Thursday, 9 January 2014



 This Chinese proverb is a well-known one, almost to the extent of becoming a cliché, and yet it contains considerable wisdom about life in general and it very much is an apposite description with respect to a person learning how to practice mindfulness. For me, the last few months have really demonstrated that this is so, as my life has been very challenging with a number of difficult life events including the death of a much loved older member of the family, my sister being hospitalised with a life-threatening condition and my own sciatica have a major relapse.

There was one very grey, gloomy November afternoon when I was just waiting as my sister had the third and most invasive of three very large surgeries in less than a week (she had a total of over 30 hours of surgery in all), when my mindfulness practice really “came good”. It was a very hard day of just waiting and hoping she would get through the operation, I took my Westie out into the garden to “do his business” as I was unable to walk him, due to my sciatica. Suddenly the beauty of an acer, with its vibrant red leaves standing out in stark and beautiful contrast to the grey murk of the day struck me. And in the midst of all my suffering I was able to just be present, to be fully in the moment, to forget my anxiety about my sister

Acer palmatum leaves at Westonbirt credit Paul Groom

and really take in and appreciate the gloriousness of that tree. It was like a beacon of hope. I could feel my breath slow and my body relax as I just took it in – it gave me enough to not get overwhelmed by anxiety as I waited to hear that she had made it through the operation. And she did.

In the past, when I have had periods of life being “too much” all at once, I have gone into busy-ness and doing the numbed out stiff upper lip thing – this autumn I discovered that I was able to draw on the reserves and resources I had accrued over the last few years of making mindfulness a part of my daily life, in particular the practices that have taught me to focus on taking in the good. It has been that focus that spontaneously came to the fore in my awareness and brought my attention to the beauty of the acer.

Mindfulness is an ever-expanding field these days. Now, not only is it something that is used to support people with health and stress problems, but it is also being used in schools and also industry. The Guardian had an interesting feature about it this week -

Mindfulness enables one to be able to be present with very difficult situations without being lost in overwhelm nor completely numbed out as a means of survival. As I start this new year of 2014 I have a real sense that without my mindfulness practice I would be very poorly at present with my chronic pain condition and yet, despite all the challenges of the last few months, my sciatica is much better now and I am starting this new year knowing that mindfulness helps me find happiness, joy and solace in even the most difficult of circumstances. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, the “grandfather” of the mindfulness movement in the West, so famously said:

You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf…….

Happy New Year


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