly recommend it, and would enjoy discussing some of the science if you like.

I can't remember if Kabat-Zinn talks about it in this book, but he runs a therapy center that teaches these techniques, mostly to outpatients who are suffering from long-term pain and/or emotional trauma (many of them are in cancer treatment or in remission). He talks extensively about that in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.


message 13: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Jim wrote: "Riku wrote: "It is not "new-age" or spiritual. It is the same kind of self-awareness you would have to practice if you were a hunter or a long-distance runner. That is why this is deeply scientific..."

Yes. The only blockade perhaps is our refusal to accept that things that were not discovered in the modern age too might have a scientific basis. We are all too ready to swallow down strange chemicals and bacterial residues that we have no clue about but pooh-pooh if someone tells you that concentrating on your breathing might be a good way to stay healthy and be creative.

I will try to read the 'Buddha's Brain' book... it looks really interesting. Zinn does give passing mention to his medical practice, but this book has a more general readership in mind. But the same principles are covered, he says.


Jenn(ifer) I loved what you wrote about "sitting with dignity." That has stuck with me today.

Full Catastrophe Living is a wonderful resource for anyone, because we all experience stress, pain, illness. My father references it heavily in a course he teaches to graduate psychology students. I'm a big fan of Zinn.


message 15: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Jennifer wrote: "I loved what you wrote about "sitting with dignity." That has stuck with me today.

Full Catastrophe Living is a wonderful resource for anyone, because we all experience stress, pain, illness. My ..."


It is a wonderful attitude to adopt in daily life... i have been trying it for a few days now... Works very well.


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Jennifer wrote: "I loved what you wrote about "sitting with dignity." That has stuck with me today.

Full Catastrophe Living is a wonderful resource for anyone, because we all experience stress, pain, illness. My father references it heavily in a course he teaches to graduate psychology students. I'm a big fan of Zinn. "


Wonderful comments, Jennifer! I would be curious about how the grad students react to it. I also appreciated your earlier quote about human doing and human being from your yoga instructor.

Riku wrote: "The only blockade perhaps is our refusal to accept that things that were not discovered in the modern age too might have a scientific basis. We are all too ready to swallow down strange chemicals and bacterial residues that we have no clue about but pooh-pooh if someone tells you that concentrating on your breathing might be a good way to stay healthy and be creative."

I love this comment, Riku! Don't get me started, or I will rant all over your discussion thread (and that would be bad).

Just one quick comment about the strange chemicals: drug design by big pharma companies is too often dominated by reductionist approaches, aiming at one receptor to reduce one harmful symptom. Reductionist approaches are very powerful in proper context, but just take a look at the tiny-print list of side effects to see where they go wrong.


message 17: by Bruce (new)

Bruce This is an interesting epistolary review of one of my favorite books. I've had the privilege of taking a couple of extended retreats with Kabat-Zinn, and he is an amazing person, probably the most "present" individual I've met. He lives what he writes.


message 18: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce wrote: "I've had the privilege of taking a couple of extended retreats with Kabat-Zinn, and he is an amazing person, probably the most "present" individual I've met. He lives what he writes."

That is very good to know!


message 19: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Jim wrote: "Jennifer wrote: "I loved what you wrote about "sitting with dignity." That has stuck with me today.

Full Catastrophe Living is a wonderful resource for anyone, because we all experience stress, p..."


That is so true. It is a miracle that people ingest them without being paranoid.


message 20: by Riku (last edited Mar 09, 2012 08:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Bruce wrote: "This is an interesting epistolary review of one of my favorite books. I've had the privilege of taking a couple of extended retreats with Kabat-Zinn, and he is an amazing person, probably the most..."

Wow. That must have been an experience. He comes across in the book as a very gentle and caring person.


message 21: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Let me see if I can connect a few of the dots in this thread.

Jennifer wrote: "I loved what you wrote about "sitting with dignity"... Full Catastrophe Living is a wonderful resource for anyone, because we all experience stress, pain, illness."

So true. And prolonged stress has devastating effects that hit different individuals in different ways.

