Understanding and practicing mindfulness can be tricky, but luckily there are many experts who offer their guidance and advice on how to be successful at being mindful. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. is one of these experts, but he also plays the role as a researcher, scientist, writer, and meditation teacher. Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he founded its world-renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic in 1979, as well as the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society in 1995.
Kabat-Zinn is the author of two best-selling books, one of these being, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. In his book, Kabat-Zinn guides the reader on a simple path for cultivating mindfulness. The book is broken up into smaller fragments, with brief synopses followed by a “Try” section. These “try” sections give how-to instructions on practicing mindfulness in a non-complex way.
Many of these try sections are worth examining and sharing in order for others to attain a more positive life. In the first part of the book, Kabat-Zinn suggests that, “If we hope to go anywhere or develop ourselves in any way, we can only step from where we are standing. If we don’t really know where we are standing—a knowing that comes directly from the cultivation mindfulness—we may only go in circles, for all our efforts and expectations,” (pgs. 15-16).
Many may read this brief passage and make their own interpretations based off of what Kabat-Zinn is saying here. However, one way to look at his counsel, is through the symbolization of stepping stones. Ask yourself, “where are you in relation to where you want to be?” (Whether that destination is emotionally, mentally, physically, occupationally, etc.). Have you thought about what stepping stone you are currently on? Perhaps the first, or third, or maybe the last? It is important to know where you (and only you) are at before taking another step. We must be able to understand and evaluate where we are at and see ourselves as for what we are without harsh judgement or comparison.
Oftentimes, we compare ourselves to others — an action that can be self-destructing and self-abusing. I am guilty of this, especially when it comes to athletics. When I was an undergraduate student, I ran collegiate cross-country and track & field. I would frequently compare my running performances and ability to my own teammates. In doing so, I would feel unaccomplished, unsuccessful, and just mediocre.
During these times of personal defeat, I would try incredibly hard to push not only the pace at practice, but also my body. In the weight room, I tried to out-lift my teammates when it came to power cleans, squats, or push press. When we did 200 meter repeats on the track, at the end of workouts I would try to be in the front, powering through on my toes at a sprint. Then when it came time to competitions and races, I would get upset with myself when I had not attained a personal record or ran as well as my teammates did. I had put in all of this effort and had expected to improve immensely. There was an evident cycle of disappointment and self-loathing.
Maybe, if I would have been more mindful as to what my own starting point was and took the time to assess where I was at, then I would have been able to take the first step to develop myself as a runner. In high school, I was not a state champion — How could I expect to come to college and instantly qualify for the NCAA Division II National Championships? The thing is, I was comparing myself to runners who were state champions, NCAA National Qualifiers, and All-Americans.
I was beginning from an inaccurate sense of myself, focusing too much on where I was not, instead of where I actually was. Those first steps I took to become a “better” athlete were mistaken, therefore, no growth was acquired. What Kabat-Zinn is trying to say is that mindfulness practice can help us to see ourselves without judgement, negative thoughts, and unrealistic expectations. It seems that we are good at seeing others, but mindfulness allows us to see ourselves.
This concept can be applied to many things, not just sports; take education for example. Some students excel in certain subjects over others, like mathematics. Some people are just not mathematically minded, but might be brilliant in other subjects like English or science. If a student like this were to get a “F” in statistics at midterm, but ended the course with a “C,” then that improvement, growth, and development is still just as significant as the student who is earning an “A.” However, if the “C” student never understood where they were at, and did not take into account where their strengths and weaknesses lie, then they might be disappointed with their “C” when comparing their grade to the “A” student. Stemming from this disappointment could be a lack of motivation to put forth any effort at math in the future.
Being mindful can help us to see ourselves clearly, which allows us to grow and develop as people. Mindfulness can help us to acknowledge our growth, and appreciate the path we are on.
“The best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
— Andrea Holm, Mindfulness Blogger