Summary: Full Catastrophe Living (1990) introduces the reader to the concept of mindfulness. The author, Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor, and teacher who founded The Stress Reduction Clinic. In Full Catastrophe Living, Kabat-Zinn draws from decades of experience – combining personal stories along with a plethora of scientific evidence to teach us about the techniques and benefits of harnessing intelligent awareness. 

Jon Kabat Zinn ‘Full Catastrophe Living’ Summary

Book Notes

  • “A recent headline in Science, one of the most prestigious and high-impact scientific journals in the world, read: ‘A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind.’ Here is the first paragraph of that paper:”
  • “Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, and contemplating events that happened in the past, what might happen in the future, or will never happen at all.
  • “Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation. Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost. ”
  • “Many philosophical and religious traditions teach that happiness is to be found by living in the moment, and practitioners are trained to resist mind wandering and “to be here now.” These traditions suggest that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. Are they right? ”

On Mindfulness…

  • “As you will see, becoming aware of what is on our minds from moment to moment, and of how our experience is transformed when we do, is precisely what mindfulness practice… and this book are all about.”
  • “Mindfulness is not about forcing your mind not to wander. That would just give you a big headache. It is more about being aware of when the mind is wandering and, as best you can, and as gently as you can, redirecting your attention and reconnecting with what is most salient and important for you in that moment, in the here and now of your life unfolding.”
  • “Mindfulness is a skill that can be developed through practice, just like any other skill. You could also think of it as a muscle. The muscle of mindfulness grows both stronger and more supple as you use it. And like a muscle, it grows best when working with a certain amount of resistance to challenge it and thereby help it become stronger.”
  •  “I define mindfulness operationally as the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.
  • “Mindfulness is not merely a concept or a good idea. It is a way of being. And its synonym, awareness, is a kind of knowing that is simply bigger than thought and gives us many more options for how we might choose to be in relation to whatever arises in our minds and hearts, our bodies and our lives.”

7 Attitudinal Factors of Mindfulness…

  • “…the attitude that we bring to the practice of mindfulness will to a large extent determine its long-term value to us. This is why consciously cultivating certain attitudes can be very helpful in getting the most out of the process of meditation.”
  • “Your intentions set the stage for what is possible. They remind you from moment to moment of why you are practicing in the first place. Keeping particular attitudes in mind is actually part of the training itself, a way of directing and channeling your energies so that they can be most effectively brought to bear in the work of growing and healing.”
  • Seven attitudinal factors constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice:

1. Non-Judging
2. Patience,
3. A Beginner’s Mind
4. Trust
5. Non-Striving
6. Acceptance
7. Letting Go

  • “These attitudes are to be cultivated consciously when you practice. They are not independent of each other. Each one relies on and influences the degree to which you are able to cultivate the others.”

In Full Catastrophe Living, the author, Jon Kabat-Zinn provides numerous mindfulness exercises with the main objective: to be grounded in the present moment. To demonstrate the process, he provides a simple 3-Minute Mindfulness Exercise:

  • “Try observing how easily your awareness is carried away from the present moment by your thoughts, no matter where you find yourself, no matter what the circumstances. Notice how much of the time during the day you find yourself thinking about the past or about the future. You may be shocked at the result.”
  • “You can experience this pull of the thinking mind for yourself right now if you perform the following experiment. Close your eyes, sit so that your back is straight but not stiff, and become aware of your breathing. Don’t try to control your breathing. Just let it happen and be aware of it, feeling how it feels, witnessing it as it flows in and out. Try being with your breath in this way for three minutes.”
  • “If, at some point, you think that it is foolish or boring to just sit here and watch your breath go in and out, note to yourself that this is just a thought, a judgment that your mind is creating. Then simply let go of it and bring your attention back to your breathing.”
  • “When you have completed three minutes of watching your breath go in and out, reflect on how you felt during this time and how much or how little your mind wandered away from your breathing. What do you think would have happened if you had continued for five or ten minutes, or for half an hour, or an hour?”
  •  “This little three-minute experiment can give you a taste of what meditation is. It is the process of observing body and mind intentionally, of letting your experiences unfold from moment to moment and accepting them as they are . It does not involve rejecting your thoughts, trying to clamp down on them or suppress them, or trying to regulate anything at all other than the focus and direction of your attention.” 

Responding to Stress instead of Reacting…

Kabat-Zinn introduces the reader to a concept he calls the mindfulness-mediated stress response…

  • He writes: “We can think of the mindfulness-mediated stress response, which we will sometimes refer to as the stress response for short, as the generally healthier alternative to the more unconscious stress reaction.”
  • As soon as you intentionally bring awareness to what is going on in a stressful situation, you have already changed that situation dramatically and opened up the field of potentially adaptive and creative possibilities just by virtue of not being unconscious and on automatic pilot anymore.
  • “You are now committed to being as present for it as you can be while the stressful event is unfolding. And since you are an integral part of the whole situation, simply by holding whatever is happening in awareness, you are actually changing the matrix of the entire situation even before you do anything overt, such as take action, or even open your mouth to speak.”
  • “This interior shift to embrace what is unfolding in awareness in the present moment can be extremely important, precisely because it gives you a range of options for possibly influencing what will happen next. Bringing awareness to such a moment takes only a split second, but it can make a critical difference in the outcome of a stressful encounter.”
  • “Because of this, you neither have to react automatically with your usual habitual patterns of emotional expression, whatever they are, nor do you have to suppress all your thoughts and feelings associated with heightened arousal to prevent yourself from going out of control.”
  • Being conscious in the present, you can easily recognize and identify these agitations and contractions for what they are: thoughts, emotions, and sensations and not react to them.
  • “…through the formal meditation practices, we have been training our mind and body to respond in this way all along, developing and deepening these very qualities.”

