Full catastrophe living

Full catastrophe living

Summary of “Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness” – Mindfulness-based stress reduction or MBSR Through his eight week stress reduction programme, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrates how mindfulness techniques can allow you to reduce feelings of physical or emotional pain and anxiety, improving your health and your life.

By Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, 1990, 795 pages.
Full title: Full catastrophe living. Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness.

Note: This is a guest article written by Claire Castagne from the blog Heureuxcoach

Chronicle and summary of “Full catastrophe living”:

Part 1 – The practice of mindfulness: paying attention

Chapter 1 – You have only moments to live

Our thoughts can be overpowering. Take the 3 minute test: set your timer, close your eyes and try to focus solely on your breathing.

You will see how much your mind will start raking over the past, or anticipating the future, instead of being peacefully in the moment.

Any yet, the present moment is all we have. Not being conscious of the present means running the risk of allowing life to pass you by.

Mindfulness means accepting things the way they are.

When they arrive at the clinic, the patients begin with the raisin exercise: they observe it, sniff it, touch it and taste it in a mindful way.

They experience the taste as though it is for the first time, and feel their body become heavier with the weight of the raisin they just swallowed!

Each daily activity can be performed mindfully, even taking out the rubbish.

Chapter 2 – The foundations of mindfulness practice: attitudes and commitment

Practising mindfulness requires your full commitment. It consists of seeing things as they are, not trying to reach a particular goal or state.

Attitudes that will help you are non-judgement, patience, a beginner’s mind, trusting your intuition, non-striving (doing nothing, just being), acceptance and letting go.

Mindfulness does not happen all by itself. It requires regular practice.

Set time aside to meditate, at least six days per week, for at least eight consecutive weeks. This simple commitment constitutes a very positive lifestyle change.

Taking time for you is not really any harder than getting up in the morning. It is up to you to find the time and the place that suits you best.

Chapter 3 – The power of breathing: your unsuspected ally in the healing process

Heartbeat and breathing are the signs of life pulsating in us, from our first cry as a new-born cry to our dying breath.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we are breathing. Breathing varies in relation to our emotions and physical efforts.

Breathing is fundamental for healing and being attentive to it means seeing its movement.

Begin to meditate by turning your attention to your breathing for more than three minutes. You can choose to feel your breathing through your nostrils, your chest or your belly.

Simply pay attention to the sensation without seeking to change it. Once again, it is not about thinking about your breathing, but feeling it, living it.

Breathing is what allows you to anchor your mind to calm. You can connect with it at any time, eyes open or eyes closed. This consciousness will give your more freedom, more space. It will increase your power of concentration. A power that can transform your life is under your very nose!

You can practice it formally, during an allocated time, or informally by paying attention to your breathing at any time during the day. Think of it like “coming home”.

Chapter 4 – Sitting meditation: nourishing the domain of being

Meditation is essentially non-doing. It is not trying to go anywhere, but insists on where you already are.

At first, devoting time to meditation can seem like one more activity to do, but over time it will become an essential requirement for your balance.

Sitting meditation can be practised on the floor or on a chair, in a dignified position with a straight back. We feel the air going in and going out. It is simple, but not easy. Your body and your mind will want to do something else. This is where it gets interesting, because in normal circumstances when your mind tells you to move to get away from something uncomfortable, your body follows. Here, you remain still and return to your breathing.

Meditating does not remove thoughts. Having thoughts during meditation is not a bad thing; it is natural. What matters is being aware of them and drawing your attention back to your breathing every time.

Your thoughts are not you, and they are not reality: becoming aware of this will allow you to take a liberating step back. You can take your decisions in full knowledge and manage your life better.

Chapter 5: Being in your body: the body-scan technique

We are preoccupied by our body image, but all the while we are out of touch with our feelings! We grow up with insecurity about our appearance, comparing it to the model imposed by society. But you cannot change that without changing your experience of your body.

Experiencing your body, without any thoughts or judgement can completely change your relationship with it! It is only when we get sick that we realise the importance of being in full health.

You can reclaim ownership of your life by becoming more real and more alive!

The body-scan meditation

This highly efficient technique is practised lying down. You move your consciousness from one area of the body to another, from your toes to the top of your head.

At the end, you imagine a “hole” in the top of your head, like a whale, through which you breathe. Allow your breath to course through your body and escape through the feet. Now you can feel your body dissolve. All that remains is your breath. Then move your hands and feet before opening your eyes and getting on with your daily business.

The idea of the body-scan is to breathe in every part of the body, which leads to relaxation. You breathe in energy and breathe out tension.

During the first two weeks at the clinic, patients practice the body-scan technique for 45 minutes per day.

You will notice that the sensations change all the time, it is different every time.