"Riku wrote: "The only blockade perhaps is our refusal to accept that things that were not discovered in the modern age too might have a scientific basis. We are all too ready to swallow down strange chemicals and bacterial residues that we have no clue about but pooh-pooh if someone tells you that concentrating on your breathing might be a good way to stay healthy and be creative. "

Moonbutterfly wrote: "The problem with meditation here in the states is many people think it's the work of the devil - I'm not lying. These people think that it opens the mind to the devil. This is despite the fact, that main stream publications are continuously producing numerous scientific studies on the benefits of meditation.

The cynical side of me says that maybe science is the work of the devil too...

Jim wrote: Just one quick comment about the strange chemicals... take a look at the tiny-print list of side effects to see where they go wrong."

Riku wrote: "That is so true. It is a miracle that people ingest them without being paranoid. "

Great point, Riku, and I would argue that the 'miracle' is called 'marketing'.

So here is where I come out, and maybe we all agree on this. If you practice techniques that let you enter the calm space, and listen closely to your body, you can find within yourself, and cultivate, the keys to your own health. As Riku and Bruce indicated, this can all be summed up in the idea of being 'present', or living in the moment. Bruce's point that Kabat-Zinn is a most 'present' individual is a testimonial to the power of his approach.

I am one of those who slips all too easily out of being 'present', and I am told that my genes have a lot to do with this (evidence from recent studies). But even I have gotten better at being present, and it has made a big difference in my life.


message 22: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Jim wrote: "I am one of those who slips all too easily out of being 'present', and I am told that my genes have a lot to do with this (evidence from recent studies). "

What exactly are you referring to here? I searched around a bit and found no way to test myself for this genetic bias..


message 23: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Riku wrote: "What exactly are you referring to here? I searched around a bit and found no way to test myself for this genetic bias.. "

Great question, Riku, and unfortunately I don't have the specific studies to cite for you. Here is the quote from the doctor that I was seeing about chronic stress, fatigue and the benefits of meditation:

"Some of the recent studies are showing that susceptibility to these problems is about 70% genetically based". Her point was that I couldn't change my genes, so I could only work on the other 30%: diet, lifestyle (i.e. exposure to stress), and meditation and other techniques for coping with the stresses that remained. That conversation solidified a lot of things that I had suspected, and I have been concentrating on the 30% ever since.

Her schedule was too packed to detail the individual studies, and I was too exhausted at the time to look further into it. But in the context of our discussion, she was certainly making the connection between the (in)ability to be 'present' - a high percentage of the time - and susceptibility to the effects of chronic stress.

I can try later to look for the studies - I think that a Google search along the lines of 'genetic basis susceptibility to chronic stress' would be a good place to start.


message 24: by Bruce (new)

Bruce I think one of Kabat-Zinn's most important points is that we need not strive somehow to change ourselves but rather to be present and simply see who and where we are. Change may occur, but that is not the goal. Just noticing, just seeing, feeling, acknowledging, and accepting what is, right here and now, is enough of a challenge.


message 25: by Riku (last edited Mar 12, 2012 06:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Bruce wrote: "I think one of Kabat-Zinn's most important points is that we need not strive somehow to change ourselves but rather to be present and simply see who and where we are. Change may occur, but that is..."

I am reading up more on this and might be able to tie in a few points soon. Will come back to this in a day or two.

I agree with both of you, Jim and Bruce, and you seem to have experience on your side. But, my understanding now is veering away from the "easy" aspect of 'mindfulness'.


message 26: by Bruce (new)

Bruce No one said it was easy, but maybe just being aware that it's not easy is part of being mindful. Part of mindfulness is giving up the concept of having a goal in mind, instead just being present with what is with awareness.


message 27: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Bruce wrote: "No one said it was easy, but maybe just being aware that it's not easy is part of being mindful. Part of mindfulness is giving up the concept of having a goal in mind, instead just being present w..."

by 'easy' I meant the sense of ease that it is supposed to impart...


message 28: by Bruce (new)

Bruce It does impart ease, eventually, but I still think that one must in a sense put that aside as some sort of "goal," letting that arise when it will, at its own pace. Just being in the present is enough of a "goal," letting what happens happen as it will. Let yourself be surprised by what happens without judging anything or somehow keeping score or track of "progress," which is illusory anyway.


message 29: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce wrote: "No one said it was easy, but maybe just being aware that it's not easy is part of being mindful. Part of mindfulness is giving up the concept of having a goal in mind, instead just being present with what is with awareness."

