“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn often adds to his well known definition, saying, “as if your life depended on it.”
As if your life depended on it.
I’ve written in previous posts about how I use mindfulness to identify and acknowledge how I feel, enabling me to show myself kindness and attend to my needs during the most challenging times (‘Self-soothe‘ and ‘What do I need? A Technique for Self-Care‘). I’ve recently realised the importance not just of my practice during the harder times, but during the gentler times too. It’s during those better times that reserves of resilience are built. Practising mindfulness has been compared to weaving a parachute. As Mark Williams and Danny Penman wrote in ‘Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World’, “there’s no point in doing this when we’re falling headlong towards destruction. We have to weave our parachute every day so that it’s always there to hold us in an emergency.” So how do we weave our parachute and keep those reserves of resilience topped up?
A daily formal meditation practice goes a long way to weaving the parachute. Not only does it decrease feelings of stress and suffering whilst increasing feelings of well-being and contentment, but it also increases flexibility and creativity, opening up choice. There are other threads, crucial to give the parachute strength and stability. Ensuring you always include activities that nourish and sustain you in your day, whilst learning to deal more skilfully with any necessary draining and depleting activities helps maintain equilibrium and well-being. Practising responding, rather than impulsively reacting, to more trivial challenges when you are feeling strong, makes it easier to access this more helpful mindset when the challenges are more significant and you feel vulnerable. Becoming aware that you only truly live in this moment, now, and recognising when you’ve wandered into the past or raced into the future, enables you to recognise unhelpful thought patterns and how they impact on your feelings and actions, before you get too caught up in them.
Weaving these threads isn’t just necessary to survive, but to thrive. Even when faced with difficulties, you can still experience happiness and the comfort in knowing that you will be okay. I’ve just returned from retreat where I’ve been reinforcing the threads that had run thin. How reassuring it is to know my parachute is always on my back.