What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about learning to be in the present moment. It is something that is instinctive, so often it can be like re-learning these instincts which are buried deep inside which we know already but have forgotten. This is why to me it is both a practice and a way of thinking. So not just learning to be in the present moment, but non-judgemental of yourself and others and cultivating kindness.
The organisation Breathworks gives an explanation of mindfulness and how we can go about practising this ancient art.
Why mindfulness and sight loss? – my story
In 2009 it felt like a diagnosis of glaucoma came over night. One day I had ‘normal’ vision and then the next I couldn’t see to walk down stairs without tentatively looking down, I missed the bottom of any letter that had a tail like ‘y’s’ and and ‘g’s, and I couldn’t write in a straight line. There were many more signs, some of which I am still discovering.
Two operations later, I think my journey has been about retracing these signs and examining why I literally didn’t ‘see’ them and also learning about the complexity of this disease. Glaucoma is in fact the name for a group of eye conditions, all of which mean that the optic nerve, the cord from the eye to the brain has been damaged. I’ve lost all of the lower peripheral vision in my right eye and now have variable vision in my left.
Of course having any kind of eye condition is anxiety provoking. Especially one like glaucoma which can take a while to diagnose, and stabilise. Eye doctors say as long as you are monitored there is a good chance that any remaining sight can be maintained, yet there is always ‘what if’. What if treatments don’t work, what if I wake up completely blind, what if…..?.
So this is why mindfulness came into my life. After one of my eye procedures, I started to suffer with headaches. My eyes had to retrain themselves to the world. I suffered with blurred vision for a year, and I couldn’t update my prescription glasses which were now useless for my changed vision, until my sight became more stable. When I started a new job I was allocated magnification software for my computer which helped me do my job. But my eyes were still getting use to a new world. My brain was slow to catch up and maybe didn’t want to remember!
I’d learnt to meditate years before but after the class I never continued, any attempts I made over the years never stuck. I thought ‘I just can’t clear my head like you are supposed to’. I can’t remember when mindfulness came into the picture, but I think it had always been somewhere on the horizon as a prospect.
So I found an eight week course in south London and signed up, hoping that this rather than pain killers would help the pounding in my head. At the first class our teacher told us about the American Jon Kabat Zinn, who in 1979 created an 8 week course at the University of Massachusetts Medical School to help people with difficult conditions some of which involved chronic pain, I knew then I was in the right place.
Kabat Zinn discovered that meditation would not cure his patients but could help them to relate to their stress and suffering in a different way. The course I took called MBSR (Mindfulness-based stress reduction) is based on this early course and is used by people around the world who want to find a way to work with normal daily difficulties so that they can enjoy their lives more fully.
Mindfulness was the only way I found to accept my eye condition, deal with the anxiety which had plagued me since my diagnosis and live in the present moment without fear of the future.