Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mindfulness: The Full Catastrophe

When the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction wrote his first book, his editor hated the title.  

Jon Kabat-Zinn had spent years studying science at MIT and meditation with Buddhist monks. He was ready to introduce the blending of eastern and western healing methods. His research was showing great promise in stress reduction.  

Kabat-Zinn held firm in calling his manuscript Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  The book continues to be in print (after 25 years) and has recently been updated to incorporate recent research evidence of the effectiveness of mindfulness.  The title turned out to be okay after all.

“Full catastrophe living” resonates. I am loving this term because it is truthful.  What happens to us in the process of our growing up, finding companions, seeking meaningful work, parenting, caring for aging parents, and aging ourselves- is HARD.  The way in which we approach these challenges is where mindfulness comes in.  It is not the crisis that defines our internal response it is our choice of openness or rigidity in thinking about the crisis.

Mindfulness Meditation is the daily practice of focusing our attention.  It is not a numbing, but a sharpening of our senses and acceptance that right at this moment is “as good as it gets.” We take time in stillness to gather our attention and listen to our thoughts without judgment. 

For example, As I sit in silence I welcome thoughts of missing my father and the sadness about his death to surface. I stay present to the experience of my loss as I think and feel about it today, two years later. I am giving this emotion air time without a negative commentary of "death is tragic" or "cancer sucks" and resisting adding a positive spin like “I am lucky to have had him for so long" or "he is at peace now.” Mindfulness allows me the freedom to acknowledge the full catastrophe.

“Full Catastrophe” is right up there with “Daring Greatly,” it is liberating.  Awareness and acceptance through mindfulness builds resilience and reduces stress because we effectively face our challenges with complete engagement.  You are invited to join the journey of discovery this month as we dig deeper into the concepts of mindfulness- I hope you will come with an open mind.

"The original purpose is to touch our capacity to embrace the actuality of things, often in when it seems utterly impossible, in ways that are healing and transforming." Jon Kabat-Zinn