Mindfulness and Resilience in Challenging Times

The Awake Network and Mindful.org have collaborated to provide a free resource for healthcare professionals in the form of The Mindful Healthcare Speaker Series.  Jon Kabat-Zinn speaking on Mindfulness and Resilience in Challenging Times was the first in the series of six speakers.   While Jon is not an MD, he has a PhD in Medicine and focuses on mindfulness in medication, healthcare and society.

Jon and host, Dr. Reena Kotecha, spoke of the enormity of the challenges facing everyone with the advent of the Coronavirus and especially the frontline healthcare professionals who, in many instances, lack adequate resources and training to deal with the magnitude of this pandemic.  They spoke of the trauma experienced by these healthcare professionals who are witnessing the suffering and death of so many people.  Reena spoke of one frontline female doctor who had to move out of home to live in a hotel for three months to protect her mother who was suffering from cancer. 

A truly disturbing event was the suicide death of Dr. Lorna M. Breen, an emergency center doctor, who continually witnessed the very worst of the impact of the Coronavirus on people, including people dying at the hospital before they could be removed from the ambulance.   Her heroic efforts to save people through her frontline medical work contributed to her own death.  Jon reiterated that mindfulness does not lessen the enormity of the physical and mental health impact of the pandemic on the lives of healthcare professionals but emphasised that mindfulness acts as a ballast to provide stability in the face of the turbulent winds created by the pandemic.

Mindfulness as ballast for stability

Jon referred to the 25 years of quality scientific research that showed the benefits of mindfulness, extending to positively altering the structure of the brain, increasing functional connectivity (e.g. of the mind-body connection) and enhancing neuroplasticity.   Neuroscientist Richard Davidson co-authored a book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, and demonstrated the powerful effect mindfulness had on building resilience.

Jon spoke of “full catastrophe living” and emphasised that it is truly human to experience fear, anxiety and grief.  He argued that mental health is enhanced by feeling and accepting everything we experience, rather than denying its existence or intensity.  He stated that no matter how emotionally rending our circumstances are we can find refuge in mindfulness, by being “in the present moment, moment by moment”.  In this way, we are better able to recover from the “trauma” of the present reality and to do so without total depletion of ourselves.   

Mindfulness as awareness

Jon maintained that “we are not our narrative” – we are not our negative self-talk that diminishes us and depletes our energy in the face of life challenges.  He argues that our life is “one seamless whole” – our mind, body, thoughts and emotions.  In his view, our breath serves as the integrating factor and energy force.  Awareness of our breath in the present moment enables us “to get out of the wind” and “to recalibrate, recover and respond instead of reacting”.  To reinforce this message, he provided a guided meditation during his presentation focused on the breath for about ten minutes (at the 30-minute mark).

Jon maintained that awareness of our breath can enable us to be fully awake to what is going on inside us and to be more deeply connected to others.  He argued that we don’t have to achieve a particular goal – to become more or better – in his view, “we are already okay”.  In these challenging times, what is needed to help ourselves and others we interact with is to be authentically present, without a “mask” (metaphorically speaking), but with openness and vulnerability. 

Reflection

Jon highlighted the importance of trusting our “human creativity” when confronted with the need to help people who are stressed out by the pandemic.  As we grow in mindfulness through mindful breathing, we not only build our resilience in managing our personal challenges but also “modulate the tendency to put self ahead of everyone else” – we can diminish our self-absorption and self-doubt.  He maintained that awareness of our breathing reinforces our ecological connectedness.  

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Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Being Present to the Power of the Now

Jon Kabat-Zinn, international expert in mindfulness and its positive effects on mental health, provides some important insights about being present in-the-moment.  Jon, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are,  presented on Mindfulness Monthly, and focused on mindfulness for living each day.  His emphasis was on the fact that mindfulness meditation is not an end in itself but a preparation for, or conditioning for, everyday living.

He argues that through mindfulness we develop the capacity to cope with everyday life and its challenges and demands – whether emotional, physical, economic or relationship-based.  He urges mindfulness practitioners to avoid the temptation to pursue the ideal meditation practice or the achievement of a particular level of awareness as a goal in itself.  He argues that the “Now” is the practice ground for mindfulness – being open to, and fully alive to, the reality of what is.  Being-in-the-moment can make us aware of the inherent beauty of the present and the creative possibilities that are open to us.

