A Powerful Arrow For Your Catastrophe Quiver

Written by: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner

Approx. Read Time: 10 Minutes


“In western society, we tend to think that we’ll find happiness once we reach certain goals. However, Zen Buddhism says that happiness doesn’t come from any outside achievements. Instead, it believes that true inner peace comes from within.” – Zen adage

This is the latest (but almost certainly not the last!) effort to share ideas/resources related to dealing with the impact of world challenges: with the COVID-19 outcome still uncertain – climate issues looming that will likely dwarf COVID-19, all this against a backdrop of social and other inequalities. In fact, the current situation epitomizes the well known title of a classic by Jon Kabat Zinn (#7) wherein he describes “full catastrophe living”.

Sound familiar?

By way of review – here is what we’ve presented so far in the “series”.

It was only a matter of time until we got around to one of the “best” techniques for dealing with the stress of any kind. 

Needless to say there are volumes written on mindfulness, its practice and its benefits. Generally speaking, I will simply grab some salient points to share, but basically direct you to literature – including a few articles related specifically to stress I have posted previously. In other words, this will be a short article with a relatively large bibliography.


“Always hold fast to the present.  Every situation, indeed every moment, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Let’s start with a well scripted overview of the situation.

“Mindfulness is paying attention to what is, without being judgmental of it, without embellishing it, without reacting to it, just paying attention to what is.  In vipassana or insight meditation, the reason we pay attention to what is, is so we can figure out how to be happier; because if we don’t pay attention to what is, the habits of mind that make us suffer can take over; and those habits are very deeply ingrained.  So, it requires training the mind to really pay attention to see:  how do we make ourselves suffer; how do we make ourselves stop suffering and how do we make ourselves happier?” (#2)

For those wanting to get a bit further into the weeds, there are four domains or aspects that can be described as:

  • Mindfulness of the body
  • Mindfulness of feelings or sensations
  • Mindfulness of mind or consciousness
  • Mindfulness of actions.

Returning to the big picture: What follows is a layman’s perspective as defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

Mindfulness is often referred to as being present for the journey as much as the destination.

Mindfulness has been found to elicit a positive impact on cognitive performance and abilities, including attention, memory, cognitive flexibility, quality of task performance, lower blood pressure and improved working memory. It also seems to increase concentration and eliminates distracting stress.

If you choose one takeaway to help you keep this in context: “The average person’s mind wanders 47 percent of the time, according to a 2010 Harvard study.” (#3)

The dynamics that make all this work is the “plasticity” of the brain. In other words, mindfulness will change your brain. New synaptic connections are made. “Steady dose of mindfulness over a certain amount of time can physically change brain structures long term, including age-related brain degeneration.” (#10)

Additional context around brain plasticity can be found in the Business Brain Model articles in the bibliography.

The references related to the world of mindfulness and as we will discuss later the most common process to get there (meditation) grows daily, but if you want to get to the roots here are three of the classics.

There are, of course, documented benefits of mindfulness beyond its ability to help you get off of ‘automatic pilot’ and thus make better decisions. There are no shortages of references to turn to but in the realm of health:

Finally, if you want to understand how it all comes together – my previous posting on this issue:

  1. TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness – illustrates how we are looking to ‘escape’ discomforts such as stress which includes loneliness and despair.

Finally, still more context is contained in a recent article by Maggie Seaver (#10):

  • Mindfulness pushups can also help suppress the default mode network, a brain network associated with mind wandering, self-centered cravings, and other off-task distractions.
  • Focusing and noticing routes look more robust, while the mind-wandering, default mode network appears less active.
  • Our emotions can lead the charge in a detrimental way. Distressing thoughts keep us awake at night. Anger colors our reactions. Fear of failure keeps us from achieving goals.
  • We don’t even know our mind has a mind of its own—we don’t realize [we’re] obsessing over a very distressing thought and feel stuck.

A final perspective in light of full catastrophe living is that mindfulness = resilience.

Documented Benefits

“When we can be centered in ourselves, even for brief periods of time in the face of the pull of the outer world, not having to look elsewhere for something to fill us up or to make us happy, we can be at home whenever we find ourselves, at peace with things as they are, moment by moment. – Jon Kabat-Zinn

There is ample scientific evidence of an increase in benefits directly related to the “Full Catastrophe Living” we are part of:

  • Increases our immune system’s ability to fight off illness
  • Increases positive emotions
  • Increases density of gray matter
  • Increases our focus

As context to illustrate the tranquility that comes with mindfulness I have previously used (Happy Birth Year, Henry David! Thank You For the Gift) the popular story of the Walden Pond experience of Thoreau.

A staggering amount Thoreau’s thoughts are found in Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is replete with references, anecdotes and quotes.

Clearly the author illustrates Thoreau was embracing the tenets of mindfulness.

  • “Waking up and living in harmony with oneself and with the world”
  • “Examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it”
  • “Cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment, we are alive”
  • “It is simply a practical way to be more in touch with the fullness of your being through a systematic process of self-observation, self-inquiry and mindful action. There is nothing cold, analytical or unfeeling about it.”

Perhaps, the best indicator of the relevance of the Thoreau/Walden experience is his description “He chose to put his life on the line in order to revel in the wonder and simplicity of present moments.”

Amongst the positive input on brain structure according to What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain? by Tom Ireland – and several other authors.

  • Brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, appears to diminish in size. This primal region of the brain, associated with fear and emotion, is implicated as the trigger of the body’s multifaceted response to stress.
  • The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker
    • This disconnection of our mind from its “stress center” that seems to give rise to a range of physical as well as mental health benefits
  • Connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger
  • Increased structural plasticity of distributed neural processes underlying attention and emotion
  • Thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration
  • Enhanced connectivity between brain regions
  • It appears the jury is still out as it relates to the impact on the insula but evidence is appearing

Of particular importance, it would seem that changes correlate with hours meditated and are present even when not in meditating state – further lending credibility to the benefits.