Yes, I completely agree that this awareness, of the fact that it is not easy, is a large part of Kabat-Zinn's message. Bruce's understanding of these concepts is well ahead of my own.

I do think that it takes years, and a lot of practice over many sessions, to consistently find the ease that we all seek. Kabat-Zinn talks about gently pulling yourself back into the present when your thoughts drift to the past or future...

In my everyday routine, I find myself repeatedly, and literally, forgetting to breathe (!) as I get stressed by the circumstances of the moment. Of course, my autonomic nervous system will keep me breathing so I don't need to remember. But for me, stress has a way of generating what I think of as a 'subconscious override' to the natural breathing rhythm, such that I find myself taking short, shallow breaths instead of the deeper, slower breathing that is far more healthful.

Awareness of these tendencies in oneself is (I think) a part of the learning process. Gently correct the problem when you notice it - this is my understanding of the Kabat-Zinn technique. Gradually, you start to do better, and feel better. This has been my experience.


message 30: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce wrote: "Just being in the present is enough of a "goal," letting what happens happen as it will. Let yourself be surprised by what happens without judging anything or somehow keeping score or track of "progress," which is illusory anyway."

As I said, Bruce understands these ideas far better, and I think more intuitively, than I. I tend to be very goal-oriented and driven, and simply 'relaxing' into the present is a habit that I have had trouble adopting with any consistency. This is what I meant earlier by 'slipping' out of the present. But I am making progress, and the spirit is more than willing...


message 31: by Bruce (new)

Bruce I think that you are entirely correct, Jim. Of course, at a deeper level, such concepts as "better" are just thoughts, and one can let go of those, too. We can too often get trapped in the idea of "doing meditation correctly" (or not), and that is simply another idea to let go of. Meditation is in that sense very liberating, a can't-lose activity.


message 32: by Bruce (new)

Bruce "Progress," another concept to let go of. :-)


message 33: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj I guess we were both talking about the same thing, after all. Jim, I agree with Bruce that we have to let go of the habit of trying to reach a state or correcting oneself etc... That might be a road block to accepting who we are and where we are and being in the moment... If that makes any sense...

Is that what you might be saying, Bruce?


message 34: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce wrote: "I think that you are entirely correct, Jim. Of course, at a deeper level, such concepts as "better" are just thoughts, and one can let go of those, too.

Progress," another concept to let go of. :-)"


Ha ha, you caught me! Conceptually, I see everything that you are saying, and agree. In practice, just letting go may be the most difficult thing of all for me.

And I think that is part of what my doctor was telling me about the 70% genetic component. For some people, simply relaxing is easy to say, but difficult to do. Sounds like it may be difficult for Riku as well..


message 35: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Jim wrote: "Bruce wrote: "I think that you are entirely correct, Jim. Of course, at a deeper level, such concepts as "better" are just thoughts, and one can let go of those, too.

Progress," another concept..."


It is very very difficult :) Which is why I wanted a genetic excuse!


message 36: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Yes, Riku, that is what I'm saying.

And Jim, "I think that is part of what my doctor was telling me about the 70% genetic component. For some people, simply relaxing is easy to say, but difficult to do. Sounds like it may be difficult for Riku as well.." Then just notice that it's difficult; that's what's happening right now. No problem.

And Riku, "It is very very difficult :) Which is why I wanted a genetic excuse!" Then just notice that you want an excuse, without any judgment. That's just what is. No problem.

It's all about letting go, and if letting go is tough, then letting to is tough. No problem. :-)


message 37: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce wrote: "Then just notice that it's difficult; that's what's happening right now. No problem."

Very well said.


message 38: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Jim, before I retired from pediatric practice, I was a medical director for a large non-academic multi-specialty group, and the whole Kabat-Zinn approach was very helpful for a number of the docs who were often understandably stressed about almost everything. Three of my own four kids are also docs, and one at least took a Kabat-Zinn based eight week program during med school at UW-Wisconsin and has found it helpful subsequently. I'm no expert at all of this, but it has made a profound difference in my own life over the past couple of decades.


message 39: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Bruce, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments and the background information. I am certainly inspired by your example, with all of the stresses that you have obviously managed and observed.

