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Book Summary: Wherever You Go, There You Are – Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

Mindfulness isn’t a mystic secret that only a few truly devout people can discover. It’s something you can easily practice each day no matter where you are. “Wherever You Go, There You Are” teaches how to use mindfulness and meditation to center yourself in everyday life. In this book summary, you’ll learn the basic ideas behind meditation and mindfulness, how to practice it, and how to make it part of your everyday life.

Learn the importance of meditation and how to apply mindfulness to your life


  • Are interested in meditation
  • Often get caught up thinking about the past or future
  • Want to find a sense of inner peace


People consider this book a contemporary classic on meditation for good reasons. It’s lovely and accessible. Jon Kabat-Zinn tackles the difficult task of explaining the nonverbal practice of meditation, which many find alien or even threatening, and makes it accessible, useful and even homey. He explains meditation not only with references to classic texts, but also by recounting his own experiences, drawing parallels with Thoreau, and discussing work and family contexts. The chapters are brief, some as short as a page, each focusing on a single topic. Many are accompanied with prompting questions or simple exercises you can try immediately. We recommend this book to people interested in reducing their stress, deepening their self-awareness and sharpening their focus.

Book Summary: Wherever You Go, There You Are - Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life


  • Anyone can learn to meditate.
  • Everyday life pushes you to act habitually. Meditation increases your awareness.
  • Paying attention is at the heart of meditation.
  • You’re doing things all the time. Try being rather than doing.
  • Incorporate meditation into your daily life.
  • You can make anything into a meditation.
  • If your mind wanders while you meditate, refocus by bringing your attention back to your breathing.
  • If you meditate by sitting in a focused, dignified posture, those qualities will spread throughout your life.
  • Meditation comes in many forms. No single technique is right; find the one that works for you.
  • Meditation produces a sense of connection and wholeness.


Are you so busy looking toward the future or living in the past that you forget to live in the present moment? If you’re willing and open to embracing mindfulness and meditation practice, you’ll learn a new way of observing yourself and others with kindness and in a nonjudgmental way. You’ll start to see things for what they are, and this awareness will guide you through everyday problems.

This summary breaks mindfulness and meditation down into three parts that will make it easy to understand and learn how to practice effectively:

  1. The bloom of the present moment: Learn how and why you should experiment with mindfulness as part of your daily life.
  2. The heart of practice: Discover helpful methods and basic aspects of formal meditation and how to practice mindfulness.
  3. In the spirit of mindfulness: Explore different perspectives and ways to apply mindfulness.

The Bloom of the Present Moment

Mindfulness an ancient Buddhist practice. It’s about understanding who you are and what your place in the world is. By learning to nonjudgmentally live in the present moment, you’ll open yourself up to fully experiencing life as it unfolds. Mindfulness can help you overcome your fears and get in touch with your true self. Having a strong sense of awareness will not only help you understand your path in life but give you better control over it.

Mindfulness is simple to practice but it requires a lot of discipline. You will have to be committed and willing to work in order to sustain it and reap its benefits. Mindfulness puts you in touch with aspects of life that are often overlooked, and it will help you better understand your feelings. This is liberating and empowering because it will open channels within you that will lead to a greater awareness of self. Actions that are driven without awareness may take you to places you don’t want to go, but meditation can help you focus your own energies so that they can act as a guide. Meditation is about observing yourself, but doing so without judgment. You are simply there to reach a deeper level of self-understanding and learn from it.

Are you running around like crazy all the time? What would happen if you simply stopped and enjoyed the present moment? This is where meditation comes in. It’s all about pausing things and being present in each moment of life. Stopping life, even just for a minute, to practice mindfulness will allow you to gain some clarity and perspective that will be a valuable guide going forward. Take a moment to just observe, breathe, and let go. Don’t try to change anything but simply realize where you are. Accepting the present moment will allow you to let go of the past and be open for the future, without getting ahead of yourself and learning to cherish every moment.

