Mindful Analogies

Reading Jon Kabat-Zin’s Full Catastrophe Living in preparation for starting a mindfulness course and I encounter a meteorological analogy central to the practice:

“We all accept that no one controls the weather. Good sailors learn to read it carefully and respect its power. They will avoid storms if possible, but when caught they know when to take down the sails, batten down the hatches, drop anchor, and ride things out, controlling what is controllable and letting go of the rest. Training, practice, and a lot of first hand experience in all sorts of weather are required to develop such skills so that they work for you when you need them. Developing skills and flexibility in facing and effectively navigating the various “weather conditions” in your life is what we mean by the art of conscious living” (“Introduction”, li).

I like what this analogy suggests about living in response to the world, and I am looking forward to my course, and open to the process of learning this individualised practice. But, in another sense, I find this analogy interesting precisely because it is so individualised and therefore entirely metaphoric when it comes to applications of mindfulness in the world. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer and going down this path myself, I was observing passively the uptake of corporate mindfulness and wondering about the ethical dimensions of applying the practice in jobs that might be stressful because they are unethical. Is stress about, I dunno, restructuring a workplace so as to cut costs for a multinational corporation actually warranted?

Also I am interested in how a stressed out person might still be required to attend work in a heat wave or storm. Which is what I mean by the analogy being “metaphoric” in that it is not literally applicable to all situation. Our work in a contemporary urbanised world is not responsive to the weather, even though the analogy takes the weather as the best and clearest example of living in response to forces beyond our control. More to come…

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