Overall, I am in a very fortunate position, well aware of that and very thankful. But I have kept my research lab on life support as funding dried up, and trained stressed-out grad students and taught stressed-out medical students. I have also collaborated on research projects with neurosurgeons for many years - a high-stress crowd for sure. A part of what I draw from your message is that being surrounded by people who are highly stressed can act as a vortex, sucking you in. I have felt that.

I know that our medical students have access to a Kabat-Zinn based program, and I may be able to go through it at some point, but there are family/scheduling barriers to that for now. With that said, I do see many benefits from what I have learned about Kabat-Zinn's approach and others (neurohypnosis, binaural beats, and of course rest). I am officially on leave for now, and that is definitely supportive of the process of 'letting go'.

But I still have very definite deadlines and unexpected 'urgent responses' (typically someone needing help that only I can provide). Most of my continuing struggle is in reconciling the meeting of those obligations - for the benefit of others - with my own need to relax and feel better.

In that context, if I feel better, I think of the improvement as 'progress'. But I am generally very happy and accepting of my personal situation as it is.

Your thoughts are very helpful, and I am always ready to learn.


message 40: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Thanks for sharing that, Jim. If you ever do have the time to experience one of Jon K-Z's Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses for yourself, I think you'd find it time well invested. The program, as you probably know, originated under Jon and his close friend and collaborator, Saki Santorelli, at UMass, and Saki continues to run it since Jon's retirement. Both of them led the two five day retreats I went on, and those experiences were pivotal for me. It was necessary, though, for me to go away to do the retreats, since trying to shoehorn them into my daily professional schedule would have been not feasible. I did one at Omega Institute in NY State in the summer, and that was exclusively for healthcare professionals, which personalized the program a bit for a doc; I think that is still held annually. Anyway, keep in touch if you have an interest in continuing the conversation.


message 41: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim I do definitely have an interest, Bruce. All of the information is extremely useful. Thank you very much, and I will be in touch.


message 42: by Riku (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Thank you so much for this discussion, Jim and Bruce! Really got a lot out of it.


message 43: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Me too, Riku and Bruce!

I will pick up on other threads soon. Be present, and I will do the same.


message 44: by Bruce (new)

Bruce It has been a fun conversation, hasn't it?


message 45: by Riku (last edited Mar 13, 2012 10:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Riku Sayuj Bruce wrote: "It has been a fun conversation, hasn't it?"

Definitely!

Jim wrote: Be present, and I will do the same.

An alternative to the Be Positive mantra. :)


message 46: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Yes indeed!


message 47: by Bruce (new)

Bruce If either of you is ever interested, Jon Kabat-Zinn has a more recent and much larger book entitled, Coming To Our Senses, that is very good. But I am always aware of the temptation to continue reading more and more about mindfulness and mindfulness meditation without actually getting down to the challenging task of doing it. Reading can be a way of avoiding being present and/or sitting on the cushion, especially for those of us who like to read anyway. My suggestion would be to defer further reading for the time being and try the practices Jon has suggested in the book you have just read.


message 48: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim I am very interested, Bruce, and I also understand the tradeoff that you described.

I have a halfway house for books on my Kindle - the free sample house. Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness has taken up residence there, and can be called upon whenever I feel that the time is right.

I usually read the first couple of pages for items in this house, and then move them to the A or B list... Very confident that this one will be on the A list.

In the meantime, I learned a great deal from your comments and our discussion, and 'doing it' (and being present) are very much in mind.


message 49: by Bruce (new)

Bruce Please be aware that any comments I might make are out of my own continuing experience and are not those of an "expert." I have simply found it very seductive to reads lots of things about mindfulness instead of sitting down and doing the hard work. It can be, obviously, a fun hobby, and one can become kind of a mindfulness groupie, but it doesn't have much effect on daily life. One the other hand, mindfulness meditation practiced conscientiously is a royal road to coming to understand one's own mind, the key to living life creatively and fully.


message 50: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Very well said, Bruce, and I do understand both parts of the message. Your perspectives from your continuing experience are very much appreciated on all of this.


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