Amongst the most current updates on the advantages is the previously referenced article by Maggie Seaver. I quote her findings:

  • They noticed increased gray matter density in the hippocampus, a structure associated with storing memories and emotion control (which we do want more of).
  • They also discerned decreased gray matter in the amygdala, a structure associated with stress, fear, and anxiety, including our fight-or-flight response (which most of us need less of).
  •  “There’s something called cortical thickening, which means certain regions of the brain look healthier, because the thicker the brain, the healthier that tissue is.” This deterioration of the cortex helps explain why, for example, people forget their keys more often
  • “They don’t have as much de-gyrification [and] the brain looks healthier and younger.”
  • Just as you can deliberately lift weights to build strength and dexterity in a specific muscle over time, you can also exercise certain brain networks associated with core cognitive functions (like attention, logic, and memory) and emotion regulation (like quelling anxiety or negative reactions).
  • Benefit from mindfulness are those involved in our ability to focus and to regain focus when we get off track.
  • We need this kind of cognitive control to regulate our emotions, our mood, and our ability to interact with other people.

How to Proceed

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti

The goal here is to achieve a mental state called mindfulness. Getting there is most typically associated with meditation, which we will focus on, but in addition there are much “simpler” (self explanatory) approaches. All the following are predicated on the phenomenon that your attention can’t be in two places at once.

  • Focused breathing for one minute
  • Yawn and stretch for 10 seconds every hour
  • Mindfully eat a raisin
  • Clench your fist and breathe into your hand
  • Exercise daily to help your mental and physical health
  • Take deep breaths
  • Count to 10 methodically
  • Stay focused on the here and now
  • Go for a walk
  • Wish other people happiness
  • Embrace the moments of solitude
  • Step into uncertainty
  • Find gratitude  for everything

In summary (#11) –  the following are principles of good mindfulness practice:

  1. Paying attention to the moment-to-moment details of experience
  2. Paying particular attention to the body and one’s experience of it
  3. Recognizing the experience of mind and not getting caught in memories of the past or plans for the future
  4. Trying neither too much nor too little
  5. Letting go of distractions and paying attention to the present moment
  6. Noticing one’s experience without judging it

There are, of course, other “formal” practices such as Yoga, tai chi or contemplative thought.

You will note the common denominator of all the above is eliminating “distractions”.

In summary, we look at mindfulness as an outcome of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment as you will see in the following.

What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness? – Jay Michaelson

For those that choose meditation:


A final way to think about it, is that mindfulness is the mindset of meditation applied to the rest of life.

Obviously, there have been volumes written on the benefits and approaches to mindfulness. The sole objective of this article is to be sure this is still another arrow for your quiver during “full catastrophe living”.


  1. Dr. Danny Burch –  Mindfulness for Health
  2. Ines Freedman – Four Foundations: Mindfulness of Dhammas – (4 of 4)
  3. Caren Osten Gerszberg – You Can Get Focused (Hint: Put Down That Phone)
  4. HackSpirit – 25 Powerful Quotes From Zen Buddhism That Will Change Your Perspective on Life
  5. Jon Kabat-Zinn – Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
  1. Jon Kabat-Zinn and Joan Z. BorysenkoFull catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation
  2. Jon Kabat-Zinn – Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life 
  3. Jay Michaelson – What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness?
  4. Northern Arizona University –  Mindfulness Training Has Positive Health Benefits
  5. Maggie Seaver – What Mindfulness Does to Your Brain: The Science of Neuroplasticity
  6. Karen Kissel Wegela Ph.D. – Practicing Mindfulness Without Meditating
  7. Lena Wimmer, Silja Bellingrath and Lisa von Stockhausen – Cognitive Effects of Mindfulness Training: Results of a Pilot Study Based on a Theory Driven Approach 

Meditation specific resources:

  1. Meditation and Relaxation – Manage Your Stress With Calm
  2. How to Meditate – Mindful
  3. Meditation for Beginners – Headspace
  4. Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Understanding the Mind

Business Brain Model articles:

  1. Daniel Kahneman Meets Dalai Lama
  2. What Can Paying Attention to Your Breath Do for You? Mindfulness Impact on Mind-Body-Soul
  3. TPN vs. DMN – Neural Mechanisms and Mindfulness
  4. TPN vs. DMN – Brain Structure and Mindfulness
  5. Happy Birth Year, Henry David! Thank You For the Gift
  6. Our View of the World is Misleading – Part 1
  7. Our View of the World is Misleading – Part 2
  8. This Will Take Your Breath Away
  9. It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it
  10. Body & Brain: Part Two – An Exercise in Risky Business
  11. How Funny is This? The Benefits of Laughter in the Workplace
  12. Augmented Cognitive Performance – Part 2 Tried and True

Business Brain Model Plasticity articles:

  1. Carbon-Silicon-Plastic
  2. Your Brain: How “committees” on terrorism, concerts and weddings guide you
  3. Augmented Cognitive Performance – Part 2 Tried and True
  4. The stone age didn’t end because they ran out of stones
  5. It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it

About the Author: W.B. “Bud” Kirchner is a serial entrepreneur and philanthropist with more than 50 years of business success. He is not a scientist or an academic but he does have a diversified exposure to neuroscience, psychology and related cognitive sciences. Generally speaking, the ideas he expresses here are business-angled expansions of other people’s ideas, so when possible, he will link to the original reference.