Acceptance doesn’t tell you what to do, but it opens your mind up to figuring that out. You might be tempted to jump out of mindfulness if you aren’t satisfied with what you’re seeing out of the desire to change it. In this case, use an anchor to help your mind stay focused on observing, not acting. Focusing on your breath can help you stay in tune with the moment. You are constantly breathing in and out but rarely notice it. Think about each breath coming in and out of your body and it will help bring your mind back to stillness.

A lot of people feel that it’s impossible to meditate when first getting started, but meditation is as simple as breathing or relaxing. People often confuse it with reaching a special state of being — but it’s not about feeling a certain way. Rather, it’s about finding understanding within yourself. It’s not even necessarily about clearing your mind. The purpose of meditation is to observe what your mind is doing and let it be what it is without trying to change it. When people say they can’t do meditation, it’s because they haven’t fully committed to it and let go of the expectations of what they think should happen. Patience is key when it comes to growing your meditation practice. Flowers don’t bloom overnight and neither will this. It takes time and dedication.

Another thing people often struggle with when it comes to meditation and mindfulness is not judging. The mind is always comparing experiences to others. This stems from the fear that you’re not good enough or that you’re the only one who doesn’t know something. The judging mind can easily creep in when you’re working on practicing stillness but it weighs down the mind. It’s key to observe good and bad thoughts, even judgmental ones, without judging them or trying to change them. Judgment is in the mind’s nature but it can keep you from seeing things clearly.

It’s important to have a vision and understanding of why you are doing meditation in the first place. If you don’t, it will be easy to put off. If you want to make it part of your life for the long term, then you need to see the value that mindfulness and meditation will have in your life. This is the only thing that will keep your motivation up, allow you to surrender fully to the present moment, and apply the teachings in your daily life.

You can use any moment as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. If angry feelings come up during the day, observe them and how you express them. How is the anger coming out in your voice, your movements, and what effect is it having on others? Approaching anger with awareness will allow you to examine it, give you clarity on the situation, and then enable you to express it in a positive way or let it go.

Think about how you are now and how you want to be. Meditation and mindfulness about development through mental training and can help you grow as a person. It does this by forcing you to come face to face with each moment of your life, including the dark ones, and observing it without judgment. Life is a journey, so where are you going? Meditation will help you realized that the path is unfolding in the present moment right in front of you. You don’t need to know where you are going but you can learn something about where you are now if you’re willing to listen.

Awareness isn’t the same thing as thinking. It’s about watching your thoughts and learning from them. Imagine that your thoughts are a waterfall. Awareness is the cave hidden behind it. Your thoughts are likely to change through practicing awareness and mindfulness, but not because you are forcing them to change. The change will occur as a result of your relationship with your thoughts changing.

By incorporating meditation and mindfulness into your life, you’ll be able to be at home wherever you are. You don’t need any outside force to make you happy. You already have everything you need inside, you just need to be open to listening to it.

The Heart of Practice

Mindfulness and meditation can be practiced anywhere and in any posture. However, whichever posture you choose needs to involve stable energy. Posture itself makes a statement. If you’re slouching, then it shows low energy and a lack of clarity. If you’re overly rigid and straight, that can symbolize tension and trying too hard.

There are many postures and poses that can be used when practicing meditation, but sitting is one of the most popular. That’s because when people sit to meditate, the body automatically adjusts to a more dignified position. Have you ever noticed that you sit up straighter than you would normally when you sit with the intention to meditate? Sitting this way opens you up to accepting the moment.

When practicing meditation, it’s important to be mindful of what your body and brain are telling you. Are you feeling tired or bored? Then, perhaps, your body is telling you that it’s had enough for today. Instead of jumping out of the practice, linger on those feelings for a little bit and slowly transition out of it. Practicing this movement from one stage to another can be applied to other aspects of your life. For example, when you’re waking up in the morning, don’t jump straight out of bed. Give your mind and body time to transition from being asleep to awake and observe it without judgment.

How long you practice meditation depends on many factors, but it’s advised to try to commit to 45 minutes each day. This may seem like a lot of time but that’s intentional. This amount of time will allow you to settle into the stillness and reach deeper levels of the mind while challenging you to stay focussed when boredom, anxiety, or impatience set in. However, there’s no one-size-fits-all time amount that will work for everyone, so flexibility is essential.

