Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Full Catastrophe Living


Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.

In 1999, I was a patient at New York Hospital’s Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) Program.  DBT, developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., for people with Borderline Personality Disorder and problems with self-harm, has four components: Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, Mindfulness, and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  It was a three-month program that, literally, changed my life.  I fully embraced the Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness modules.  I did the homework for the Mindfulness component, but really didn’t believe in it and had absolutely no intention of continuing it after I left the program.  This is  called willfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., is the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are, Full Catastrophe Living, and other books.  Mindfulness is an important part of Buddhist philosophy.  Kabat-Zinn adapted mindfulness in his stress reduction program and Linehan adapted mindfulness for her work with Borderline patients.  Anything that involved sitting still, staying in the moment, being aware of your thoughts and emotions–without trying to change them–all of that rubbed me the wrong way.  It sounded well and good, but it didn’t come naturally for me.  And if it didn’t come naturally for me at the time, I rejected it.

Well, the time is twelve years later.  And, lo and behold, I am working with another DBT therapist.  Except this time, I will grudgingly admit that mindfulness could be quite beneficial for me.  It still doesn’t come easily.  I still fight it.  But if you look at my Kindle, you’ll see Wherever You Go, There You Are as one of my books, there for anytime I feel like taking a few moments and, well, appreciating the moment.  Or learning to appreciate the moment.  And I also own Full Catastrophe Living, a book my therapist recommended to help me manage everything that comes along with this wonderful cardiac diagnosis of mine and all the lifestyle changes I have had to make.

Here are some words from Kabat-Zinn about “catastrophe” (and they might  not be what you expect.  at least they surprised me):  . . . ever since I first heard it, I have felt the phrase “the full catastrophe” captures something positive (?!?!?!?!?!?!) about the human spirit’s ability to come to grips with what is most difficult in life and to find within it the room to grow in strength and wisdom.  For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves.  /   “Catastrophe” here does not mean disaster. (?!?!?!?!?!?!) Rather it means the poignant enormity of our life experience.  It includes crises and disasters but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up.  The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing.

He goes on to explain that “the full catastrophe” includes what we term “positive” and “thrilling.”  Full Catastrophe Living developed from his eight-week long Stress Reduction & Relaxation Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center.  They believe that mental and emotional factors have a great deal to do with your physical health and ask their participants to practice mindfulness every day, six days a week for eight weeks.  The testimonials from some of the patients are amazing.

I admit I need this.  I also realize that I am now at a stage where I am willing to welcome this practice into my life.  Hence reading the book.  Hence taking a class called “mindful writing” even though I am withdrawing from the PhD program.  Hence me making a commitment to myself —and not any program or professional–to bring mindfulness practice into my life.  I have no idea what this is going to look like yet.  But I do know that I admire the people I know who do make it a part of their lives.

I’m not saying that I’m going to celebrate having a heart that is, literally, slowing dying.  That would, I believe, qualify me as insane.  But I do want to learn to be aware of what is going on in the moment, and to appreciate what is going on in the moment.  To not try to force things to go differently (that gets quite tiring, by the way).

A reporter once remarked to Kabat-Zinn in trying to understand mindfulness: “Oh, you mean to live for the moment.” His response was, “No, it isn’t that. That has a hedonistic ring to it.  I mean to live in the moment.”

This is quite a challenge.  There are a lot of moments I’d like to do away with.  And I spend a lot of time thinking about future moments, moments that must be better than the current one.  But guess what?  I can’t do away with the current moment.  It’s here.  Whether or not I like it.  Whether or not I like it is totally irrelevant.  And all that time spent thinking about the future?  That gets exhausting.  And, really, I have no idea what the future is going to bring.

So I’m giving this mindfulness program a shot.  I know I will complain.  I know there will be resistance.  I know it will be difficult.  But I’m hoping that when I’m done, I’ll be able to write a testimonial like the ones I read in the introduction and first chapter of this book.  So here’s to a couple of months of doing something I never thought I’d be willing to do.  Without anyone forcing me to do so.  See–miracles can happen.

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March 2, 2011 - Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, death, depression, Eating Disorders, mindfulness | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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