Dropping in on the now

Jon suggests that we “drop in on the now” as a regular practice to keep us in touch with what is happening to us and around us.  This involves being willing to accept whatever comes our way – whether good fortune or adversity, joy or pain.  

He maintains that being present entails embracing the “full catastrophe of human living”- the theme of his book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness.  This means accepting whatever is unfolding in the moment, whether “challenging, intoxicating or painful”.  It also means not seeing the present through the prism of our expectations, but through an open-heartedness.  As we have previously discussed, so much of what we see is conditioned by our beliefs, unless we build awareness of our unconscious biases through meditation and reflection.  Being mindful at work through short mindfulness practices can assist us to drop in on the now.

Taking our practice into the real world

Jon challenges us to take our practice of mindfulness into the real world of work, family and community.  He expresses concern about the hatred and delusion that is evident in so much of our world today – a state of intoxication flowing from a complete disconnection with, and avoidance of, the human mind and heart.

Jon urges us to do whatever we are able, within our own realms of activity, to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion and extend this orientation to everyone we interact with – whether in an official/work capacity or in a personal role interacting with people such as the Uber driver, the waiter/waitress, checkout person or our neighbour.  We are all interconnected in so many ways and on so many levels – as an embodied part of the universal energy field

Jon reminds us that increasingly science is recognising the positive benefits of mindfulness for individuals and the community at large. He stressed that neuroscience research shows that mindfulness affects many aspects of the brain – level of brain activity, structure of the brain and the adaptability of the brain (neuroplasticity).  Mindfulness also builds what is termed “functional connectivity” – the creation of new neural pathways that build new links to enable parts of the brain to communicate with each other.  Without mindfulness practice much of this connectivity remains dormant.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can become more present to what is happening now in various spheres of our lives, become more aware of latent opportunities and creative possibilities and more willing and able to extend compassion, forgiveness and kindness to others we interact with.  We can progressively shed the belief blinkers that blind us to the needs of others and the ways that we could serve our communities and help to develop wellness and happiness in others.

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By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of SalvatoreMonetti on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Being Still

I suppose like everyone else you find it hard in your busy life to be still and yet being still is a gateway to happiness, creativity and calm.

Isabel Allende once wrote that “life is nothing but noise between two unfathomable silences”. In explaining these words, she went on to say:

We have very busy lives – or we make them very busy.  There is noise and activity everywhere.  Few people know how to be still and find a quiet place inside themselves.  From that place of silence and stillness the creative forces emerge; there we find faith, hope, strength, and wisdom.  However, since childhood we are taught to do things.  Our heads are full of noise.  Silence and solitude scare us most. (About the author, “The Sum of Our Days”, p. 4.)

As Allende explains, being still is about “being” rather than compulsive “doing”.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in discussing his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, describes how participants stand and do nothing, sit and do nothing, lie and do nothing – they clear their thoughts and just focus on being.  The MBSR Program has proven over more than 30 years to be very successful in helping people deal with chronic stress, panic and many forms of mental illness that are often precipitated by busyness. Kabat-Zinn discusses the program and its origins in his book, Full Catastrophe Living.

Andy Puddicombe suggests that “all it takes is 10 mindful minutes” per day to achieve an increased sense of calm, clarity ad focus.  He reminds us that we spend more time looking after our clothes, our hair and how we look, than in caring for our brain – the centre of creativity, energy and happiness.  Puddicombe demonstrates how our lives have become an endless juggling act, not only juggling things-to-do but also our self-defeating thoughts:

There are many resources available to motivate you to be still or to show you how to achieve this.  RMIT, for example, provides an audio resource on “sitting still” to help students cope with study and life stress. This is part of an online resource that covers “mindfulness and being present“.

Being still and doing nothing is a real challenge, but if you take the time out from your busy life to actually do nothing, for however long each day, you will experience real benefits for your health, well-being and happiness.

Image Source: Courtesy of Pixabay.com