When it comes to meditation, effort matters more than time, and a five-minute practice can be just as impactful if done properly. It’s all about intention. If you’re planning a 45-mile hike you don’t complete it all at once. You start by taking one step at a time. It’s the same with meditation. Even just taking a minute out of each day to pause and reflect makes a difference because it is a step toward mindfulness.

Rest assured that there’s no one right way to practice meditation and you will find yours. When you are hiking, you don’t rely on someone else to tell you where to put your feet with each step. You simply do it and trust yourself. The same principle applies to meditation. Trust in the moment and see where it takes you. This will free up your mind to enjoy its surroundings and live in the moment.

Meditation often takes cues from nature. Mountain meditation involves sitting strong like a mountain and embodying stillness and stability. Throughout the seasons, mountains weather snow, sun, fog, and more, yet they remain present and unmoved. This is symbolic of life’s changes. Trees are another great example of stillness. With standing meditation, embody trees with their roots dug deep into the ground and standing tall.

Some people find that walking meditation suits them better, and it can be just as beneficial as holding a single position. The key elements of practicing meditation in this way are to combine the awareness of walking with breathing and to walk with no destination other than being present in the current moment. Even though you’re moving, walking meditation is about the stillness of mind.

Lying down is another a good way to practice meditation as this position makes it easier for your muscles to relax. Once this happens, the mind can follow. A useful way to meditate in this position is to do a body scan. Focus on each area of your body and breathe out from those places, relaxing that region with your breath. Turn your focus to your feet as you breathe in and out. Next, move to your ankles and visualize their relaxation. Continue with each part of your body until you’ve completed the scan. Hatha yoga is also a popular method used to practice mindfulness and awareness, combining stretching, holding postures, and breathing. Pay attention to how you handle everyday stress when you are regularly practicing meditation and yoga and how you handle it at times when you aren’t. Do you feel a difference? Try to be aware of the impact mindfulness is having on your behavior.

Changing yourself can change the world. By embracing love and kindness, you are benefiting yourself and others. Use loving-kindness meditation to find acceptance in your own heart and of your own self. Center yourself in a meditation posture and invite feelings of kindness and love in. Breathe it in as if you were starving and this was food. Once you’ve accepted love and kindness for yourself, you can direct it outward as well. It’s a realization of interconnectedness and understanding. It’s not about trying to change things, but understanding what is present on a deeper level and pushing against the boundary of ignorance.

In the Spirit of Mindfulness

Ancient humans used to sit by fires to let their mind unwind from the day and experience stillness. Since people’s lives are no longer dictated by the light of day, it sometimes is much harder to find this time.

Understanding the harmony of nature is something that humans generally have a difficult time with. People accept that things happen, but don’t acknowledge the role they played in making it happen. For example, logging cleared big chunks of rainforests in the South Philippines and when a typhoon struck in the early 1990s, the land was no longer able to hold the water without the trees. The water then rushed into the lowlands, killing thousands of people. Harmony with nature is a balance that’s often only noticed in retrospect despite being all around and within. Think about your body. It functions pretty well most days, but it’s only on days when you have a headache or some other kind of ailment that you pay attention to what it’s doing. A greater sense of awareness will bring you more in tune with nature and yourself.

One of the easiest ways to make time to practice mindfulness and meditation is to simply get up earlier. It will require discipline to get out of bed, but the real challenge will be not trying to cram more into your day. Instead, enjoy the stillness of the morning. Grounding yourself in the morning builds a foundation of mindfulness and calm that will set you up to accept anything that comes along that day. Even five minutes of practice in the morning can be beneficial. Think of it not as forcing yourself to get up, but rather as making a commitment to mindfulness.

You can’t escape your problems. That’s because you can’t escape yourself, but you can make changes by focusing inward. You have everything you need to be successful in meditation and life wherever you are. It’s within you. It’s crucial to slow things down and be present in the moment. Think about the food you are eating. Are you even tasting it? Use everyday occurrences, such as eating, to help practice mindfulness.

