As we reach the mid-point of November, people are increasingly turning their attention to the up upcoming holidays. For many this would be stressful in any year, and this year things will certainly look different due to COVID. It may first be helpful to accept that this year will be different and, to some degree, less than perfect or ideal and accepting with this that some strong emotions may arise. Practicing mindfulness will help protect us against the effects of this, and have a purposeful response rather than difficult reaction as we come up against these challenges. As such, now more than ever, it will be important to prioritize self-care, which is the focus of today’s exercise.
One of the aspirational goals of mindfulness is cultivating equanimity, a state of mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temperedness, especially during difficult situations. Unfortunately, many of us only strive toward equanimity during such trying times when, in reality, we would benefit from working toward this at least a little bit each day, as we start our day. Learning to do this will help you respond rather than react to your thoughts and emotions. While you cannot always control the mind, you can encourage it to be more at ease, and this is the goal of today’s exercise, so let’s begin.
In “The Book of Forgiving”, South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes the choice humans are faced with when we encounter the pain of being hurt by one another. He describes pain as a pivotal moment during which we can choose to enter into a cycle of revenge or begin a path to forgiveness. Forgiveness involves embracing our shared, flawed humanity, and realizing that we, too, have likely hurt many throughout our lives. While these weekly mindfulness exercises have been targeting aspects of our lives directly impacted by the pandemic, we must acknowledge that the current political climate has been every bit as distressing at times and by its very nature caused significant pain and suffering, and so it seems appropriate to focus some of energy on healing the pain that this has brought, and so we start with forgiveness. The hope is that practicing forgiveness, while difficult and at times feeling unfair, will help you let go of these painful experiences and offer you some degree of freedom, so let’s begin.
Today, we will reflect on practicing mindfulness while living in chaotic times. Right now, the United States finds itself still grappling with COVID-19 and its far reaching impact on daily life, from education to elections and beyond. To describe this as chaotic at times would be an understatement. The mindfulness exercise for today was written earlier in the pandemic, when so many things were still freshly turned upside down, but many of those usual reference points that we took for granted remain disrupted and so we would all do well to find ways to remain steady in these challenging moments.
Welcome to this edition of Mindfulness Monday with the Resiliency Resources Team..
Beginning in March and through to the present, the RRT visited many of the inpatient floors and ambulatory clinics extolling the virtues of mindfulness to overcome distress and promote overall wellness. But what happens when you simply can bring yourself to engage in a mindfulness-based practice? Do you feel like mindfulness just isn’t for you? Today’s exercise is meant to address those very issues, so let’s jump right in.
There is a popular quote attributed to The Reverend Fred Rogers, better known to most as beloved PBS mainstay Mr. Rogers, that will appear across social media during tragic events, and that was quite popular in the early days of the pandemic. To paraphrase, Rogers says that, when he was a boy, and he would see scary things in the news, his mother would tell him to look for the helpers, that even in the darkest of times you will always find people who are helping. While it may not always feel that way, there is a strong truth to this sentiment, and so it may be helpful from time to time to cultivate gratitude for the helpers. This is especially true in medical settings, where many if not most of us want to be the helpers, and never the helped. To that end, today’s mindfulness exercise is meant to bring your awareness to those who have helped you get to where you are today and who will continue to walk with you going forward. Let’s jump right in.
Every Monday, the Daily Dose is dedicated to starting your week right with a brief guided mindfulness exercise. Today, we focus on compassion. Psychologist Kristin Neff, who studies compassion, tells us “Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself as you would act toward other under the same circumstances. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?” Today’s exercise is meant to help us with this, so let’s begin.
Today’s Mindfulness Monday exercise brings our attention back to our body. We recognize that incorporating mindfulness into your already busy day can be a challenge, and so we like to occasionally offer very brief mindfulness based interventions to help you on your way.
Today, we offer and abbreviated version of one of the most common mindfulness-based exercises, the body scan. The purpose of the body scan is to purposely shift your attention to what is going on in your body and, in doing so, reconnect to your physical self rather than the multitude of stimuli and demands in your environment. In this practice, we try to simply and notice any sensations we’re feeling without judgement. While some may find the body scan relaxing, relaxation is not always the primary goal. The goal instead is to train your attention as to become more open and aware of your sensory experiences, recognizing what is happening in each sense, and accepting it just as it is. With time and practice, the body scan can boost your ability to focus and be fully present. Let’s begin.
Today’s Mindfulness Monday exercise brings our attention back to gratitude. Before we begin our exercise it might be helpful to briefly discuss how many are turning to gratitude at a time where it may be difficult to feel grateful for much.
UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner is a big believer in gratitude. He, like many other psychologists, have researched the benefits of practicing gratitude. Dr. Keltner’s research findings on the matter are so strong, as a matter of fact, that he uses this as a key component of his course at UC Berkeley, the Science of Happiness, which is now also taught inmates at San Quentin State Prison to good affect.
Dr. Keltner has studied stress, relationships and well-being for 25 years. He has created a series of videos designed to keep people feeling calm and resilient in the face of COVID-19, a pandemic that has touched every aspect of our lives and profoundly disrupted our sense of well-being and produced uncertainty and anxiety.
Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” This concept is at the heart of the RAIN technique for managing distress. Philippe R. Goldin, Ph.D. is associate professor at the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, where he teaches, conducts research and mentors students in the areas of health promotion, clinical psychology and cognitive-affective neuroscience and has contributed greatly to literature highlighting the efficacy of this approach. You can follow along with the below video, and details are available below the video.
R = Recognize. Recognize the emotions or thoughts that are troubling you. Notice them without judgment. Naming them can also help shrink them to manageable size: “Story of how my friends will all desert me.” “Worry about my son again.” “Despising self for how I acted.” Just noticing and naming the passing parade of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations can provide some immediate relief. “Oh, so that’s what’s on my mind.” You may even notice that your painful feelings disappear after a while. “This too shall pass” can become words to live by.
A = Acknowledge, Accept, Allow. The next step is to acknowledge your distress and accept it as your present reality. Accepting the pattern does not mean you like it; it only means that you are able to put these unpleasant mental contents front and center, rather than allowing them to strum unconsciously under the surface of your mind. You might say to yourself, for example, “Yes, I’m worried about money again.”
I = Inquire, Investigate. At this stage of the process, you can use your natural curiosity to delve more deeply into your distress. You can ask yourself: What triggered this current bout of distress? When have I felt this way before? What thoughts, feelings, and sensations are connected to these feelings? How realistic is my thinking? Are there actions I could take to help myself or another person? What do I need?
N = Non-identification. Your painful thoughts, feelings, and sensations are not you. Instead of identifying with them, you can mentally “step to the side” and watch them scroll by like a newsfeed.
S = Self-compassion. Self-compassion means offering yourself some friendliness, generosity, and sympathy. It is not self-pity; rather, it is a recognition and acceptance of your humanness, your imperfection, and your suffering. It is empathizing with yourself the way you might for your best friend or love partner. You might say to yourself, “It’s hard for you when you feel so self-critical,” for example. In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach puts it this way: “Instead of resisting our feelings of fear or grief, we embrace our pain with the kindness of a mother holding her child.” (Note: Brach updated the RAIN meditation acronym in 2019 in her new book, Radical Compassion. In her revised acronym, the “N” of RAIN has become “Nurture.”)