Through acceptance, healing can take place. There is nowhere to go. You cannot get it wrong, because it consists of being one with what you already are.

Chapter 6 – Cultivating strength, balance, and flexibility. Yoga is meditation

Mindfulness reminds us what we already know: we are already whole. You are at home in your body and wholeness lives there.

Taking care of your body starts with working on how to “be” in your body.

One of the greatest ways to achieve this is through hatha yoga, the third formal meditation technique after the body scan and seated meditation.

It consists of strengthening and stretching postures performed slowly with mindful breathing and sensations. It is more than exercise – it is a form of meditation.

We are not used to cultivating the aspect of being. Instead we tend to do, constantly seeking to take things further.

When you practice yoga, you must be attentive to the signs from your body not to exceed your limits.

All you need to practice yoga is to be alive! It improves strength and flexibility and allows you to gain energy every time you do it.

Just five or ten minutes every day can be beneficial.

Yoga comes from the word “yoke” in Sanskrit (योग): it reunites the body and the mind.

Chapter 7 – Walking meditation

This involves walking and knowing that you are walking. We are generally completely absorbed in our thoughts when we walk to get around.

Walking meditation involves refocusing on the experience itself. We fully observe the foot that is in contact with the ground, the transfer of weight… And we bring the mind back to these sensations with every instant.

What appears to be normal is in fact surprising: when we were children, it took us a year to learn this!

To practice walking meditation, you can go round in circles or back and forth. Look straight ahead and go at your own pace, for ten minutes at first.

Afterwards, you can be mindful of your body wherever you go about your daily business walking.

Chapter 8 – A day of mindfulness

Whenever we have some free time, we tend to spend it filling it up with busyness.

At the stress clinic, we come together for six hours of mindfulness. The idea is to be at one with your feelings. Settle in a calm place and cut off all contact with the outside world during that time.

We begin with one hour of yoga, and then remain sitting for thirty minutes. We then walk mindfully before returning to sitting meditation. And we eat in silence, attentive to the experience.

In the afternoon, we practice meditation on kindness and forgiveness, which often leads to tears. We break the afternoon with a “crazy walk” to stimulate the group. This involves walking very quickly, changing direction every seven steps, then every four steps, three steps… With your jaw and your fists clenched, without looking at the others and remaining mindful of the moment.

The longest seated period is mountain meditation. The image is inspiring and it shows us that we can remain strong and still, undisturbed by our environment just like the mountain. It remains anchored and beautiful despite the change from day to night, despite the snow and the sun.

At the end of the day, everyone shares their experience. Despite some initial apprehensions, many people find the experience to be liberating. One woman successfully granted herself love and forgiveness through meditation and kindness. She began to forgive her husband who had abused her for years. She was able to cast off the weight of her anger.

Francine simply felt more “solid” and “free” after this day. She felt that is was a waste to have lost contact with herself for so long.

Chapter 9 – Really doing what you’re doing: mindfulness in daily life

When Jacqueline got home, there was a note from her husband saying that he had gone out for the evening. Instead of calling a friend, she stayed by herself and enjoyed the feeling of peace that she experienced. She was mindful of the moment, instead of feeling anxiety at being alone.

We can all achieve this experience of peace, and it is a wonderful gift we can offer ourselves. The challenge is to fully insert this calm and clear vision to daily life. We can work on paying attention to every moment of our lives: cleaning the house, taking a bath. Your experience will be more alive, more intense and real.

Formal meditation opens the perspective of being more present in every other aspect of your life. When you do the dishes, you will realise that there is no point in hurrying to get the chore over with, because the chore is your life in that moment. You will better appreciate every activity that you perform mindfully.

Chapter 10 – Getting started in the practice

The most important thing is to practice every day. After eight weeks, you will see that you will want to make meditation a part of the rest of your life.

  1. Weeks 1 and 2

We recommend you do the body scan as described in chapter 5. Do it every day for forty-five minutes. In addition to this, practice mindful breathing for around ten minutes at another moment in the day.

You can also practice mindfulness as you go about your day. Be aware of what you are doing, for example when you take a shower.

  1. Weeks 3 and 4

Alternate the body scan on day one with a hatha yoga session the next day. Continue to breathe mindfully when seated for between fifteen and twenty minutes per day.

For informal practice, be aware of one pleasant moment per day as it is happening. Write a calendar of your feelings, thoughts and sensations. Do the same thing for an unpleasant event in week 4.

  1. Weeks 5 and 6

Replace the body scan with sitting meditation, progressively increasing the time up to forty-five minutes. Alternate with forty-five minutes of yoga every other day.

  1. Week 7

You decide on how to coordinate the sitting meditation, yoga and body scan for a period of forty-five minutes per day.