What is your purpose on this planet? If you’re not sure, keep asking yourself this question. Imagine that the universe is your employer. What’s your job? Thinking about this can have an impact on how you see what you do and how you do it. The world is an interconnected place but sometimes it’s hard to see how each action is affecting the bigger picture. For example, honey is important to bees but they don’t see how vitally important their everyday actions are to cross-pollinating flowers. This interconnectedness isn’t always obvious, so you have to be perceptive to what your place in it is.

Try to cause as little harm as possible to both yourself and others. Remember this principle if you’re being hard on yourself or find yourself talking behind someone’s back. The willingness to harm stems from fear so making the commitment to cause as little harm as possible requires understanding your fears and acknowledging them. Things don’t just happen, you have control. By being fully present, you’ll be able to approach future moments with greater clarity, understanding, and acceptance. If you’re in a relationship and don’t acknowledge your feelings of anger, they will likely build up over time and possibly turn into feelings of resentment. By being aware of these feelings early on and acknowledging them, you have the power to change what happens next.

Who are you? What are you doing? Asking yourself these types of questions will help you stay in touch with yourself. This kind of exercise isn’t about finding the answers, but bringing awareness to yourself and listening to what asking the questions evokes. Mindfulness is about understanding yourself and not trying to be more or less than you are.

You can also employ mindfulness when it comes to parenting. Pay close attention to what children are doing, their body language, what they are saying, and how they carry themselves. Generally, children have a much more mindful existence because their brains haven’t been bogged down by adult thoughts and worries yet. View children as your teachers.



Most people go through their daily lives on automatic pilot, not really paying attention to the world around them. Their minds dart forward, back and off into fantasy. They will do anything and everything rather than be who they are and acknowledge what they are doing.

Meditation takes you in the opposite direction. It enables you to live in the present, and to experience each moment fully.

“Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which has profound relevance for our present-day lives.”

“An appreciation for the present moment,” or “mindfulness,” is at the heart of all meditative practices, whether they come from Buddhism or other Eastern traditions, or from American sources such as Henry David Thoreau’s writings or Native American religions.

Mindfulness sounds simple, and it is; but it is not easy. Your mental habits will pull you out of the moment, over and over again. Meditation will help you to bring yourself back to awareness.

“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention…Mindfulness means being awake.”

To make a long-term commitment to meditation, you need a clear understanding of why you’re doing it. Make a list of the reasons you meditate and keep asking yourself about them, seeking deeper answers. Many traditions believe that meditation creates “full human beings.”

As you engage in a regular practice of trust, concentration and nonjudgment, you will learn to face potentially daunting internal states and experience the sort of personal growth some people attain through psychotherapy. However, meditation is not simply a psychological exercise. It is a spiritual journey.

“Thinking you are unable to meditate is a little like thinking you are unable to breathe, or to concentrate or relax.”

The Chinese term “tao” means “path” or “way,” while in Buddhism, “the path of the wheel of truth” is called “dharma.” Reflect on your life as a journey. What are you looking for? “Where are you going?” How far have you progressed?

The Meditative Personality

Anyone can meditate. It takes practice, but no special gifts. Cultivate these qualities to make meditation easier:

  • Patience – Practice even when it is hard or seems fruitless. The Dalai Lama, who has held on to his loving attitude toward the Chinese government throughout exile and repression, is a model.
  • Nonjudgment – As you meditate, you’ll realize how often the mind makes judgments. It says, “This is good. That is bad.” Whether or not the judgment is correct, the act of judging in itself distances you from the moment. Rather than judging, trust that things will develop appropriately.
  • Generosity – Find a place within you that is rich. Let energy from that place radiate freely into the world. This can take the physical form of donating money, but it need not. Spread love and trust.
  • Humility – All humans are weak. If you resist taking risks because you secretly feel weak, you isolate yourself and make yourself weaker. When you admit you are weak, you can become stronger.
  • Voluntary simplicity” – Before you add a thing or an activity to your life, slow down and ask yourself how it will make your life better.
  • Concentration – Concentration enables meditation, which in turn enables even deeper concentration.

