Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Summary

A clear and engaging introduction to practicing meditation and cultivating mindfulness in your life. You will learn about what meditation and mindfulness are, why they matter, how to introduce them to your daily activities and way of operating. If you’re interested in living a life with more clarity, presence, awareness, and acceptance, this book will help you get there.

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Key Takeaways

What is meditation?

“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.”

We are all on a journey called life. The journey may be and look different for all of us, but in the process of letting it unfold, we can all become better attuned to our path and its infinite complexities. Meditation is a practice that can help us do this. Not only does it have the capacity to make us fully aware of the path that we are on, but it can give us the clarity and wisdom to know that any changes we hope to introduce to that path begin with what we do in the present moment.

“Meditation is neither shutting things out nor off. It is seeing things clearly, and deliberately positioning yourself differently in relationship to them.”

“Meditation is not about trying to become a nobody, or a contemplative zombie, incapable of living in the real world and facing real problems. It’s about seeing things as they are, without the distortions of our own thought processes.”

In the process of practicing meditation, we begin to observe and see life more clearly. We see thoughts for what they are – thoughts. We see experiences for what they are – experiences. When we begin to see clearly, we become more conscious of the difference between what happens in our lives and the stories we tell ourselves about those happenings.

What is mindfulness?

“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.”

There is often confusion about the relationship between meditation and mindfulness. Simply put, meditation is a practice that can help us cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness is non-judgmental awareness of the present moment that breeds greater awareness, clarity, and acceptance.

What is the benefit of mindfulness?

“When we commit ourselves to paying attention in an open way, without falling prey to our own likes and dislikes, opinions and prejudices, projections and expectations, new possibilities open up and we have a chance to free ourselves from the straitjacket of unconsciousness.”

Mindfulness allows us to be fully aware of our present thoughts, experiences, and behaviors without being tied to the story that we tell ourselves about them. In doing so, we can more consciously navigate our lives and the world.

Is there a purpose to meditation?

“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.”

There is no goal to meditation. When you meditate, you are paying closer attention to your thoughts, emotions, and experiences in the now. And while there are an increasing number of physical and mental health benefits associated with a long-term meditation practice, the most significant benefit is the increased mindfulness you bring to your daily life.

“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 of old habits and patterns, to become free or enlightened. All valid reasons to take up a meditation practice, but all equally fraught with problems if you expect those things to happen just because now you are meditating. You’ll get caught up in wanting to have a “special experience” or in looking for signs of progress, and if you don’t feel something special pretty quickly, you may start to doubt the path you have chosen, or to wonder whether you are ‘doing it right.’”

Don’t meditate to achieve a particular end. While you will likely experience several physical and mental benefits from a consistent meditation practice over time, the essence of the practice is separate from these benefits. If you approach your meditation practice with a particular goal in mind, you might end up quitting too early when you don’t see those results. You might begin to think that you’re not “doing it right.” But there are goals or ways of doing it right. Instead, begin a regular meditation practice with an open mind. Be consistent – even when it’s difficult to do so – and see where the journey takes you.

Meditation and being where you are

“But, meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel. It’s not about making the mind empty or still, although stillness does deepen in meditation and can be cultivated systematically. Above all, meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It’s not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are. If you don’t understand this, you will think you are constitutionally unable to meditate. But that’s just more thinking, and in this case, incorrect thinking at that.”

Don’t worry about getting somewhere else with your meditation practice. You practice will help you better see and understand more about how and where you are in this moment.

Stretch

“TRY: Getting down on the floor once a day and stretching your body mindfully, if only for three or four minutes, staying in touch with your breathing and with what your body is telling you. Remind yourself that this is your body today. Check to see if you are in touch with it.”

Become more attuned with your body by dedicating a few minutes each day to getting on the floor and stretching. Pay attention to all of the sensations – tension, aches, and whatever else you’re feeling. In doing so, you’ll be more conscious of how you are and what your body needs from you in this moment. Slowing down and becoming more mindful in this way is a simple and effective habit to build.

We’re all connected

“We resonate with one another’s sorrows because we are interconnected. Being whole and simultaneously part of a larger whole, we can change the world simply by changing ourselves.”

On some level, we all know that we’re connected to a greater system that we’ll never understand. But knowing that we are connected to the system can help us realize that by changing ourselves, we can transform our impact on others and the world. By operating with more compassion, integrity, and wisdom, we can spread these qualities to the world.

Loving kindness

“May I be free from ignorance. May I be free from greed and hatred. May I not suffer. May I be happy.”

During a loving kindness meditation, you can gently ask to be free from ignorance, greed, hatred, and suffering. Asking is a form of compassion toward yourself, which is something far too many of us don’t have in our lives.

“You can direct loving kindness toward your parents whether they are alive or dead, wishing them well, wishing that they may not feel isolated or in pain, honoring them. If you feel capable of it and it feels healthy to you, and liberating, finding a place in your own heart to forgive them for their limitations, for their fears, and for any wrong actions and suffering they may have caused, remembering Yeats’s line, ‘Why, what could she have done, being what she is?’”

In addition to giving ourselves loving kindness, we can direct that loving kindness outward as well – to our parents, friends, neighbors, strangers, or the entire world. In doing so, we can wish well upon others and find ways to forgive them for their limitations, fears, and wrong actions. This level of empathy and compassion is rare, but invaluable.

Be yourself

“Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession…. Do that which is assigned to you, and you cannot hope too much or dare too much.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you’re willing to embrace them, you have unique gifts that you can bring to this world. Instead of trying to embody the qualities of others, identify your highest ways of giving and live them fully.

Life as a mountain climb

“The mountain climb is a powerful metaphor for the life quest, the spiritual journey, the path of growth, transformation, and understanding. The arduous difficulties we encounter along the way embody the very challenges we need in order to stretch ourselves and thereby expand our boundaries. In the end, it is life itself which is the mountain, the teacher, serving us up perfect opportunities to do the inner work of growing in strength and wisdom.”

Life is a journey with endless paths, challenges, and growth. Embrace the journey fully, and you will get what you need out of it.

What we do as teachers

“In a way, that’s all any of us do when we teach. As best we can, we show others what we have seen up to now. It’s at best a progress report, a map of our experiences, by no means the absolute truth. And so the adventure unfolds. We are all on Mount Analogue together. And we need each other’s help.”

Teaching is a gift and an act of service. We are all interconnected and need each other’s help. Think of the experiences you’ve had and the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the years. How can you share that with others so that they may live with a little more joy and a little less pain?

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