by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.
Delacorte Press, New York, 1990; hardcover.

This book is based on ten years of experience at a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center , where the goals are regaining health and attaining peace of mind. Much of the work is taken up with instruction and exercises as practiced at the clinic. The program is based on mindfulness, a form of meditation derived from Buddhist tradition. The author acknowledges J. Krishnamurti, Ken Wilber, and poet Robert Bly as contributors to the clinic's program.

The title of the book is derived from Nikos Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek in which the title character responds to a companion's question as to whether he had ever been married, “Am I not a man? Of course I've been married. Wife, house, kids, everything… the full catastrophe.” Dr. Kabat-Zinn states that the word “catastrophe” represents not a lament but a supreme appreciation of life and its dilemmas: catastrophe relates to the human ability to come to grips with life.

Kabat-Zinn describes the clinic program, which includes a process in which groups of patients attune to the moment during sessions of ten to forty-five minutes. Participants must agree to daily practice for the eight-week period of the program, in which mindfulness is emphasized in all areas - eating, breathing, walking, concentration. Hatha yoga is done mindfully as a meditation, with emphasis on unity between the individual and the universe.

Throughout, emphasis is placed on wholeness of mind, body, and behavior. It is presented in the language of lay persons, and provides a clear outline of mindfulness practice and its benefits. It should be of interest to those wishing to interrelate Eastern and Western approaches to dealing with the stress of contemporary living.


Autumn 1991