Calming the Storm

Your racing thoughts may feel like waves on an agitated lake, and you may want meditation to calm them. And it might – but for that to happen, you must first accept your thoughts. Observe them passing through you without becoming upset or distracted. Rather than trying to calm the waves, which is a proactive task, accept the world and perceive it as it is. Think of meditation as shifting from doing to being. To experience the shift, try the following exercises:

  • Pay attention to your sensations – Is the day hot, cold, breezy? What does the moon look like? What do you hear? What is this exact moment? What is happening in it that distinguishes it from all other moments?
  • Focus on your breathing – Don’t judge it, change it or guide it. Just pay attention to it. At first, this may be difficult. Your attention will wander. Bring it back. Return your focus to your breathing any time during the day that you need an anchor for your consciousness. Even a single breath can bring you back to the present.
  • Remind yourself, “This is it.” – The present moment is the only thing that exists. The past is gone; the future may not arrive.
  • Ask yourself, “Where is my mind right now?” – This will show you that you are not your thoughts; you are something more.

Meditation Practice

In meditation, “practice” does not mean the kind of “repetitive rehearsing” that you might do to master a skill. Instead, meditative practice is cultivation. You return to the present moment over and over, until presence, rather than distraction or escape, is your habitual state. Your ability to be present will grow deeper over time – but it is valuable in itself, at any stage and at any level.

“Part of our mind is constantly evaluating our experiences, comparing them with other experiences or holding them up against expectations and standards that we create, often out of fear.”

You can meditate anywhere, anytime. Although Henry David Thoreau went to Walden Pond to become mindful, you don’t have to go that far. After all, you’re always breathing. Meditate regularly. Integrating meditation into your routine will help you become fully aware all the time.


The most common position for meditation is seated. Your posture when seated helps you create a state of mindfulness, so don’t just throw yourself down as you might when you relax. Hold your spine upright. Sit calmly. Root yourself in the ground, like the sacred mountains that recur in religious imagery. Borrow the metaphoric qualities of the mountain. Visualize a specific mountain range. Or, imagine a lake. Accept your thoughts and all that you contain, as a lake bed holds the waters of the lake. Your body’s posture communicates a message to you and to the world. A dignified, committed posture will help you cultivate a mindful attitude.

“Trust is a feeling of confidence or conviction that things can unfold within a dependable framework that embodies order and integrity.”

All major meditative traditions have beliefs about the position of the hands during meditation. Christians press their hands together for prayer, while Buddhists use many different “mudras,” or ritual hand shapes and positions. Experiment with different hand positions and observe how they affect your attention. Let your awareness of your hands spread into your daily life; watch how they communicate or shape emotions.

“‘What is my job on the planet?’ is one question we might do well to ask ourselves over and over again.”

Start meditating for short periods, such as five minutes, and gradually increase until you reach about 45 minutes a day, which is ideal. Forty-five minutes gives you enough time to settle into stillness and to experience the benefits of a deep meditative state. However, if external demands prevent you from meditating for this long, meditate anyway, even if only for a minute. Observe how meditating for different amounts of time affects your meditation practice and changes the quality of your attention.

“Meditation does not involve trying to change your thinking by thinking some more. It involves watching thought itself.”

Your attention may slip as you begin or end meditating, just as you may drift out of focus during life transitions. Plan how you will end your meditation: You can use an audiotape that you follow through to the end or a bell to signal that the meditation period is over. Don’t give in to the impulse to quit early. Allow your mind to shift gears without clinging to meditation when it is time to move on.

Other Postures for Meditating

No single, correct way to meditate exists. As long as you are concentrating and being mindful, you are meditating properly. Becoming overly concerned with meditating correctly is another form of judging, which takes you out of the moment. If sitting doesn’t work for you, try these other postures:

  • Walking – Pay attention to each step – each change in sensation and balance. In walking meditation you aren’t going anywhere or exercising; your purpose is to deepen your mindfulness. As you get used to “watching your step,” you’ll be mindful of walking whenever you do it.
  • Standing – This works especially well among trees; borrow their energy and the strength of their roots. Experiment with how you hold your arms and hands as you stand. Different postures align with different mental and emotional states.
  • Lying down – Do this only if you can stay awake. When you meditate lying down, your whole body can let go, and feel accepted and supported by the ground. You can feel along your skin from head to toe. Observe how your emotions settle in your body – where you feel tight or loose. Are you storing tension from an emotion you’re fighting?
  • Doing yoga – In yoga, you move through a series of postures. Yoga combines stillness, motion, exercise and breathing.

