When a cat falls out of a tree, it lets go of itself. The cat becomes completely relaxed, and lands lightly on the ground. But if a cat were about to fall out of a tree and suddenly make up its mind that it didn't want to fall, it would become tense and rigid, and would be just a bag of broken bones upon landing.
In the same way, it is the philosophy of the Tao that we are all falling off a tree, at every moment of our lives. As a matter of fact, the moment we were born we were kicked off a precipice and we are falling, and there is nothing that can stop it. So instead of living in a state of chronic tension, and clinging to all sorts of things that are actually falling with us because the whole world is impermanent, be like a cat. - What is Tao?, Alan Watts
A long time ago, my friend and former coach, Cindy Martini of Insight Shift, highly recommended the book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn (author's website).
I remember a fleeting thought went through my mind, "I certainly don't want to live from one catastrophe to another." That might sometimes feel like what our typical day in corporate America is about: jumping from one crisis to the next fire-fighting emergency, but that was certainly not the life I wanted to live. I really didn't want to know how to handle stress better - I wanted none of it.
But living in catastrophe is not at all what the book is about. It's about mindfulness in the face of the unknown. And...
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing awareness to your experience in the present moment. In cultivating this practice you can enter into deeper states of consciousness where you access wisdom insight and your body's innate ability to heal...
When we use the word healing to describe the experiences of people in the stress clinic, what we mean above all is that they are undergoing a profound transformation of view. Out of this shift in perspective comes an ability to act with greater balance and inner security in the world.
While I was laying flat on my back (on higher ground finally) with my injured leg resting on a log immediately after the tsunami, I made a commitment to myself - call it an early New Year's resolution - to more fully dedicate myself to mindfulness and awareness practices. Ironic now, but I had intended to do some Vipassana meditation at Buddhist temples during the last stage of my Thailand visit. But holiday jaunts into mindfulness just aren't enough. (BTW, vipassana means insight, wisdom, or clear seeing through training in concentration, awareness and mindfulness.)
Full Catastrophe Living came back to my memory in an intuitive flash and what really resonated for me was that Kabat-Zinn calls the mindfulness approach a vehicle for "participatory medicine" or even "participatory wellness." It's not up to your doctor, your therapist, your coach, your spiritual advisor, your lover, or anyone else to deal with ultimately.
Stress can take over our lives, health and well being - this is because we do not know how to unhook from it. We do not know how to access the inner part of us that is in a constant state of peace. Our mind keeps us busy, fearful and overwhelmed. Engaging in the practice of mindfulness, trains our mind to be in the present. Once we embark on this way of interacting with the world stress can become a stimulus for growth, an opportunity to address issues in a new way and a way of finding new resources within yourself so you can fully participate in the adventure of your own life. You do not need to wait for illness or pain to engage on this journey.
This last sentence is most important. And it's why I want to strength my commitment now - these are practices that often get deleted from the "to-do" list unfortunately- as I fully realized that I had not deeply integrated mindfulness so that it was completely second-nature in a flight-or-fight scenario. Side-benefits include greater presence of mind, enhanced creativity and overall wellness.
Jon Kabat-Zinn does quite a bit of work with corporate executives in addition to medical patients. In a corporate setting with healthy [oh, we can always debate that one] employees, the mindfulness-based stress reduction eight-week course and follow-up practice for four-months, a study was conducted to measure the effects:
Another study [Davidson, Kabat-Zinn, et al. (2003)], showed positive changes in brain activity associated with more effective emotional processing under stress, and in immune function in [healthy] people taking an [mindfulness-based stress reduction] MBSR course in a corporate work setting in a randomized clinical trial (view PDF).
What I'm getting to is that I'm going to fully dwelve into this book and a face-to-face MBSR program for myself. I am in the process of creating a private blog (so that all participants have a safe environment and are guest authors as well) that will cover the book's program over a nine-week period (first week intro), beginning hopefully next week (or when more than four people have indicated interest).
There is no strict time criteria to "meet" over than a check-in at least once every week as everything is online. Right now, I'm not imposing any upper limit on the number of participants as I don't want to exclude anyone interested in participating. However, should I get an overwhelming amount of interest, my first priority will be to those that are tsunami survivors and aid workers (this book has been recommended for acute stress disorder, which affects trauma victims within the first month), and then to everyone else. This is also highly recommended to anyone considering attending the Personal Innovation Advance. (Note: This is not meant to supplant counseling but rather to provide additional support. See also: This information tip-sheet for self-care after disasters.)
Many hospitals' "integrative medicine centers", health clinics, and meditation centers offer the eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course based on Kabat-Zinn's work (and the book), and here's a locator of programs in your area. I'll be attending a course starting next week in the Bay Area.
If you choose to read the book and follow the program either along with me or on your own, you will also need to purchase the accompanying meditation CD series separately.
If you are interested in the group course and accompanying blog, please send a blank email to awareness-practice-subscribe [at] yahoogroups (dot) com or alternatively, if you have additional questions email me at crossroadsdispatches [at] gmail (dot) com with subject line Full Catastrophe Living (or something that stands out as I get a lot of email) or leave a comment on this post. Go ahead and get the book plus the CD series (I recommend 1-800-CEO-READ or Kabat-Zinn's own website.) I'll post the high-level insights on this blog.
Lastly, there is no charge to participate for those affected by the tsunami directly or indirectly, and for all others, if you feel the course has been of value, please contribute (in addition to your previous contributions) to the tsunami aid efforts in proportion to the value you've received.
TSUNAMI AID WORKERS AND RESOURCE PROVIDERS: Please help me distribute this information to those that may be able to use it and have the infrastructure to get online at least once per week. If you are an aid worker or volunteer and are wanting to learn more in order to train others in affected regions, then this is also for you (and we'll work around the fact you may or may not be able to have the book in hand).