  1. Week 8

You can once again combine two or three types of practice of your choosing. This is not the end of the programme. It is the first week of the rest of your life.

Part 2 – The paradigm: a new way of thinking about health and illness

Chapter 11 – Introduction to the paradigm


In order to integrate meditation to your life, you have to know why you are practising it.

The body and the mind are interconnected. The approach to meditation allows you to improve your health.

Chapter 12 – Glimpses of wholeness, delusions of separateness

Children are filled with wonder when they see a dog because their vision is fresh. Our adult thoughts are veiled by experience and the opinion we have of things. Our mind prevents us from seeing the dog in all its “dogness”. Everything is perfect and miraculous, entire in itself.

When your mind changes, new possibilities emerge. Thinking about your body and its capacities will allow you to remember how fabulous everything it can accomplish really is. The digestive process in which solid food offers life energy as it is transformed, the capacity to feel emotions… Your brain, your heart and your liver function without you even having to think about it!

We form a whole and therefore we are interconnected.

We depend on the ozone layer to protect us from the sun’s deadly rays. And we depend on the forests and the oceans to recycle the oxygen we breathe.

This capacity to perceive interconnections develops when we practice mindfulness.

What you can do depends on how you see things, whether you want to quit smoking, lose weight or stop yelling at your children.

Wholeness and connection are our two fundamental qualities as a living being. When we connect in meditation, we rise above our wounds, fragmentation and suffering.

We have the illusion of a separate self that causes suffering, when we are in fact part of a whole, just as the wave is linked to the ocean. By cultivating compassion, we walk on the path to freedom and inner security.

Chapter 13 – On healing

Healing patients at the stress clinic involves deep transformation of their vision. This transformation comes from encountering their wholeness, which is catalysed by meditation. We discover a holistic vision of our problems and this change in perspective helps us to regain control.

You must own the practice of meditation, as it is a way of being more than a set of techniques to feel better. Healing is different from treating. It implies a different relationship to the illness by perceiving its wholeness.

A woman suffering from breast cancer realised that she was not her cancer. She was a whole person and the cancer was a process taking place inside her body. She felt freer and decided to live life more fully.

An experiment conducted at the stress clinic proved that meditation helped patients with psoriasis to heal more quickly (ten out of thirteen patients in the meditation group, against two out of ten in the non-meditating group) in combination with standard photo therapy.

Practising “lovingkindness” meditation helps to set us free and soften our hearts.

Chapter 14 – Doctors, patients and people: moving towards a unified perspective on health and illness

Medicine has made great leaps over the last twenty years. But when a loved one or we ourselves suffer from an illness, we discover that medicine has its limits.

Chronic illness or pain, for example, rarely fall under medical treatments.

Most doctors recognise the role of the mind or the “will to live” and those around the patient in the healing process, without necessarily understanding it.

That is why it is important for doctors to be very careful with their verbal and non-verbal messages. The patient is in a fragile state, vulnerable in the face of science and medicine. A single sentence can feed into or destroy the healing process.

A dual culture reigns in the Western world: the body on one side, the mind on the other. We only recently discovered that psychosocial factors can lead to illness in some people, and not in others, in an equal context.

The well-known phenomenon of the placebo effect is proof of the power of suggestion over the nervous system. This same phenomenon of suggestion is used in hypnosis, which can also affect our perception of pain and memory.

In the early 1970s, Doctor Herbert Benson studied the effects of transcendental meditation on physiology at the University of Harvard. It can lead to a reduction in blood pressure, reduced consumption of oxygen… In other words, a “relaxation response” as opposed to over-activation caused by stress.

This new paradigm led to the creation of a new form of medicine, behavioural medicine, in 1977. It recognises the connection between the body and mind with a more holistic approach to health. It encourages patients to develop personal strategies such as meditation to change their beliefs, become more resilient or change their lifestyle.

When they come to the stress clinic, the patients become personally responsible and contribute to their own healing. We are all responsible for our own well-being through our thought processes, feelings and behaviours.

Chapter 15 – Mind and Body: evidence that beliefs, attitudes, thoughts and emotions can harm or heal

1. The role of perceptions and thought patterns in health

Our thoughts are at the heart of our beliefs about ourselves and the world. They influence our ability to act on the course of things.

Optimism and pessimism: basic filters on the world

Pessimists have a “catastrophising” way of thinking. They generalise the impact of a problem, victimising themselves and putting themselves down.

Optimists consider the same event differently: they see the temporary nature of the difficulty, do not blame themselves and focus on the specific consequences of the problem.

People with a pessimistic tendency are at a higher risk of depression, or developing an illness and dying more quickly when they are affected.

Believing in your ability to have or to take back control over your life, your self-confidence, has positive results on your health. This will dictate the activities that you will do, the level of effort you will devote to them and your perseverance.

