iHad iPad

Seth Anderson@Flickr.com

Reading is always difficult for me during the school year–hours of grading and planning leave little time for recreation, and my exhaustion at 9 each evening doesn’t lend itself to reading more than a page or two. But I recently noticed a disturbing habit that has crept into my reading life. Because I have the New Yorker and some novels on my iPad Kindle app, I’m only a button push away from Facebook and Pinterest and blogs and Etsy and eBay and Amazon and email and … I’m guessing you get the idea. So the reading that I do do, takes considerably longer and I’m horribly distracted. Who knew this could happen to me, a lifelong reader and book hoarder?

So for a period of time (I don’t know how long) I’ve decided to go back to reading print only; my iPad will be in another room, not resting alongside me as it usually is. I’ve gone back to Elizabeth I (again!) and have a couple books arriving from Amazon tomorrow. For a while I’ll be turning pages, not swiping a screen. 

My own full catastrophe

Full Catastrophe Living
Jon Kabat-Zinn

[Note to my readers: this post is a bit more personal than most of my book reviews.]

Nearly twenty years ago I was diagnosed with a chronic pain condition; almost ten years ago I sought treatment. For the most part I’ve dealt with it by alternately ignoring it, plowing through, or spitting in its face–whatever my response I would not give in and put a label on myself. I browsed some books on living with pain holistically over the years and did take a peek at Jon Kabat-Zinn’s primer Full Catastrophe Living. Almost just as quickly, I crammed it back into the store’s bookshelf: “My life is not a catastrophe, damn-it.” How much better had I known the back story, that Nikos Kanzantazaks’s character Zorba the Greek was the book’s inspiration. At one point in the novel, Zorba was asked whether or not he was married, to which he replied (roughly) “Am I not a man? Of course I’ve been married. Wife, house, kids, everything … the full catastrophe!” Life as full and joyous catastrophe.

And as I practiced yoga over the years, I also read my fair share of books on mindfulness and meditation. More that one teacher would begin the class with “meditation”, at which point I’d sit quietly and … what? Sit with my eyes closed. Sit still. I had read that meditation was supposed to help chronic pain, but this sitting business did nothing for me. Fast forward to a Facebook post by a local mindfulness center offering a meditation class that was also taught by my very first yoga teacher. And in the still, small center of my heart I knew it was time.

Kabat-Zinn is the founder and former director of the University of Massechuset’s Stress Reduction Clinic. Centered on breath work and disciplined practice, MBSR (as it is known) is now the gold standard for meditation programs. Full Catastrophe Living Part I explains the course in detail; Part II introduces the idea of mindfulness and describes the paradigm shift needed to deal with stress, pain, and dis-ease.  Throughout, the book is rich with testimonials from individuals for whom meditation was transformative. (There are two chapters on pain, both of which I’ve read twice–so far!)

I read the book in tandem with taking a course based on Kabat-Zinn’s program, taught by MBSR teachers, and while the concepts in the book are easy-to-understand, they are not as easy to practice. Guided mindfulness meditation CDs must be purchased separately–but it’s the “guided” part that is so critical to success, I think. While Kabat-Zinn explains the beginning practice of the body scan, there is no substitution for actually experiencing the sometimes grueling practice and being held accountable to your homework: 45 minutes of MBSR practice each and every day for 8 weeks.

Read the book. Maybe start with Part II to understand the philosophy behind the practice better. If you’re moved to begin mindfulness meditation, seek out a MBSR program to begin your journey with guidance and support.

As I read Full Catastrophe and began to practice sitting, I felt as though I was stepping into a flowing stream–the energy of mindfulness meditation swirled and eddied around and against every aspect of my own full catastrophe. And the pain? Suddenly, it’s not the point at all–the meditation seeps into your very center.

And it changed my life.

Chicks on Books

The first ever meeting of the Chicks on Books book club met today at M’s! A great group with strong opinions and never at a loss for words–what could be better?!(In fact, how does one know if the discussion is too animated?) I am looking forward to the summer books we’ll read … and also a bit surprised that the initial books, anyway, are non-fiction. Who knew? Always an avid reader, I’ve only just started reading non-fiction myself in the past several years–really with the advent of my AP class. I would have thought that the bent would have gone towards fiction, my all-time favorite get-away.

We’ve checked off The Glass Castle today. July’s read will be Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhonda Janzen; August will see us reading Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler. Can’t wait!

Missing

This month’s Wired had an intriguing article about individuals who have decided to simply vanish–burdened by the mess they’ve made of their life, usually either relationships or illegal business dealings.(Check out “Gone” by Evan Ratliff; Sept. 09) Seems that none of the folks ever really vanished–that, now matter how airtight they thought their plan, they tripped themselves up somehow when they relaxed their guard. Ratliff is even trying to see if he can disappear for 30 days–$5000 if anyone finds him!

Of course Ratliff mentioned Huck Finn and Great Gatsby, both literary characters who sought to make their lives over. Curious also is the fact that the vanishing acts featured in Wired are all men. I wonder how many novels have been written about these kind of vanishing acts? I can think only of Ann Tyler’s Ladder of Years where Delia walks off the beach, down the road, and onto a new life. Any others?

Finally Summer


This has got to be one of the loneliest books I’ve ever read. It was beautiful, don’t get me wrong–but every page pulled at my heart. And if one of the loneliest books, probably also one of the most truthful. I thought how close I came to Ella’s story and whether or not my choice was the better one. Lonely, yet redemptive, somehow, as the characters touched and blended their lives–which should be the story of all of our lives as we live this incarnation.

But today is truly the start of summer. The kitchen is almost done, I stayed for the rosary after mass, and I’ve read three books. I was a bit frantic this morning, wondering, now that the hustle and bustle have ended, what I was to do with myself. The remedy? Ease into summer and drink long draughts!