Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

“We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. (…) And we leave precious little room for ourselves anyway just to be, without having to run around doing things all the time.”

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go, There You Are is Jon Kabat-Zinn‘s book on mindfulness meditation. Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine and Director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He has done extensive work on integrating traditional Buddhist teachings with concepts of Western science and he has been a pioneer in bringing meditation into mainstream medicine.

What Is “Mindfulness Meditation”?

Although “mindfulness meditation” may sound like an esoteric concept to many, Kabat-Zinn explains that it simply implies focusing all the attention in the present moment, while escaping from the normal dynamic of continuous thinking.

Meditation is the process by which we go about deepening our attention and awareness, refining them, and putting them to greater practical use in our lives. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance of present-moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. (…) And we leave precious little room for ourselves anyway just to be, without having to run around doing things all the time. 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 tyrannize us. This process doesn’t magically happen by itself. It takes energy. It does not involve becoming some kind of zombie, vegetable, self-absorbed narcissist, navel gazer, ‘space cadet’, cultist, devotee, mystic, or Eastern philosopher. Meditation is simply about being yourself and knowing something about who that is.

How To Go About Meditation?

Meditation is different from most other human activities, which are done with the expectation of obtaining an outcome.

Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at the bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are. People usually don’t get this right away. They want to meditate in order to relax, to experience a special state, to become a better person, to reduce some stress or pain, to break out old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating.

At the core of mindfulness meditation is observing what comes to mind with a non-judgmental attitude.

Meditation means cultivating a non-judging attitude toward what comes up in the mind (…) That doesn’t mean judging won’t be going on. (…) When it occurs, we don’t try to stop it or ignore it, any more than we would try to stop any other thoughts that might come through your mind.

Meditation, states the author, is about stopping all external or internal activity, and becoming wholly present in the now, i.e., going from doing to being.

Meditation is simplicity itself. (…) It is about stopping and being present, that is all. A good way to stop all the doing is to shift into the ‘being mode’ for a moment.

At one point, the author uses the powerful perspective of death to illustrate his point.

(…) as soon as you do it, here you are. Things get simpler. In some ways it’s as if you died and the world continued on. If you did die, all your responsibilities and obligations would immediately evaporate.

Meditation certainly involves non-doing. But here lies one of Kabat-Zinn’s best insights: non-doing is very different from doing nothing. For most of us who are absorbed in a “doer” culture, non-doing is a big change and it may paradoxically imply doing a lot.

If you sit down to meditate, even for a moment, it will be a time for non-doing. It is very important not to think that this non-doing is synonymous with doing nothing. They couldn’t be more different. Consciousness and intention matter here. In fact, they are key.

What Is The Starting Point Of “Non-Doing”?

Before describing several meditation techniques, Kabat-Zinn introduces “breath” as a key tool to meditate.

It helps to have a focus for your attention, an anchor line to tether you to the present moment and to guide you back when the mind wanders. The breath serves this purpose exceedingly well. (…) Bringing awareness to our breathing, we remind ourselves that we are here now (…)

Meditation is neither good nor bad in itself. It either suits you or it doesn’t, depending on your life situation.

You certainly need to be ready for meditation. You have to come to it at the right time in your life.

Wherever You Go, There You Are is a great introduction to mindfulness meditation with plenty of practical exercises to get started. If you think you are ready to take the next big step towards inner-peace, go for it!

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