Our title today is taken from the ground breaking book, Full Catastrophe Living (1992) by premier leader in the field of mind/body training and the founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Clinic at UMASS Medical School, Jon Kabat-Zinn.
This book has long since been dog-eared and worn thin by its continual use as an invaluable instruction manual for me. “His major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal application of mindfulness,” align with my own.
While I entered this stream of contemplative practices long ago from the opening of spirituality vs. the current tide of science and medicine; they are in some ways one and the same stream.
In living the full catastrophe, we accept the pleasurable experiences of life and the painful ones with a quiet balance towards them, not getting too wrapped up in clinging towards one or running from the other. Understanding in a deeper sense that both of these are just passing phenomena, we can be with either.
For instance, this morning my mind continued to play the daily theme it has done for some weeks now. With frigid temperatures continuing, along with my chronic, cold induced cough, I think, “I need a vacation.” Perhaps you’ve had this thought recently too? Many, many others thoughts follow this, but they are all stem from this one.
And there is nothing wrong with this thought (or any other for that matter). Vacating your life for a bit, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend (especially if there are turquoise waters involved) can push the refresh button on our minds and bodies. We log in so much information and activity every day. The amount we can or choose to delete never really a significant de-cluttering of brain space.
And here is some more thinking, “Some warm weather may help me with this winter cough…”
But what if we can’t take a vacation or we got to take a vacation and it didn’t “take?” Whatever problems we have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because we have gone somewhere other than where we are.
If you have been struggling with sadness, anxiety, or anger before you left, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise. The saying “wherever you go, there you are”(a title of another book by Kabat-ZInn by the way) is an undeniable truth.
Since you ARE here right now, being here is always an option.
You can make room for moments right now that are exceptional and rich by not going anywhere. How? By engaging with the art of non-doing. By being present to comfort and discomfort alike, with no particular preference. By not judging yourself for not doing, but instead just seeing what IS here.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing is difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete. The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”
Right now, there is sunlight peeking through the frost covered windows of my bright alcove in my office. A host of bird songs are making themselves known on the evergreens outside. Cars are speeding past this little cottage while my dog sleeps. I can breathe in warm steam and hot tea and smile at this fortune. I can send out thoughts of healing for myself and everyone else who is coughing this morning. I can notice how warm my feet feel in these slippers.
All this from non-doing. What is in this moment for you?