What about this moment is not enough?

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A number of years ago I made an unconventional decision: taking a sabbatical from a job as a management consultant to explore the emerging phenomenon of “mindfulness”.

To kick-start this exploration I signed up for a conference titled ‘Creating a Mindful Society’ held in New York.  The name seemed fitting enough and the conference featured some super-stars in the field of mindfulness. The keynote speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and widely considered one of the most influential people in bringing mindfulness into mainstream western life. I had recently read his first book, Full Catastrophe Living, and I resonated deeply with how he articulated mindfulness and its potential for healing our world. Through my own first-hand experience I had seen the transformative beauty of mindfulness, and I was stoked to learn there was a whole “movement” dedicated to the cause.

When I arrived at the conference I was disappointed to see only about 300 people. It seemed crystal clear to me that mindfulness was the answer to so much personal and societal suffering; why weren’t more people catching on?

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The Art of Conscious Living

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This poem is from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s first book Full Catastrophe Living. The book serves as a detailed introduction to mindfulness, and is placed in the context of healthcare and healing. Published in 1990, it helped lay the groundwork for mindfulness in the US, particularly from a scientific end. I’d like to share one quote from the book that resonated deeply, on the art of conscious living:

“You can’t sail straight into the wind, and if you only know how to sail with the wind at your back, you will only go where the wind blows you. But if you know how to use the wind’s energy and are patient, you can sometimes get where you want to go. You can still be in control.

If you hope to make use of the force of your own problems to propel you in this way, you will have to be tuned in, just as the sailor is tuned in to feel the boat, the water, the wind, and his or her course. You will have to learn how to handle yourself under all kinds of stressful conditions, not just when the weather is sunny and the wind blowing exactly the way you want it to.

We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught in one, they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest.

Training, practice, and a lot of firsthand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skill in facing and effectively handling the various ‘weather conditions’ in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living.”