Given the many wonderful mindfulness practitioners I’ve met over the years, I am struck by a common thread that runs through our stories. Frequently, a pivotal event after a period of intense suffering is the kindling that lights the fire that fuels the journey. Many of us search for and strive after all sorts of “fixes” and “solutions”, some of them quite unskillful, before we stumble upon the healing practices of mindfulness.
People ask me about my journey and I always feel a little torn. Is it relevant? Will it help? Do I even really understand my journey? Its all stories, but maybe in the telling there is a sense of common humanity or some imparting of hope or inspiration. So here it is – my story – for what its worth, may it be of benefit.
There were surely many formative factors, both internal and external – maybe even some from before I was born – that shaped my path, but this is what seems most relevant now. I was sick often as a child, so I was aware of suffering and mortality on some level, with no useful framework for making sense of it. Looking back, I believe this primed me for a fair amount of cynicism and disillusionment later on. Suffering seemed unavoidable, isolating and pointless.
I remember reading The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy in high school. The depth of the protagonist’s isolation and suffering stuck with me, but I have no memory at all of his 11th hour liberation – that must have gone right over my head. Fortunately, I grew into good health, but the story line remained. Living from this type of narrative made the hardships stand out more boldly against the many joys and pleasures that were also present.
Hindsight is 20/20, but I think these early experiences were what eventually drew me to psychology as a study and a career. Working in a caring profession offered the possibility that I could help reduce suffering in some small way and that felt very meaningful to me. Life became more purposeful and hopeful. Through my professional studies and work with clients, I learned the concepts and practices of mindfulness. They seemed radical, almost paradoxical, yet proved to be so much more powerful than many of the Western therapy approaches I was trained to deliver.
Through my own personal practice of mindfulness and in sharing the practices with clients, I experienced and witnessed subtle, yet profound changes. Some of the fruits of a consistent practice have included increased openness and flexibility in responding to experience, growing courage and confidence in facing difficulty, greater contentment and life satisfaction, and a more enduring sense of gratitude. These benefits make the practices self-reinforcing, necessitating less of the “will-power” and self-discipline that seem to be a part of many self-help strategies and key to their non-sustainability.
Whatever the truth of my journey may be, I am very grateful to have learned about mindfulness. My path continues to evolve and change and it has been interesting to watch it unfold. Perhaps my greatest joy is sharing what has been so nourishing and helpful to me with others who are open to it. The insights I have gained from my clients are immeasurable and priceless.
Now that I’ve shared my mindfulness journey with you, might you consider sharing yours? What brought you to the practice of mindfulness and what continues to sustain you?