Enjoy this monthly post on stress and mindfulness from Dave Johnson, PhD, CNS, BC, LMFT, employee assistance specialist.
This past weekend, Mimi (a.k.a. Grandma, a.k.a. my wife) and I did some wonderful “grandparenting” with three of our nine grandkids. We packed the weekend – spent with Madison (10), Lola (9) and George (16 months) – with autumn splendor, including a nature walk through Fox Island Park, hot dogs at Coney Island, the very funny Troll movie, and a special performance of the Wizard of Oz at the University of Saint Francis. Mimi spoiled the kids like only she can. I was feeling especially blessed and reminded of how exhilarating and exhausting parenting is.
Near the end of the weekend I was playing in the leaves with George on our front lawn and called to my neighbor who was out walking her 10-year-old dog. Lewis is a beautiful and very furry 110-pound Shepard Collie mix. Lewis and George hit it off the instant they met. Unconditional love, companionship and fidelity came freely from both sides and it was pure joy to witness. George loved the in-your-face messy Lewis kisses and squealed and hugged him closely. Lewis was fully present and spent time soaking in George’s love. Each seemed to get what the other needed in the short encounter.
My neighbor and Lewis walked on, drawing my eye up and away from my own yard and onto the political candidate signs posted on our cul-de-sac and the voting precinct just up the block. Since we had the kids for the weekend, I had unplugged from social media and the stress-filled political scene. I granted myself a respite from the divide and flood of jeering commentators, shouting their cases in a country seemingly polarized by who should and who should not be the next president of the United States. How could each side be so sure of being right? Was this election really going to come to an end and signal everyone to settle down? Overcome with doubts and confusion, I acknowledged I was in my thinking and overthinking head and, admittedly, more than a little worried.
The stress of noticing my need to be “right” and defend my beliefs is a good place to practice and discover some universal truths about stress, as well as review how the practice of mindfulness can help me keep perspective. In my writing, I often reflect on what I need to practice. But today, I pause and reflect on what I hope to remember in the days following this volatile election. I want to be especially sensitive in my conflicted neighborhood, church, school and family, where the divide and discourse could linger and potentially have disruptive and stress-filled effects.
Mindfulness can be a good antidote to the fight, flight or freeze stress response. Today, I hope I remember to:
- Set the Intention of pausing and becoming a better watcher. Autopilot stressed reactions can be averted by pausing to think through what I hope to achieve in my personal encounters. Setting a goal to win people over to my side of thinking is very different than setting my intention to notice the internal rumblings of my own anger, frustration, confusion, loss, excitement, joy, fear, etc. I hope I remember to let the pause be to notice. Noticing my internal and the emotional responses of others and non-attaching to angst can be helpful to my own sense of balance. Anxiety and stress is a bit contagious. Being mindful and able to be a better “watcher” rather than absorbing the fear of others is stabilizing to my own well-being and perhaps the larger community I serve.
- Consider what both sides love in common. We love our children and grandchildren, our country, good movies, family fun, and dogs (or at least unconditional love). Smile frequently. When my eyes connect with the humanity of another in non-judgment and compassion, I can consider how our common love is connected. Even a brief exchange of acceptance brings an internal and external ripple worth sharing.
- Listen. Really listen. Especially when fear is being evoked within. Fear can cause a cascade of damaging effects inside the mind and body and trigger grown people to say and do things that they might later regret. I need to help others feel as if they don’t have to defend their position. And when I hear others using fear-based language, I need to remember to be careful not to take the bait. It is more important that I genuinely listen to what is being quickened and moved inside of me and entertain a curiosity as to how this is taking place. Then I must breathe awareness of this moment and listen with my presence.
- Choose to instill hope. I may not have solutions, but I do know that storms come and go and rainbows often follow. I may not have the right words, but sometimes just the presence of calmness, friendliness and non-judgment is what is needed. And I can offer that. Lewis the neighbor dog does it best. He teaches me to trust innocence. Fighting, fleeing and freezing have their place, but most of my internal thinking chatter needs just a bit of calm, hope and trust. Most people are good and we need to look for and find that good.
- Take unplugged respites. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, stretch and go on nature walks. Having awareness of our beautiful and changing seasons helps to ride the wave of a multitude of life stressors. I go through all of my senses when I am outside in nature. I can bring awareness to stopping to feel the breeze, noticing the sunlight and connecting to the changing colors and textures of the season in real time. Choosing to sustain this awareness for a period of time gives the ole brain a respite from thinking, overthinking, problem-solving and doing.
- Enjoy the moment! Little George and Shepard Lewis had a moment. Although brief, both seemed to take what was needed and delight in each other and have true joy. George was so excited and fearless with the elder husky. And while his young mind will soon file the encounter away, I know I was thankful for the exchange. Taking time to heighten sensory awareness of smelling, touching, tasting, hearing and feeling is the essence of mindfulness. Savoring these moments fills the spirit and replenishes the well of hope.
- Notice my doubts and my need to be right. One of my favorite lines is, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Mindfulness is to attempt to stay aware of the current moment using the senses (what I see, hear, touch, taste, feel). Being open to the bigger unfolding story of what actually takes place in the moment is relevant to the journey. Being attached to being right rarely achieves a collaborative outcome. Hebrew writer Yehuda Amichai is considered one of Israel’s greatest poets. His work I’ve shared below leaves me wondering and pondering a different reality. I recall how often my need to be right did not help me to feel close. I wonder if disagreements and conflicts could be characterized less by who is right and more by the things we hold in common.
The Place Where We Are Right
From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the Spring.
The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.
But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction practice has been extensively researched and proven helpful for coping with changes, grief, healthy eating patterns, pain, anxiety, depression and many other chronic disease and autoimmune disorders. For more on stress management programs and techniques, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500.
Dr. Johnson also provides on-site guidance for teambuilding, emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employees Assistance Programs for your company, call Business Development at (260) 373-9013.
Free 1:1 Stress and Mindfulness consultations (telephonic or in person) or Free Stress Relief Mindful Meditation practice sessions With Dr. Dave Johnson: Call the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500.
Dr. Dave’s TedX talk on Integrate Mindfulness
Facebook: Integrate Mindfulness