“I’ve heard Zen masters say that daily meditation practice could turn bad karma into good karma. I always chalked this up to a quaint moralistic sales pitch. It took me years to get the point. I guess that’s my karma.”

If you go through a period when you don’t formally meditate, make that a kind of practice, too. Ask yourself how this affects your awareness, and in which areas. Practice “loving kindness” as a discipline: Find that emotion within you and let it flow out to the world. Sit by a fire and watch the flames flicker. Individual flames come and go in an instant; none is permanent. Let your thoughts be like the flames.

Mindfulness Concepts

Although you don’t think while you’re meditating – it is a time for “just being” – these concepts may help you in your practice:

  • Nondoing” – Nondoing is not the same as doing nothing. It is active, not passive. In meditative nondoing, you pay complete attention to the present moment. “Nondoing simply means letting things be and allowing them to unfold in their own way.” Artists and athletes call this state “flow.”
  • Karma” – Everything that happens in life is caused by something you did, felt or thought in the past. Karma can be a kind of prison because, as events happen, you keep reacting to them according to your habits and creating new karma in an ongoing cycle. Meditation frees you from the cycle, because you no longer act on your impulses. Instead, you observe them and let them go by.
  • Ahimsa” or “Nonharming” – Do no harm to the world or its creatures. This includes self-criticism and mistreating your body, as well as gossip and violence toward others.
  • Wholeness” – If you maintain your meditation, you’ll begin to feel a sense of wholeness, which may even extend to feeling unity with the larger world. The opposite of wholeness is “selfing.” Although you may believe that having a self is an inherent part of being human, actually your mind is constantly constructing and reconstructing your identity. Each time you think “I” or “mine,” you are selfing. Meditation lets you stop doing that for a while.

Challenges to Meditation

You’ll run into many roadblocks on your path to mindfulness, but you can learn to turn them into tools for mindfulness. Take parenting, for example. If you block out long stretches of time to meditate, you can be sure your family will interrupt you. That’s fine. Rather than sitting, go with the flow of your children’s needs. If you satisfy them, they’ll move on, just like the demands of your mind. Take your children as teachers. Watch them as you watch your thoughts.

“There can be no one way to be, no one way to practice, no one way to learn, no one way to love, no one way to grow or heal, no one way to live, no one way to feel, no one way to know or be known.”

Thinking of meditation as “spiritual” can become an obstacle, if it pushes you toward an ideal of transcendence that encourages escape from the world rather than acceptance of it.

Everyone has unconscious emotional triggers. When someone or something trips them, you get angry, which distracts you from mindfulness. Judging yourself also pulls you out of a mindful state. You may get angry and then judge yourself for being angry. Mindfulness is the solution to these problems. Observe your mind as it goes where it will. Your constantly changing thoughts are not the only reality.


Meditation isn’t about finding enlightenment, but about paying attention to the present moment. When you think you’ve gotten somewhere or are worried that you aren’t getting where you’re supposed to, stop and ask yourself where you are supposed to be. Remind yourself that meditation isn’t about getting anywhere, but simply being where you already are. In a way, meditation is a mirror through which you can look at your own journey of development and growth.

If you find yourself struggling with mindfulness and meditation, breaking it down and thinking about it in these three areas will make it easier to put into practice:

  1. The bloom of the present moment: Learn how and why you should experiment with mindfulness as part of your daily life.
  2. The heart of practice: Discover helpful methods and basic aspects of formal meditation and how to practice mindfulness.
  3. In the spirit of mindfulness: Explore different perspectives and ways to apply mindfulness.

About the author

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn previously worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He was the founding executive director of the university’s Center of Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and also founded the world-famous Stress Reduction Clinic. He has written several books on the topic of mindfulness and has trained groups from a variety of industries on the importance of meditation.

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.