For example, the body scan will help you improve confidence in your body. This will give you confidence in your capacity to relax on demand.

Drawing inspiration from successful people increases self-efficacy. If that person successfully resolved their problem, then so can you.

Resilience includes control, involvement and challenge. Resilient people feel fully involved in what they are doing. They give the best of themselves and they see change as a natural part of life.

2. The role of emotions in health – cancer

Is there a personality type with a predisposition for cancer? The diagram that answers yes describes a person who buries their emotions, feels alienated and distant from their loved ones.

In contrast, Doctor Siegel (in his book Love, Medicine and Miracles) sees a correlation between the fact of curing cancer and the degree to which you can love and are receptive to love.

He recognises meditation as the best method to improve the quality of life.

This involves a predisposition and is not a direct cause.

Care must be taken to not reproach a stressed person by making them feel responsible for their cancer. It is merely a supposition and it denies that person their psychic integrity. In order to heal, acceptance and forgiveness work much better than self-criticism.

People who repress their anger or those who constantly express anger to excess have higher than average blood pressure.

Type A behaviour leads to a sense of urgency, impatience, hostility and aggressiveness. A study of 3,500 type A men showed a predominant number of heart diseases in relation to type B (more peaceable). Another study showed that the most important factor was hostility, in other words ‘an absence of trust in the basic goodness of others”.

Observe the effects on your body when you repress your anger, or when you let it out. What are the effects on you and on others?

What are your feelings when you are generous and loving?

Interpersonal confidence and the perception of goodness in every human being have an undeniable effect on our world vision and our health. This is something we can cultivate day after day.

Chapter 16 – Connectedness

One experiment showed that people encouraged to make decisions about themselves and who were told that they were responsible for the life of a plant in their room died in lower numbers than the average!

The experience of interconnecting with the plant that depended on them for life gave them a reason to live. They felt a sense of belonging, coherence.

Physical contact between humans is a powerful means of connection: shaking hands, hugging… these are all powerful rituals, even more so that when they are performed mindfully.

Lack of proximity to your parents can leave deep wounds. To heal them, you need to begin by recognising them and then reconnecting with your body and positive feelings towards it and towards yourself.

Our body is constantly performing retroactions in order to keep us in good health. These include feelings of hunger and having eaten enough, letting us know when and how to feed ourselves.

We need to listen to pain and illness, not forget about them simply by taking medicine.

Part 3 – Stress

Chapter 17 – Stress

According to Doctor Seyle, stress is the body’s non-specific response to any pressure or request.

But is the pressure internal or external?

The answer is the general syndrome of adaptation that allows us to remain in good health when faced with a threat or with change. It is not the stress factor itself, but the way in which we react to it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress.

Factors of stress can be neutral, such as the phenomenon of gravity.

You can develop a way to face change generally, by first recognising that you are stressed.

We can have much more control over things than we think.

Chapter 18 – Change: one thing you can be sure of

We must constantly adapt to change. If we see it as an integral part of life rather than as a threat, we can better manage stress.

The practice of meditation allows you to experience continual change in your thoughts and feelings. Even the mountains erode. From birth to death, human cells are completely regenerated. Life changes all the time and death is part of the process.

Chapter 19 – Stuck in stress reactivity

Despite strong natural resistance, our physiological/ psychological balance can be upset it if there is too much pressure placed on it.

Our automatic reactions make matters worse. Even our thoughts and feelings can become stressors (if you believe you have a deadly disease, for example, because you misinterpreted the doctor’s words).

We can differentiate between chronic stressors (recurrent) and acute stressors (occasional).

Stress can trigger an automatic reaction of alarm: fight or flight. Adrenalin places our senses on high alert, which is a good thing for life or death reactions (if you need to run away from a tiger, for example, you don’t need your digestive system to work properly, you need blood to flow to your legs!).

The hypothalamus is the brain gland that is the part of the limbic system, controlling the connections between our organs and our emotions.

A major part of our stress comes from threats to our social status, rather than to our life.

Hyper stimulation can become chronic, leading to permanent muscular tension (shoulders, jaws, back… depending on the person).

The consequences can be damaging – psychologically, socially and physically.

Consciousness allows us to adjust these automatic reactions.

Without it, we would not be able to release tension and experience the soothing feeling that follows a tense moment. This can create problems with the heart, blood pressure, digestion, sleep…

You cannot relieve tension if you are not aware of it.

Addiction to work is another example of an unsuitable reaction to stress, in the case of an unsatisfactory home life, for example.

Being busy with a thousand occupations is another example of the flight strategy. We can easily turn to chemical products to change our state, such as alcohol, caffeine or sugar. These products are crutches to offer us moments of inner peace.

Any kind of dysfunctional strategy creates dependence, but it is possible to break free through strong determination.

The accumulation of stress can lead to moral and physical collapse: burnout, depression, illness…

Chapter 20 – Responding to stress instead of reacting

Faced with a source of external stress, we can choose to respond instead of reacting.

Reacting is automatic, while responding is a healthy reaction, one of functional adaptation.

This is where mindfulness comes in. By increasing your overall level of consciousness, you can see the whole situation before reacting to it. This gives you several options.

This simple shift can decrease the hold that stress has over you.

You can work on this by practising meditation, when you can observe pain, strong emotions or discomfort without reacting to them.

You can develop more control and alternatives. At any moment, we can decide differently instead of choosing between flight or fight.

You strengthen your mental and physical balance, remaining centred. What previously made you furious no longer has a hold over you, or very little.

You can cultivate this conscious response to stress at any moment, anchoring yourself in your body and your breathing. Focus your attention on your face, your heart, everything you feel when you are in a stressful state. Then turn towards your thoughts. Breathing reconnects you to calm and to the present moment. You will become conscious of your emotions, instead of being carried away by them.

One person who came to the stress clinic noted that their impulse to smoke only lasted three seconds; if they focused on their breathing during that period, the impulse went away. That person had not smoked for two and a half years.

People who meditate regularly recover their physical and mental balance more quickly. When we seek to respond to stress, we do not suppress our emotions. We learn to live with them.

Part 4 – The applications: taking on the full catastrophe

Chapter 21 – Working with symptoms: listening to your body

We often find that the symptoms are upsetting and that they should be removed as soon as possible through medication. In fact, they signal an imbalance. You have to learn to listen to your body to prevent more serious problems.

At the stress clinic, we focus on what is working instead of what isn’t working. Symptoms allow you to connect to the experience, a form of wise attention. Instead of rejecting them, we ask ourselves questions: “What is this symptom saying? What is it saying about my body and my mind at this moment?”.

This requires courage. But we also observe our emotions, in the here and now. We have to use the present moment as the point of departure to be able to evolve towards healing. This is why acceptance is so important.

Chapter 22 – Working with physical pain: you are not your pain

When you bump your elbow against a door, you have the opportunity to explore the chain of sensations within the space of a few seconds.  Perhaps you connect with the centre of peace inside yourself while you take care of the injury and observe the pain receding. Perhaps you feel “calm” within the pain.

It is a revelation to discover that you have a number of options to manage physical pain.

Working on mindfulness must take place in conjunction with all appropriate medicine.

Stress is not bad in itself and similarly, pain is not either. It is a messenger. Your body can warn you about an ulcer or something that is not right. If you don’t listen to it, it may send you a final warning with a heart attack.

1. The results on pain at the stress clinic.

In one study, 72 % of patients with chronic pain noted a reduction in their pain ranging from 33 to 50 % at the end of the eight weeks.

What’s more, they considered that they had fewer problems with their body than previously, by 30%.

Finally, people could undertake normal activities in their everyday life despite the pain up to 30% more. Activities included driving and sleeping… And there was a drop of 55% in negative mood.

This progress lasts: four years later, it continued or even improved.

2. Use meditation to work with pain

Connecting to feelings of pain is more effective in reducing it than distracting yourself.

Commit to performing the body scan by freeing up some time, at least 45 minutes per day, six days per week. Maintain this practice. Change your vision of yourself and pain. You are a complete person, not a patient with chronic pain. Cultivate this wider vision of your life. Meditation can help you in many ways.

The body scan is the most efficient technique in reducing chronic pain. You can do it lying down with your eyes closed.

This exercise may seem boring. That’s okay, do it anyway. Working on growth and healing takes time.

Mindfulness is not a combat between you and your pain. It is an exploration. Take each moment as it comes. You will learn to separate thoughts from the pain.

Your thoughts are not you. They are simply a reaction in your mind to a given situation.

This posture as a witness, in meditation, is helpful in separating from the inner experience to better reconnect to your whole

There is only one way to do it. Begin by practising it, then continue practising it. This work requires patience and kindness towards yourself. The progress will come naturally.

Chapter 23 – More about pain

Suffering from chronic pain changes your whole life. It is often impossible to work with back pain. Living with a loss of revenue and pain for days or even years is terribly frustrating and depressing.

Pain and the threat of pain affect your daily life. You have to do everything slowly. You are always on the lookout.

At the stress clinic, the people who successfully manage to control their pain think about their recovery in the long term. Imagine that you are engaged in intensive training, doing regular exercise, like an athlete.

It changes everything when you learn to work with your breathing and your body instead of against them.

Perform the body scan every day as part of your recovery plan, in deep contact with your body.

Use your breath throughout the day to penetrate the pain and help to soften it.

Long bouts of meditation can be as painful, physically and emotionally, as they can be freeing and inspiring. You will learn that the pain changes constantly and that the mind plays a big role in helping you to detach from the pain.

Chapter 24 – Working with emotional pain: your suffering is not you… but there is much you can do to heal it

Emotional pain is just as terrible as physical pain. It can come from a lack of self-confidence, guilt, anxiety, loss…

You can also be present and use its energy to grow and heal. You will have to want to explore your suffering consciously, in the moment, in order to change perspective.

Storms move differently when they are cradled by consciousness. Part of the pain comes from non-acceptance. If we ignore it, there will be no solution. If we dramatise it, the pain will amplify in our consciousness.

Acceptance does not mean liking what is happening, or being resigned to it. You are simply admitting what has already happened.

Change is inevitable, lack of permanence is at the heart of all things, including pain.

You can be fully present to yourself and feel kindness and compassion for your own pain.

1. “What is my own way?” meditation 

We are governed by our desires. To get out of this trap, we can ask the question “What do I really want?”, or “Does everything have to be ‘perfect’ right now, or under my total control right now, for me to be happy? ”

If this is not the case “Are there specific steps that I can take, seeing  my  unhappiness  right  now, that  would  help  me  to  move  toward greater peace and harmony in my life? ”

Right now, what is my way?”. Asking this question is enough. Let the question live in your heart.

2. Problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping

Focus on the problem and the feeling that you have about it. If it is too big, break it down into small stages and take action.

Trust your intuition and your heart. If there is nothing to be done, do the nothing! Through action, your past can be put behind you.

In parallel, you can turn your attention to what you are feeling. Does your suffering come from guilt or loss? What are your thoughts? Are they appropriate? Welcome your feeling and you make them softer.

Seeing each problem as a challenge is one way to put things in perspective.

Chapter 25 – Working with fear, panic and anxiety

We live in an ocean of fear and anxiety. Fear of death, of being abandoned, of losing a loved one, of failure, of success…

Practising mindfulness allows us to better manage reactions of anxiety, by taking the path of responding to stress rather than reacting to stress.

Anxiety is a strongly reactive emotional state, without an identifiable imminent threat. In addition to anxiety, some people face panic attacks. These are limited periods of intense fear without any apparent reason. Mindfulness can reduce anxiety and panic.

Most of the participants in the stress reduction programme at the clinic no longer had panic attacks at the end of the therapy.

This shows that they were capable of using mindfulness to regulate their emotional state.

1. Claire’s story

Everything was fine in Claire’s life until she lost her father and her mother in the same week. After that, she would experience panic attacks for no apparent reason, which prevented her from driving and made her afraid that she would faint in front of a group of people. The doctor prescribed tranquillisers, because that was the way.

During meditation at the clinic, she let herself move into the tension to observe it. She felt much better afterwards, even if her problems had not changed.

She got into the habit of getting up one hour earlier to meditate, even when she was nine months pregnant. One year after the programme, she no longer experienced panic attacks.

2. How to use meditation practice to work with anxiety and panic.

The practice of mindfulness at any moment means finding and developing the calm beneath anxious feelings, without judging them. The more you meditate, the better you feel. You will learn that you are not your fears and they do not control your life;

The surface of your mind can be agitated like the waves, but your heart experiences inner peace. You learn to free your thoughts from their emotional charge when you voluntarily abstain from reacting to them.

Mindfulness makes us realise that we waver between two tendencies: avidity (wanting/loving) and aversion (not wanting). How can you find happiness in the middle of that if you do not feel whole already?

We believe that happiness comes when our desires are satisfied.

There is only one way to escape from this tyranny: see your thoughts for what they are. Take a step back to understand that you do not have to act on them when they are inadequate. You will have found the key to balance.

Chapter 26 – Time and time stress

Depending on the period, we can feel that we don’t have enough time, or in contrast, it can seem interminable.

As crazy as it may seem, the antidote to time stress is intentional non-doing.

Your challenge is to test this in your life to see whether your relationship to time can be transformed by the practice of non-doing.

Inner peace exists outside time

If you take the time to do nothing, even for five or ten minutes, time no longer exists during that period. You are in harmony with the experience of the present moment.

The entire day becomes tinted with this impression of being “outside” time. Attention makes every moment more alive. Your actions are born in the peace of your being.

Most of the time, we are thinking about the past or the future. By observing the flow of thoughts passing by, we see the interval between them, in the timeless present.

The word deadline shows how conscious we are of death and our finality. At the same time we may feel immortal with a broader consciousness of time. And yet, human life represents just 0.0015% of the history of life on Earth… The blink of an eye!

Type A characters who tend toward heart disease are also very impatient. The pressure of time is undeniably toxic.

There are many stories from people who survived heart attacks describing the previous life as constantly racing after work and success… Always going one step further without listening to the signals from their body.

Time has no absolute signification. It may seem endless when you are sitting on a hot stove and too short when you are having a good time.

We need to become aware of what we are trying to accomplish every day and ask ourselves, in the words of Doctor Eliot, a heart attack survivor: “Is it worth dying for?”

Living in the present moment is much more satisfying. It is the only moment when life is really happening. Be aware of the moment when you are eating or playing with your children. Be genuinely present when you are doing any activity. And time will disappear.

All the moments will belong to you.

Even when you are in a hurry, be fully present and ask yourself “Who is running, and where?”.

Make your life simpler, even in a minimal way. Consciously choose to keep up with or give up certain activities (watching the news, for example) and create periods of non-doing.

Chapter 27 – Sleep and sleep stress

Nobody wants to lose their valuable sleeping time – it’s sacred! And yet, sleep can be hard to find. We can wake up in the middle of the night… We do not control sleep, we abandon ourselves to it.

So, when we are awake, we may as well get up and do something else instead of getting annoyed about it. Let the future take care of itself

If you are not asleep at that moment in time, perhaps you don’t need to be!

Chapter 28 – People stress

Love relationships can be sources of great joy or emotional pain.

Stress is caused by interaction. We need to take our share of responsibility in our relationships. Some people behave aggressively, as if every relationship is a combat, in order to run from their insecurities.

Conversely, we can submit at the expense of our own point of view or self-respect.

Instead of fight or flight, we can learn to have a conscious response. This path is not without risks: being in contact with your emotions, accepting them, recognising them and even sharing them.

You could keep a log of stressful communications. This is about being conscious of one stressful communication per day, at the moment it takes place. What does the other person want, what do you want, how do you feel?

Much of the stress comes from a lack of assertiveness in affirming our priorities, fear of expressing our feelings or saying no to other people.

Some people are always ready to help others, up to the point where they forget themselves. The stress does not come from helping others. It comes from the lack of peace and harmony in their mind when they accept to do things.

Assertiveness supposes that you are connected to what you are feeling. You can correctly read situations and face them mindfully.

To become more assertive, start by training yourself to know what you are really feeling. It’s not so easy. We tend to repress or feel guilty about certain thoughts and emotions.

But your feelings are your feelings, neither bad nor good!

We tend to believe that other people know what we want and feel without expressing it.

When you refuse something that you do not want, you can express it simply and give the reason only if you want to.

While being conscious of your own feelings, you widen your consciousness to include the other person’s system and respect their point of view. Now you can really listen and act effectively while asserting yourself. You will have a much better chance of getting what you want!

Chapter 29 – Role stress

Every role (man, woman, parent, professional…) can box us in if we are not aware.

We each have our own idea of what it means to be an excellent mother, sister, athlete, manager…

A large part of this is just an illusion and it can stop us from being who we really are as we go about our business.

In one session, a woman in her forties with heart problems and panic attacks talked about her arguments with her adult son. He took advantage of her kindness and refused to move out. She told him to move out and then felt guilty about it. The other participants supported her and offered kind advice; some of them had experienced similar situations.

Anyone who has power and authority in their professional life runs the risk of becoming alienated at work by the “stress of success” that can lead them to neglect their loved ones and their personal life. It is difficult to move from the role of decision-making boss to that of a partner and parent, where you are at the same level as everyone else in the family.

By enlightening consciousness about our different roles; we can more effectively enjoy them without becoming a prisoner and be ourselves in each of these roles.

Chapter 30 – Professional stress

Working is one way to connect to the world, to have a sense of being useful in addition to remuneration. This sense of belonging to something much bigger is something that makes work more bearable

But when we have a large share of autonomy in our professional decision-making, we are also subject to lack of permanence.

You have to ask yourself regularly: “What work am I doing? How can I best do it under the current circumstances?”.

You can change perspective and decide, as an experiment, to make your work the opportunity to practice meditation. Difficulties will turn into challenges. You will adopt a problem-solving approach that allows you to manage stress in a better way.

Chapter 31 – Food stress

It is impossible to lead a healthy life without paying some attention to what you put in your body. We are more and more removed from nature and bombarded with industrial foods.

Animal fat is a factor of risk in coronary disease. A low fat diet, combined with yoga and meditation, can significantly improve heart function and blood pressure.

It is not so easy to change our relationship with food. It requires inner discipline that comes from intelligence rather than fear, awareness of your relationship with food at every level.

We can be conscious of the quality and the source of food, of how much we eat and what we are feeling. We can pay attention to our attachment to certain foodstuffs.

Eating is a social activity with a strong emotional charge.