Working with Symptoms; Listening To Your Body…

  • “The relief of symptoms of various kinds is a multibillion-dollar industry. The slightest sniffle, headache, or stomach ache sends people scurrying to the medicine cabinet or drugstore in search of the magic something to make it go away.”
  • “This practice of immediately going for a drug to relieve a symptom reflects a widespread attitude that symptoms are inconvenient, useless threats to our ability to live life the way we want to live it and that they should be suppressed or eliminated whenever possible.”
  • “The problem with this attitude is that what we call symptoms are often the body’s way of telling us that something is out of balance. They are feedback about disregulation of one sort or another.”
  • “If we ignore these messages or, worse, suppress them, it may only lead to more severe symptoms and more serious problems later on. What is more, the person doing this is not learning how to listen to and trust his or her body.”
  • “For example, when you have a serious chronic illness, it is only to be expected that you will be very concerned and perhaps even frightened and depressed about the ways in which your body has changed from what it once was and about what new problems you might have to face in the future.”
  • “The result is that a lot of a certain kind of attention is spent on your symptoms, but it is likely not to be helpful or healing attention, so much as anxiety driven self-absorption and preoccupation.”
  • “More often than not, that kind of attention is reactive, judgmental, and fearful. There is little room in the mind for acceptance, or for recognition of a larger field of possibilities for relating to one’s circumstances and challenges. This is the opposite of wise attention.”
  • The way of mindfulness is to accept ourselves right now, as we are, symptoms or no symptoms, pain or no pain, fear or no fear.
  • “Instead of rejecting our experience as undesirable, we ask, “What is this symptom saying, what is it telling me about my body and my mind right now?” We allow ourselves, for a moment at least, to go right into the full-blown feeling of the symptom.”
  • “This takes a certain amount of courage, especially if the symptom involves pain, a chronic illness, or fear of death. But the challenge here is can you at least “dip your toe in the water” by trying it just a little, say for ten seconds, just to move in a little closer for a clearer look…”
  • As we experiment with adopting this unusual stance toward our momentary experience, we may also become aware of emotions we may be feeling about the symptom or situation we are experiencing.
  • “Whether it is anger or rejection or fear or despair or resignation, we hold whatever arises in awareness, as dispassionately as possible. Why? For no other reason than that it is here now. It is already part of our experience.” 

Your Pain Is Not You…

  •  “As a society, we seem to have an aversion to pain, even to the thought of pain or discomfort. This is why we are so quick to reach for medicine as soon as we feel a headache coming on and why we shift our posture as soon as a little muscle stiffness generates some discomfort.”
  • “Aversion to pain is really a misplaced aversion to suffering.”
  • “Ordinarily we do not make a distinction between pain and suffering, but there are very important differences between them.
  • Pain is a natural part of the experience of life. Suffering is one of many possible responses to pain.”
  • “Suffering can come out of either physical or emotional pain. It involves our thoughts and emotions and how they frame the meaning of our experiences. Suffering too is perfectly natural. In fact, the human condition is often spoken of as colored by inevitable suffering.”
  • “But it is important to remember that suffering is only one response to the experience of pain. Even a mild pain can produce great suffering in us if we fear that it means we have a tumor or some other frightening condition. That same pain can be seen as nothing at all, a minor ache or inconvenience, once we are reassured that all the tests are negative and there is no chance that it is a sign of something serious.”
  • “So it is not always the pain per se but the way we see it and react to it that determines the degree of suffering we will experience. And it is the suffering that we fear most, not the pain.”

Your Suffering is not you…

  • “As with physical pain, our emotional pain is also trying to tell us something. It too is a messenger. Feelings have to be acknowledged, at least to ourselves. They have to be encountered and felt in all their force. There is no other way through to the other side of them.”
  • “If we ignore them, repress them, suppress them, or sublimate them, they fester and yield no resolution, no peace.”
  • “And if without any awareness of what we are doing we exaggerate them, dramatize them, and preoccupy ourselves with their turmoil and the stories we generate about them to validate our experience, they too linger and cause us to become stuck in patterns that may go on for an entire lifetime.”
  • “Even in the tortured throes of grief or anger, in the gnawing remorse of guilt, in the slack tides of sadness and hurt, and in the swells of fear, it is still possible to be mindful, to know that in this moment I am feeling grief and grief feels just like this, I am feeling anger and anger feels like this, I am feeling guilty or sad or hurt or frightened, or confused and it feels like this.”
  • “Strange as it may sound, the intentional knowing of your feelings in times of emotional suffering contains in itself the seeds of healing.” 

___

“As we cultivate mindfulness systematically in our lives and in formal meditation practice, we will see over and over again that the pull of the mind is invariably away from looking deeply within, away from awareness of your internal experience of being.”

“The pull of our minds tends toward externals, what we have to do today, what is going on in our lives, how many emails we haven’t responded to that are weighing on us with each passing moment and day.”

“But when such thoughts, whatever they are, capture our attention and we momentarily become involved in their content, our awareness ceases at that moment.”

“So the real practice is not what technique you are using but your commitment to accord wise attention to your experience, inwardly and outwardly, from moment to moment—in other words, on your willingness to see and let go, to see and let be, no matter what thoughts or emotions may be preoccupying the mind at any given time.”

 

THE BOOK ON AMAZON:
‘Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness’

 

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