Chronic fatigue and mindfulness

Mindfulness is very popular these days (thanks mainly to the work of Jon Kabat Zinn)as a treatment for depression and our relationship to difficult illnesses. Mindfulness is simply paying attention to what is going on. There is everyday mindfulness which is fairly accessible to everyone where we just pay attention to something, and there is a kind of infused meditative mindfulness where what is going on flows through us. The mental quality of awareness is essentially the same in both cases.

How do we know we're being mindful? Just asking, "am I mindful?", automatically creates the correct level of awareness.

So, I use mindfulness quite a lot to relate to my situation and I'll give one example here, although there are many uses for mindfulness. When I'm having a particularly difficult time I like to ask, "where is it now?" This immediately takes me out of mental proliferation about my present difficulty, breaking up thoughts such as 'This is really bad', 'I can't think', 'I can't do anything', 'I'm sinking', ' I can't cope'. These thoughts, although relevant to my situation, aren't really helping me. Instead, I ask repeatedly 'where is it now?'

This question directs my interest into my body so I can find where my illness is. Once I am in my body, I start to find things that are OK - my feet are generally good, my arms and legs work, my organs aren't painful, there is no immediate pain in the body (if I am lucky), there are (perhaps) no physical symptoms. I go on like this, checking out different bits of my body, inside and out, until I find the symptom that is causing me difficulty, usually my brain. Even there I start to explore and find bits of my brain that seem to be OK - awareness is OK, the lizard part is OK, my vision is not right, my frontal lobes seem completely fogged up, I can't really deal with conversation. Sometimes I can identify a particular thought pattern that just doesn't work anymore.

Now I have identified bits that don't work and bits that do work. The next step is to be wuth those areas that are OK and avoid the areas that are not OK, and, importantly, try to do activities that avoid damaged bits. Then, I hang out until time moves on and, hopefully, I can feel happy with life as it is.


Toni said…
This is a beautiful post on mindfulness. I love how you search your body for the parts that are okay and then "hang out" there. I'm going to add this to my mindfulness practices.

I see that you follow many of the same blogs I do so you may already know that I have a book that just came out, based on my experience with CFS/ME, that contains dozens of Buddhist-based practices (including some of my own mindfulness practices) to help us not add mental suffering to our physical suffering. In case you're not aware of it, it's called How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and Their Caregivers. There's more about it here:

Again, thanks for such a practical post!

Lightfoot said…
Hello, thanks for your encouragement. I was aware of your book and it sounds very good, from what I've read and heard from your talks. I hope to get a copy soon.
Nettie Powell said…
thank you i suffer from this alot,i have a few good tools,i go to class 5 days a week,and i keep journals,these help me alot to write my problems out,and then i write my prayers,and of course my medicine,journals are a great tool.nettie
Lightfoot said…
Thanks Nettie. I also keep journals and find them invaluable.

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