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Full Catastrophe Living

Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness

By Jon Kabat-Zinn
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Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn

Full Catastrophe Living (1990) doesn’t sugar-coat it: this is a book that acknowledges life can sometimes feel like one catastrophe after another. But while we might not be able to prevent life’s catastrophes, the way we respond to them is entirely within our control. An acknowledged classic in the mindful living genre, Full Catastrophe Living explains how life’s storms can be weathered through mindfulness.

Key idea 1 of 9

Mindfulness guides you to experiencing the present moment.

Imagine only having moments to live. How do you spend this precious time? Perhaps you stop to feel the breeze on your face for the last time, or savor every bite of food you’re eating, or appreciate the melody of sounds coming through your window.

When you think about it, you really do only have moments to live. Because that’s all life is: one moment after another and another and another. 

To make the most of life, make the most of each moment. Mindfulness can show you how.

The key message is: Mindfulness guides you to experiencing the present moment.

You might ask: Is experiencing the present moment something I need to learn? Don’t I already experience it simply by existing in it?

Well, try it now. Try to focus solely on this moment.

How long does it take before a thought snatches you out of the present? If you’re like most people, it doesn’t take long at all. Even though our bodies are in the present, our minds habitually wander into the future or the past. And that’s not a good thing. In fact, a 2012 Harvard study found that we feel calmer, more stable, and happier when our minds are focused on the present instead of the future or the past.

That’s where mindfulness comes in. It’s a meditation technique focused on anchoring mental attention and physical sensation in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness allows us to still our wandering thoughts and to experience the full texture of the present. What’s more, it brings us into deeper communication with our bodies, teaching us to recognize and deal with early warning signs of depression, stress, and anger. 

Here’s a simple mindfulness exercise to try out. Take three raisins. Observe the first raisin closely. What does it look like? How does it smell? How does it feel between your fingers? Then put the raisin in your mouth and begin to chew: How does it taste? How does it feel on your tongue and in your teeth? 

Repeat the process with the next two raisins. Each time, try to deepen your focus on the process of eating the raisin. And with that deeper focus, you might find that the sensory experience of eating the raisin intensifies each time.  

Slowing down to fully attend to even the most seemingly mundane experiences – like eating a raisin – is the first step on a path to a mindful life.

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