Coming to Our Senses, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Coming to Our Senses, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Hyperion (NY); 2005

Bought through QPB several years ago on the recommendation of my son’s therapist, this book has waited patiently for the ‘right time to read it’ to arrive!


“We have made absorption in the future and in the past such an overriding habit that, much of the time, we have no awareness of the present moment at all. As a consequence, we may feel we have very little, if any, control over the ups and downs of our own lives and our own minds.” (22)

I clearly remember, in that scary stage between high school graduation and figuring it out, wishing I could just go to sleep and wake up twenty years later. By then, I figured, ‘it’ would all have settled down, everything would be firmly in the right place, and I could just move forward. (Just as well not to be able to go back and tell that 18-year-old self that life doesn’t always look much more settled at 38.)

Of course I didn’t really go to sleep. Lots happened in those twenty years–marriage and motherhood, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, a budding teaching career and some administrative positions, the passing of my parents, moves and new friends and much to thank God for. We had challenges, too, like the dawning knowledge that Jim would need more support, school-wise and socially, than the average bear.

Those were years of growth and change, of hurts and tough-earned knowledge and unearthed compassion, and of much that was good and rich and germinating—the seeds still sprouting, the magic still emerging, another twenty years later.

But I can’t say I went through those times with my eyes open and my appreciation on high alert. In fact, there are whole years I think I navigated on auto-pilot—years when the date would suddenly surprise me (“How can it possibly be 1994?”), when my own age came as a suddenly-realized shock.

I careened, even though I often careened in a fairly capable fashion, from passage to passage, and from event to event. Although those were the years when I earned my master’s and we laid the foundation for Mark to begin work on his law degree, it seems like we spent more time reacting than planning. It was as if life were a giant, cloth-covered mallet that kept whacking us, without rhythm; the best we could do was to plan how to absorb the next strike.

Challenging things happen, and we struggle—but the silver lining is that we can always leverage new knowledge and understanding from the difficult times. And so it was by talking with a wonderful therapist when Jim, in his mid-teens, hit a really tough depression wall that I learned about mindfulness and the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I DID incorporate a lot of changes into my life as a result. I went to qi gong classes and started a practice I still embrace. I started writing morning pages in earnest. I practiced meditation, off and on, enjoying it, deepening the habit, and then losing the thread as a Big Thing happened—a job change, a major move, a family shift.

And I ordered Jon Kabat-Zinn’ s books, Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses. They arrived; I put them on a shelf, ignored them for easier thrills—sorry, books, you’ve been shoved aside by a murder mystery—and moved them to two new homes.

There’s a thing that happens, I think, when you’ve been in school and in a profession that demands and prescribes reading—some of us get rebellious and think, “No one is going to tell me what to read in my leisure time!” I was that way, and so, despite believing in the strong and necessary message of the book, Coming to Our Senses, I just couldn’t make myself read it.

First, I’d say, I’ll just finish this nice little mystery series about knitters by the New England ocean… And then I’d take Jim to the library and come home with four books from the new book shelves—due in two weeks, of course. Gotta read those…might be someone waiting for them…

A falling boulder tips the scales sometimes; others, it’s a featherweight that changes the balance. This winter, no major changed occured; I just looked at the stack of books I’d accumulated (more than a stack, really; they range throughout the house) and thought, “Okay, it’s time.”

And it is. It is the right time now to wake up and read about mindfulness. As my 60’s approach inexorably, as Jim looks at transitioning to adulthood opportunities and challenges, it is time to be aware and awake and proactive—not reactive. I’m looking forward to renewing a meditative practice; I’m looking forward to clearing away the cobwebs and discovering where the path is leading.

I’m looking forward to coming to my senses.


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