Full Catastrophe Living

Jon Kabat-Zinn's 1990 description of his "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic" at the University of Massachusetts is fascinating but rather slower reading than his later books (Wherever You Go, There You Are and Coming to Our Senses). Nevertheless it's full of practical wisdom on self-awareness. The title, as explained in the Introduction, comes from a line in the movie Zorba the Greek when the protagonist is asked if he has ever been married. Kabat-Zinn's paraphrase: "Am I not a man? Of course I've been married. Wife, house, kids, everything ... the full catastrophe!" His interpretation:

It was not meant to be a lament, nor does it mean that being married or having children is a catastrophe. Zorba's response embodies a supreme appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies, and ironies. His way is to "dance" in the gale of the full catastrophe, to celebrate life, to laugh with it and at himself, even in the face of personal failure and defeat. In doing so, he is never weighed down for long, never ultimately defeated either by the world or by his own considerable folly.

And so Kabat-Zinn argues that the "catastrophe" everyone feels is "... the poignant enormity of our life experience. It includes crises and disaster but also all the little things that go wrong and that add up. The phrase reminds us that life is always in flux, that everything we think is permanent is actually only temporary and constantly changing. This includes our ideas, our opinions, our relationships, our jobs, our possessions, our creations, our bodies, everything." The challenge of being human: to master "the art of conscious living".

(cf. Pepys on Matrimony (2009-12-26); trivia footnote: the actual lines from the movie Zorba the Greek: "Am I not a man? And is not a man stupid? I'm a man. So, I married. Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe!"; from the book by Nikos Kazantzakis: "D'you think I'm not a man? Like everyone else, I've committed the Great Folly. That's what I call marriage—may married folk forgive me! Yes, I've committed the Great Folly, I've married!" as per the 1953 translation by Carl Wildman) - ^z - 2010-02-12