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"Community of the Afflicted" - a great advertisement for mindfulness training!

5 April 2019 | , Timothea Goddard | Mindfulness Practice ,

I love this short piece by Jon Kabat-Zinn called “Listening is an act of love”.


He captures the heart of the MSBR process with his emphasis on how mindfulness can help us let go of our grasping and insistence on how things in our personal reality should be. We strive so hard everyday to shape ourselves into some ideal self, that we so often fall short of. This striving and criticism creates a kind of war with ourselves that is painful and fruitless. Mindfulness practice helps us learn to recognise our experience, to accept it and actually begin investigating it. We then have the change to get more perspective on it and to loosen our identification with it. 

Perhaps more importantly, he points to how practice can widen the circle of our compassion – not only for ourselves, but for everyone we meet.

He speaks of his old academic friend who came to MBSR when he was facing cancer. His big discovery through the course was realising that we are all part of a “community of the afflicted”. Wow! This is not the usual advertisement for mindfulness training. Usually we are being told that it will make us smarter, more productive, more successful.

But maybe what the practice does is tenderises us, and makes us more aware of our vulnerability – which for me brings a freshness to the moment and a deep gratitude and appreciation for life.

Anything can happen. And even though much in our lives can be managed and chosen, much of what will come our way is out of our personal control. Our precious projects, homes, bodies and loved ones are all in the process of change. So much is uncertain and we react by feeling threatened a lot of the time. And everybody is in the same boat.

Practice gives an opportunity to settle, to ground and to see things a little more clearly. And to feel the interconnectedness that we are all part of – captured so beautifully by Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese….


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.