Why full catastrophe living is slowing you down

All illustrations by John Weiss.

“Your pharmacy is too far away from my house! I don’t know why my doctor sent me here,” said the fidgety woman in front of me.

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“I’m sorry Miss, but we’re a compounding pharmacy. Your medication is unique, which is probably why your doctor sent you to us,” said the woman behind the cashier. “We can work with a local pharmacy closer to you if you’d like to set that up,” she added.

“No! I have to get to the airport, and I need the medication before I leave! How long will this take? Oh my God, is it raining outside? Great! That’s just great!”

The frazzled woman fumbled in her purse, and then unexpectedly swung it over her shoulder. I ducked.

“Okay, that will be $104, and you’ll need to do a brief consult with our pharmacist about this medication.” The cashier smiled, but it didn’t help.

“One hundred and four dollars! Are you kidding me? Is that right? Oh my God! And how long will the consultation take, I have to get to the airport and it’s raining now! This is just what I didn’t need!” With that, Miss drama marched over to the consultation booth.

There was more complaining and back and forth with the pharmacist, and then the woman stormed out of the building in a huff.

“You did a great job being patient,” I told the cashier, adding, “For some people, life is a full catastrophe. I was a cop for 26 years and used to encourage people to tell me the ‘30 word or less’ version of events. Some did, but many just rambled on and on.”

The cashier laughed. “The 30 word or less version! I love that,” she said.

Patience is a form of wisdom

Years ago I read a book called Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Zinn is professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. He is also the founder and former director of the world-renowned Stress Reduction Clinic.

Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, offers mind-body approaches like meditation and yoga to combat stress and foster greater well-being. The goal is to improve your moment to moment mindfulness, which means paying attention more and simply being, rather than doing.

“Patience is a form of wisdom. It demonstrates that we understand and accept the fact that sometimes things must unfold in their own time.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

I couldn’t help but think that the impatient and frenetic woman in the pharmacy would benefit from reading Full Catastrophe Living.

She seemed married to the drama in her life and blinded by how her anxious behavior affected others. Everything appeared to be a big inconvenience to her.

She might be a wonderful person, but you wouldn’t have known it from her antics in the pharmacy.

The texture of our life experience

There seem to be two kinds of people in life. Those who navigate around obstacles, and the ones who fall apart.

Some people don’t waste time complaining, they work around the setback and keep moving forward. Others behave like Sisyphus, forever trying to push that boulder up the hill.

Being in law enforcement, I naturally saw people at their worst. Addicts and cheaters who focused solely on themselves, seemingly incapable of dealing with life’s roadblocks and hurdles.

Sadly, I witnessed similar behavior in some of my colleagues. There were a few cops I knew who would lose it over an unwanted shift change or getting passed over for a promotion.

Some seemed forever caught up in busy gossip over administrative decisions they didn’t like. They’d enlist supporters and expend a lot of energy on negativity and bad morale. It was totally unproductive and stole time away from more important pursuits, like enjoying their families and passions.

“Because of this inner busyness, which is going on almost all the time, we are liable either to miss a lot of the texture of our life experience or to discount its value and meaning.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living

Well adjusted people feel sadness, anger, and disappointment just like everyone else. The difference is that they do something constructive about it, instead of complaining to everyone and reliving the issue over and over.

I remember the time I lost a promotional opportunity to another, the better-qualified candidate. I complained to my father, feeling a little sorry for myself. Dad told me some great advice:

“Johnny, we often learn more from defeat than victory. You’ll learn a lot from this disappointment. It will help you next time. Meanwhile, be gracious. Go to this guy’s promotion party, shake his hand and offer to be of help. Remember, people watch your behavior more when you lose than when you win.”

Steady-as-she-goes attitude

Just after I left the pharmacy, I received a phone call from a good friend. He’s fighting prostate cancer and mentioned that they found more cancer in his leg. “Well, what can you do?” he said. “We’re going to throw everything at it, including the kitchen sink. And I’m going to keep riding my bike and living my life.”

Then he told me he was heading over to his son’s house to fix some plumbing. No grousing. No “why me.” Just a stoic, steady-as-she-goes attitude.

It’s humbling and inspiring to witness such well-adjusted maturity. A far cry from the pharmacy woman, all worked up over perceived inconveniences and a little rain.

“The truth is that stress doesn’t come from your boss, your kids, your spouse, traffic jams, health challenges, or other circumstances. It comes from your thoughts about these circumstances.” -Andrew J. Bernstein

So, here’s the deal. Things won’t always go your way in life. Stuff happens. Stress will alight on your shoulders, just like it does with everyone else. The question is, how do you want to deal with it?

You can bitch, complain and tell your sad story to everyone who will listen, but it won’t improve the situation. Or, you can choose to navigate around the obstacles and disappointments. Like my friend fighting cancer, who’s busy fixing the plumbing in his son’s house.

Steal a page from Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Learn more about mindfulness. How to slow down your brain, breathe deeply, and be in the moment more.

When you’re out to dinner with your spouse or significant other, don’t stew about some transgression at work. Don’t cheat yourself, and your loved one, from being present. Because if you do, then the bad stuff in your life wins.

The full catastrophe of life will unfold. The bills, work stress, traffic, noise, disappointments, illnesses and more. Don’t fixate on it all. Navigate around it.

Learn to be more mindful. Be more present for your spouse, kids, and friends. Don’t be like Sisyphus. Let the boulder roll past you, climb out of that pit, and fill your heart with the moments in life that really matter.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I paint, draw cartoons and write about life. Thanks for reading.

This article first appeared on Medium



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