“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat Zinn
Regular readers of this blog will know that the inspiration for the name ‘I wish you well’ comes from the last sentence spoken by Jon Kabat-Zinn on his pain meditation that became the soundtrack to my 2017. It was recommended to me by my good friend Elle (for which I have deep gratitude) and became my companion on those long, never ending days spent lying down on my back. It showed me a whole different way of relating to the chronic pain I was suffering. Previously, I had handled pain by distracting myself and pretending it wasn’t happening. This route was not an option this time, as the pain was all consuming and seemingly a permanent feature of my life. Jon’s approach was to be with the pain, to acknowledge it and actually go into the pain – even for the briefest of moments to begin with – and get curious about it, experimenting with not even calling it pain. It is interesting when you focus on pain, it ebbs and flows, is nuanced and isn’t as constant as I had thought. It didn’t make it go away, but it transformed my relation to it and quite magically actually decreased my suffering and difficulty. Under Jon’s guidance, via the Audible app on my iPhone, over time (and near constant listening) these periods of being with the pain lengthened, gifting me a much better way of responding to the pain I was experiencing – and I discovered that it works for emotional pain just as well as physical. This is what birthed my whole fascination and subsequent passion for mindfulness, giving a whole raft of benefits for all areas of my life.
And so to the best news of the week, which I am BURSTING to tell you....I met Jon Kabat Zinn! My hero! As soon as I heard his voice, for real – not on the audible app - I felt chock full of emotion. This voice, that had been with me in my darkest hours, allowing me to come out of this experience not only ok but actually a lot better and able to see the huge gifts within it. Jon Kabat Zinn is one of the founding fathers of contemporary mindfulness and is Emiritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the USA. Suzie Walker, Editor of Psychologies Magazine, said to me that Jon Kabat Zinn is like Harrison Ford crossed with Obi Wan Kenobi. This is such a spot on description and gives you an insight into what he is like if you don’t know him.
Jon Kabat Zinn opened the Mindfulness in Schools Conference I went to in London this weekend. I sat there feeling so full of gratitude to this extremely humble man and inspiring speaker, that I resolved to put away my shy, reserved Britishness and go and say thank you to him (empowered I have to confess by my newly made firm friend Aran from New Zealand, thank you Aran!). So at lunchtime, that’s what I did. As one of the other speakers Cathie Paine said, meeting Jon Kabat Zinn was like her 14 year old meeting Ronaldo! I felt like I reverted to a 14 year old girl meeting her idol and found the whole experience incredibly moving – as you can see from the photo! – Jon responded very graciously and kindly. I am sure he must have this experience everywhere he goes. It felt for me like one of the profound moments of my life. I went out into the garden looking on to Euston Road afterwards, surrounded by London plane trees and lavender, and sat down and cried. As Aran described it, as she kindly gave me more tissues and a mango smoothie, I had come full circle on my journey. It was another moment to reflect on how far I have come and just what that journey has entailed so far.
The rest of the day was no less inspiring, particularly the young people who addressed the conference, completely stealing the show. We were led in a beautiful ‘petal practice’, breathing in and out slowly whilst opening and closing our upturned hands, by a little girl called Maya, showing no lack of confidence in front of all these hundreds of adults. Two teenagers, who had both been through their share of ups and downs already in their lives, spoke about how the biggest breakthrough that mindfulness had given them was to realise that their thoughts are just thoughts they aren’t who they actually are, recognising the stories that we can tell ourselves are not necessarily true, and that they had learnt “to just be me”. How wonderful to know this and to speak with such clarity and certainty. It was a joy to witness. We also heard from Jo, a mum whose 15 year old daughter Emily was in the Manchester bombing. They both spoke incredibly movingly about the experience from their different perspectives and how mindfulness had got them through it. It was Emily who had learnt mindfulness at school and had taught her mum, which they said had transformed both their lives. Jo said that she had realised that she can’t change others she can only change herself and her attitude. This is a powerful realisation which resonated with me.
I am working to change myself and my attitude one thought and one moment at a time. I enjoy sharing what I am learning in the hope that it resonates with you too and that it is of interest in your journey through life. I would love to hear more of your stories, so do share if you feel compelled or would like to. The main lesson for me that came out of the Conference was that it is far easier to weave our parachutes before we fall, not during the fall itself and that the waves will not stop but we can, in Jon’s words, learn to surf ... or in my words, perhaps train as a Jedi master!
I wish you well. Clare x
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