George is a middle-aged man who lives in the States. He has a severe, progressive condition that affects all aspects of his day to day life, yet he is functioning on a higher level than many others with comparable disease. George practises mindfulness and is included as a case study in ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn. ‘Within the limits of his disease, he is actively meeting life’s challenges rather than sitting at home and bemoaning his fate. He takes each moment as it comes and figures out how he can work with it and stay relaxed and aware.’ An example of this is how George does the weekly grocery shop for himself and his wife. He takes his time. He rests. He asks for help when necessary. He gets the shopping packed into light bag loads which he is then able to lift from the trolley to the car. The daily tasks he completes in this way bring value and meaning to his life as he is able to contribute to the running of his household, whilst self-managing his condition.
Something I have learnt to do across all the therapies I receive is to regularly pause and ask myself ‘what do I need?’ In the early stages, my initial response would often be ‘I don’t know,’ but as my mindfulness practice has deepened, my needs have become clearer. Imagine all of life’s internal and external distractions and stimuli as white noise on a radio. Using mindfulness helps you tune into the station so you can clearly hear what is being said. I think it’s an invaluable technique for everyone, not just those of us living with chronic illness.
As time goes on I find the question, ‘what do I need?’ much easier to both answer and act upon. On the occasions when I go back to my old response of, ‘I don’t know,’ I take a few moments to drop my awareness into my body and follow my breath. The white noise lessons and the answer becomes clear. It was there all along, I just needed to calm the interference of life’s distractions to be able to see it.