Wherever You Go, There You Are:
Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life
Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994)
London and New York: Piatkus and Hyperion
Reviewed by Tom, MBCPM alumni
Kabat-Zinn discusses the concept of mindfulness in various ways. He writes of practicing cultivating pure awareness of the present moment, which is all there ever really is, and is ever-changing, and different for every single being that exists. He uses various anecdotes and quotes to illustrate this as an invaluable practice, and reflects on what it means to actually practice mindfulness.
Kabat-Zinn published this book after his first book, â€œFull Catastrophe Livingâ€ on which the NeuroNova Centreâ€™s Mindfulness-Based Chronic Pain Management (MBCPM) courses are based. However, I would be reluctant to recommend this to the inexperienced beginner as I had some harsh reactions to some concepts in this book. For highly sensitive people it could be useful to explore this book together with the help of an experienced professional.
In the chapter on â€œThe Bloom of the Present Momentâ€ he discusses how to practice meditation and how simple yet challenging it can be, and ways of working through those challenges. I loved how he likened focusing on the present moment as â€œbloomingâ€, making me think of a field of flowering trees blooming, fading away and blooming again as seasons rotate. As each moment passes new moments are constantly emerging.
As I re-read and reflected on what he was saying, I had many epiphanies. Because of that, I feel hesitant that sensitive people need to have already developed some mindful ability to manage some of the concepts in the book without tipping into depressive thinking. Of particular concern to me is the section titled â€œStoppingâ€ in which he likens mindful meditation to dying. Perhaps this concept can be managed by reminding ourselves that we have a firm anchor to return toâ€”the breath-- and however strong our apprehensive or sad feelings, there will always be hope and breath.
â€œPatienceâ€, â€œnon-judgingâ€, and â€œletting goâ€ are all attitudes that are discussed. The mundane task of closing doors is suggested to try doing mindfully, and by trying that more often now, it has also helped me to be better able to see myself closing doors on past times of my life and opening doors and windows to new moments to come.
Posture during formal practice is described as something to be mindful about, even if we are slouching. He discusses placement of the hands, meditation props and postures during formal practice. He reassures us there is no right way to meditate. Striving and straining and seeing mindfulness as a procedure can be detrimental. The Mountain Meditation, The Lake Meditation, sitting, lying down, standing meditation, mindful movement and loving kindness meditation are all discussed. For walking meditation, Kabat-Zinn even suggests pushing a shopping cart in a grocery store!
Some ideas that came through: â€œIf you miss the here, youâ€™re likely to miss the thereâ€. Navajo: â€œWalk in beauty wherever you areâ€. Trees can be helpful to visualize for standing meditation. Sleep may be more restful if you enter it through meditation. I found his discussion on Body Scan helped me to better connect my breathing with parts of my body: â€œBreathing into areasâ€.
In the last section of the book, Kabat-Zinn reflects more on the practice and application of mindfulness. The section titled â€œcat food lessonsâ€ illustrates how Kabat-Zinn has been able to transform otherwise annoying behavior of family members into reduced suffering and respectful amusement: beneficial in coping with people doing things that otherwise disturb us!
Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Kabat-Zinn was a student of Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Zen Master Seung Sahn and a founding member of Cambridge Zen Center. His practice of yoga and studies with Buddhist teachers led him to integrate their teachings with those of (Western) science. He teaches mindfulness, which he says can help people cope with stress, anxiety, pain, and illness. The stress reduction program created by Kabat-Zinn, called Mindfulness-based stress reduction, is offered by medical centers, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations.