Full Catastrophe Living

I only made it officially through one book in February (which is an all time low for me), but one powerful book is better than two or three crappy ones, right?


It all started when my colleague was complaining about her new-age instructor for an education leadership class. Apparently his love for dream-catchers and meditation was his answer to being a great principal. The more I asked about him, the more I grimaced at the thought of sitting through the class – but I was still curious about the “required reading.” One of the texts was by John Kabat-Zinn, and through a bit of surface level Googling, I impulsively purchased one of his other books, Full Catastrophe Living.

What’s it about? Here’s what the back of the book says:

“Stress. It can sap our energy, undermine  our health if we let it, even shorten our lives. It makes us more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, disconnection and disease. Based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s renowned mindfulness-based stress reduction program, this classic, groundbreaking work—which gave rise to a whole new field in medicine and psychology—shows you how to use medically proven mind-body approaches derived from meditation and yoga to counteract stress, establish greater balance of body and mind, and stimulate well-being and healing. By engaging in these mindfulness practices and integrating them into your life from moment to moment and from day to day, you can learn to manage chronic pain, promote optimal healing, reduce anxiety and feelings of panic, and improve the overall quality of your life, relationships, and social networks.”

First off, I read anything like this with a grain of salt. However, the traditional medical treatments when I blew out my knee seemed very limited – one time the doctor even held up his hands and said, “I don’t know what to do with that,” when I described a horrific pain in my foot after knee surgery. But chiropractic and naturopathic treatments have worked in slow, steady increments (in fact, my chiropractor fixed my foot with a simple touch later that day). Admittedly, the acupuncture that required wrapping my knee in chainmail and tin foil was dubious, but I feel generally fantastic since prolotherapy.

You see, I’m just not the kind of person who wants to just take a pill. There’s got to be another way.

During Full Catastrophe Living, I found myself saying out loud, “Yes! That’s me! I understand what you’re talking about!” Although I’m not dealing with terminal illness or the tragedy of losing a spouse, I do feel daily aches and pains that I know are related to stress.

But also – my mind keeps me up at night. Whether it’s the burden of being a public educator, or I’ve just spent too much time on Reddit reading about MK Ultra, I wake up at night with too much going on in my brain. Donald Trump isn’t helping.

giphy.gif I already use my Headspace app regularly, but that feels a bit surface level. What I appreciate about Full Catastrophe Living is that it goes into the research of mindfulness and meditation, as well as gives a lot of practical strategies.

If anyone can relate to thinking that this is all ridiculous fluff, I can. A few years ago, I laughed in my naturopath’s face when she suggested I meditate. It wasn’t until I worked for a raging bully and was considering a medical leave that I thought, Maybe I need to give that meditation thing a try. I even mediated in secret because I was so embarrassed – and now here I am blogging about self-help books, for all the world to see.

“Catastrophe” to John Kabat-Zinn does not mean disaster, it just means that we have all these things going on in life – and learning how to manage them in a mindful way can make people realize that the things that feel overwhelming can actually be rewarding. For instance, people complain about work, but many people who are chronically ill or incapable of working would give anything to have a job. It’s a matter of perspective.

If you think mediation is boring or you don’t have time, they say “That’s ok,” and give 30 second strategies. If you have been meditating for awhile, it gives more advanced strategies (of which I am so far from being able to do).

As many people know, the stress of dealing with my dad’s house has been paramount in my life right now, but I’m working on experiencing the catastrophe rather than fighting against it. Speaking of which, the house goes on the market in three weeks.



A new item to the list – Learn to Meditate

My eyes were closed and all I heard was the waves from the beach. Thor blurted, “Are you meditating right now?”

I opened one eye and replied, “Maybe…why?”

“Because you never look that calm and serene,” he half sneers.

When I first started getting nutrition coaching, the doctor suggested meditation. I laughed, “Yeah that’s not me.” The more I worked with her, the more I realized how much the daily grind of life really played a massive part in how well (or how poorly) my eating habits played out. In lieu of meditation, she gave me a few simple breathing techniques to try and, despite my skepticism, they worked – especially when I had trouble sleeping.

But meditation? No thanks. I just don’t identify with people who do that.

This year, I considered adding “Learn to Meditate” to my annual bucket list, but it sounded so hokey. I wasn’t ready for that public shaming. It got omitted.

Yet earlier this month, when I was jetting setting to NOLA and working my full-time day job and planning our 10th anniversary party, I started to feel that “seriously overwhelmed” feeling that is usually reserved for the first and last week of school. Impulsively, I downloaded a meditation app called Headspace which claimed I would only need to take ten minutes out of my day. I settled alone on the couch for my first session, and felt “just had a massage” relaxed when it was over.

That’s when I decided to add “Learn to Meditate” to my official list, and have used the app almost everyday for the last two and a half weeks. At first, I did it secretly but sometimes I couldn’t find a moment alone and eventually had to spill the beans to Thor. As expected, he laughed and made fun of me for the first couple days, and then started prodding me about which app I was using. (You know, in case he wanted to try it).

It hasn’t been easy. Some days my brain is spinning and I just can’t seem to focus (or unfocus), and other days I’ve fallen asleep. The sweet spot seems to be somewhere in the middle (the term hypnopompic comes to mind). I’ve meditated on the couch, in bed, on an airplane, on the beach, and in my office.

You’d think morning meditation on a Hawaiian beach  would be clutch, but mid-way through I felt sand fly at my feet and through my headphones I could hear some lady screeching, “Put the chairs down here – RIGHT HERE!” I squeezed my eyes closed and pushed through, but it was a horrible experience. All I could think was that somebody was encroaching on my mindfulness time – how dare they.

I’m certainly not ready to cross this one off the list because I am still learning, but “Learn to Meditate” is official now – go ahead, make your jokes. Or you could try it, too, and tell me what you think.