At the stress clinic, people begin to realise that they eat certain things out of habit and not for pleasure. They may realise that certain foods make them feel bloated or tired. They start to eat with increased awareness and therefore more enjoyment.

Many people eat to fill a void or reduce stress… In this case, we do not eat for our body, but to feel better emotionally. The rewards we give ourselves are often rich and sugary, or fatty and salty.

We are more preoccupied by our appearance than our well-being. Pay attention to what is taking up space in your mind, what you are putting into your body and the reasons you do it in order to move towards improved health.

Chapter 32 – World stress

Air and water are among our foodstuffs, and we need to pay attention to their quality. It is in our best interest to take care of the natural world. If we cannot realise that our human activity on a global scale is creating imbalance in natural cycles, we are sowing the seeds of our own destruction as individuals and as a species. Deforestation and climate change may well affect us within ten or twenty years. We may feel that there is nothing we can do as individuals to change this.

But the simple fact of being aware and informed about these problems and their impact on our health is a positive step towards changing the world. You are a small part of the world, more significant than you think.

Information is part of our diet in a broader sense and it can be a major source of stress. What effect does the flow of bad news, death, destruction and violence have on us? We become insensitive to what happens to others. In some American homes, the television is on for seven hours a day.

We need time for silence, for peace, to be one with what is happening. Time to play and to do real things.

Watching TV offers no physiological relaxation. It bombards our senses and makes us dependent. The more complicated the world becomes, the most important it is to practice non-acting. We can own our present, the seed of the future world. That is what makes the difference.

Part 5 – The way of awareness

Chapter 33 – New beginnings

What is essential is your vision and your commitment to practice today, and then to practice tomorrow and every day. You can find meditation groups to strengthen and grow your practice.

All of the patients at the clinic worked hard on themselves and they made changes. They came with the willingness to practice non-doing, even when their body and their mind wanted to distract them. The eight weeks at the clinic are just the beginning of a journey that will last a lifetime. The way of awareness.

From the moment you cultivate mindfulness in your life in a systematic way, it will become virtually impossible to stop.

Chapter 34 – Keeping up the formal practice

Practising mindfulness should become part of your life, like eating or sleeping. Finding the time to meditate every day is like eating every day, and it is just as important. You sit down, that’s all… and your mind will rest, like cloudy apple juice that settles in the glass.

The practice requires you to be one with your breathing. It is not about stopping thinking, but about being aware of thoughts, and going back to your breathing. From there, observe the thought process, how the thoughts come and go, without being sucked into them.

Begin the work of acceptance, where you see everything without judgement.

Do not seek to go anywhere. Do not seek to pronounce meditation or yoga to be something extraordinary, simply as something to practice. That is why the clinic encourages participants not to tell others that they are meditating.

Chapter 35 – Keeping up the informal practice

At any moment, you can ask yourself if you are fully present, what your mind is busy with. You can connect with yourself when walking or eating.

You can add mindfulness to your thoughts, your emotions and your relationships. And you can switch out of automatic pilot mode and live more fully.

Chapter 36 – The way of awareness

In China, the way is called the Tao. The world works according to its own laws, and living with this concept allows us to be one with non-doing. This is the way of acceptance and wisdom.

But we don’t learn about the concept of being at school, only the concept of doing. In the tradition of yoga, you count your age from when you begin the practice. It is like a second birth, the awakening of consciousness!

The path to mindfulness lasts a lifetime and it leads you to where you already are.

Conclusions about “Full catastrophe living” by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn:

This book changed my life because it allowed me to understand some key concepts about mindful meditation. More especially, it encouraged me to increase my practice. When you discover the many benefits that have been scientifically proven when it comes to well-being, health and happiness, there is no reason not to practice it!

This is a revolutionary book because it offers meditation scientific credit. Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn introduces it as an integral part of the healing process for patients suffering from stress. It has made the practice more democratic, beyond spiritual or mystical impressions we may have.

Above all, meditation shows us that we are responsible for our own happiness, and that we are already whole. Through the power of thought, we always have a way to act on events, whatever they may be.

This is the force of acceptance and the present moment. This book can change your life, if you make meditation part of your daily routine. It is like a shower for the mind!

Strong Points:

  • Numerous scientific references
  • Numerous examples of real cases of patients who came to the stress clinic, with very different problems (panic attacks, depression, handicap). They all find benefits in practising meditation during the eight weeks of the programme and for the rest of their lives.
  • Suggestions for practising meditation exercises, the opportunity to follow the same programme as the one at the clinic thanks to the explanations.
  • Each one of us can find the benefits of meditation from a personal point of view.

Weak points:

  • The concepts can be hard to understand without practising them. This is the drawback to turning a real experience into a book!
  • Numerous repetitions to help us grasp concepts such as acceptance, mindfulness or the elasticity of time.

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