Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Kabat-Zinn's take on mindfulness

I read this to my yoga class today:

I'm reading this to my yoga class today:

Have you ever noticed that your awareness of pain is not in pain, even when you are? I’m sure you have. It is a very common experience, especially in childhood, but one we usually don’t examine or talk about because it is so fleeting and the pain so much more compelling in the moment it comes upon us.

Have you ever noticed that your awareness of fear is not afraid even when you are terrified? Or that your awareness of depression is not depressed; that your awareness of bad habits is not a slave to those habits; or perhaps even your awareness of who you are is not who you think you are?

You can test out any of these propositions for yourself any time you like simply by investigating awareness – by becoming aware of awareness itself. It is easy, but we hardly ever think to do it because awareness, like the present moment itself, is a virtually hidden dimension in our lives, embedded everywhere and therefore not so noticeable anywhere.

If you move into pure awareness in the midst of pain, even for the tiniest moment, your relationship with your pain is going to shift right in that very moment. It is impossible for it not to change because the gesture of holding it, even if not sustained for long, even for a second or two, already reveals a larger dimension. And that shift in your relationship with the experience gives you more degrees of freedom in your attitude and in your actions in a given situation, whatever it is … even if you don’t know what to do.

Awareness transforms emotional pain just as it transforms the pain that we attribute more to the domain of body sensations. When we are immersed in emotional pain, if we pay close attention, we will notice that there is always an overlay of thoughts and a plethora of different feelings about the pain we are in, so here too the entire constellation of what we think of as emotional pain can be welcomed in and held in awareness, crazy as that may sound at first blush. It is amazing how unused we are to doing such a thing, and how profoundly revealing and liberating it can be to engage our emotions and feelings in this way, even when they are raging or despairing – especially when they are raging or despairing.

From Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World through Mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hyperion: NY, 2005; pp. 88-89.