The Silent Centre in the Full Catastrophe

Oct 11, 2013 | Climate, Health, Mindfulness Meditation, Science/Skepticism/Technology | 0 comments

This week Daniel and I exercised our prerogative as retirees to take ourselves off to see an 11 a.m. movie – ‘Gravity’. This amazing film shows the actors, NASA astronauts, on a fix-it mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Bio-medical engineer, Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), and veteran astronaut, Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) get into dire trouble as the mission unfolds. The neophyte astronaut, Stone, falls apart, but the hugely experienced Kowalski, manages to keep it together with the sort of grace and humour you would expect from a Buddhist meditator.
The two of them were provided with lots of opportunities to enjoy glorious views of Planet Earth, just as we in the audience were. Seeing the magnificence of our planet from such a distance has the effect of making us mere humans insignificant in comparison. Out of that diminutive relationship, we invariably become reverent and humble as we understand our place in the order of things, in the grand scheme of the universe.
I grabbed the above image of our planet from the internet because I wanted to see a view of Australia from space. It clearly demonstrates that this ancient land is mainly dry – in fact the driest inhabited continent on earth. It has the least amount of water in rivers, the lowest run-off and the smallest area of permanent wetlands, with rainfall and stream-flow the most variable in the world.
I’ve lived in cities until about 4 years ago when we moved to a country area on the mid-north coast New South Wales. Since then I’ve become acutely present to seasonal cycles and particularly the influence of rainfall.
Wikipedia tells me that only six per cent of the Australian landmass is arable and that colossal volumes of water are required from both surface and groundwater supplies for our personal and agricultural use. Here in the Manning Valley, many of our neighbours are having to buy their water at this time – at the rate of $200 for 10,000 litres – a notion that’s inconceivable for city dwellers who can turn a tap on anytime and get a dependable source of water. Our rainwater tank has been empty for a week, but because we live in a serviced estate, we’ve been lucky to be able to switch on to town water.
Most of the population of this great sunburnt land clings to the seaside where we can get respite from extremely hot weather by heading to the beach. This year, the spring season in our area has been wickedly hot – 36.4 degrees last week – and we had another scorchingly high temperature yesterday. To make matters worse, we’re in a windy season that’s sparked some devastating fires relatively close to us – 5,100 hectares of beautiful Crowdy Head National Park burned to ashes over several days.

Crowdy bay

Crowdy Bay National Park fire

Lack of rainfall – just 36.6 mm. – since July 1st – is spoiling our decorative gardens and trees, and we’re fighting to keep our newly planted vegetable gardens alive with just minimal watering. Our friends who are growing biodynamic garlic will lose part of their first marketable crop after 3 hard years of cultivating.
Until the middle of this year, we were doing great on Mitchells Island because of several years of a La Nina weather pattern… lots of rain and even flooding at times. That’s part and parcel of Australia’s aforementioned variable rainfall and stream-flow.
I’ve been getting anxious about the weather; I’ve been catastrophising about the coming summer season, and beyond. Yoga helps to calm me and regulate my overactive mind, as does my mindfulness mediation practice. I’ve also been taking solace from the words of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in the book he wrote called Full Catastrophe Living.
Kabat-Zinn you might know is the go-to guy for mindfulness meditation and stress reduction. He founded the Stress Reduction Clinic and Centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He chose the title of his book because he was inspired by Zorba, the Greek, a bigger-than-life character who is able to “dance in the gale of the full catastrophe”. Zorba’s a man ‘who embodies an appreciation for the richness of life and the inevitability of all its dilemmas, sorrows, tragedies, and ironies.’
In this dry season of what looks to me like multiple catastrophes – damaging winds, drought and bush fires – on occasion, not always, I can sit in meditation and arrive at an understanding: that my life and all of life, in fact, is in flux. The things that I imagine to be  permanent are constantly changing. Sitting in meditation shows me the way to be able to deal with whatever is right in front of me and feels the most difficult at the time – climate conditions, emotional problems or painful medical conditions.

Kabat-Zinn says:

… ever since I first heard it, I have felt the phrase “the full catastrophe” captures something positive about the human spirit’s ability to come to grips with what is most difficult in life and to find within it the room to grow in strength and wisdom.  For me, facing the full catastrophe means finding and coming to terms with what is most human in ourselves.

This sounds like good yoga to me. Perhaps discovering our humanity is made possible when the heat gets turned up enough, whether it’s in drought conditions or outer space.




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