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Surviving to Thriving with Meditation

May 04, 2020

By Marianne Huebner, MS-ATR, HopeWay Art Therapist

In the assumed quietude of being “safe at home”, the “shoulds” have poked the exiled ethos, telling us we aren’t doing enough, learning enough, succeeding enough, or focused enough in the midst of this unprecedented chaotic time. Something isn’t right. We feel this. We try to identify it, but it is Sasquatch—giant, big, lumbering about in the shadowy forest of what used to be our daily routines and yet we can’t see it. The camera of our mind can’t quite capture it. It’s there, but it’s blurry.

This unnamable ambiguity is the trauma of being in a global pandemic. It’s anxiety. It’s living outside of what was previously ‘normal’ or routine or scheduled, to being inside the abstract landscape of the free fall into Oz. Only we don’t land in Oz. We just keep spinning about and grasping at whatever makes the most sense in any given moment. This feeling is as ubiquitous as small talk, facial masks, and six feet of distance.

We may feel like we aren’t in Kansas anymore and it’s because we have entered into survival mode.

Survival mode is just doing the next thing to get by. Surviving occupies the space that used to be filled by thoughts of happily-ever-after, retirement plans, and jazz in the park.  Surviving is making sure our basic needs are met for today and, if we are lucky, tomorrow. The tasks we engage in create a façade of comfort beneath which are feelings of being lost, overwhelmed and anything but comfortable.

Personally, during this time, I have felt untethered and confused. I have been out of my routine: slippers replaced shoes; a continuous all-day buffet replaced set mealtimes.  Most days, I’ve felt like I was forgetting something important as I checked off the basics (on my to-do list). My only sense of normal has been leading art therapy with HopeWay clients in our Virtual IOP, but even that is out of the ordinary, because we interact through a screen. 

Then the house landed on the wicked witch of my unfettered mind and I remembered what it was I forgot to do.

I forgot to take time for me. I forgot to breathe. I forgot to pay attention. I forgot to contemplate; to reflect; to dream. I forgot to meditate.

Meditation is easy to forget.  It’s easy to forget to sit for a minute or two and pay attention, because in this time of pandemic, we are doing a lot of sitting and the news has our attention…or lounging and Netflix has our attention…or sleeping and the talking wombat has our attention…or keeping busy with a lot of nothingness… or doing a lot of nothing in our busyness.

Sitting is easy. It’s the paying attention part that poses the challenge.

Meditation, in its broadest definition, is paying attention on purpose and without judgement to the present moment. 

Mindfulness is a type of meditation that includes using your breath, movement, or any one of the five senses.  The intention is to focus on what is happening within you (breath, heart rate, thoughts) or around you (sights, sounds, smells) to bring you away from the whirl of racing thoughts and into the peace of the present moment.

It may feel like there is too much peace around this present moment as many of us are at home with what feels like nothing to do.  Silence is not stillness. Pacified is not peace. The mind appears to have a mind of its own and, if it is like mine, it can run amok.

It’s okay.  The mind has an estimated 50,000 thoughts a day.  Sometimes it’s going to run off and do its thing, like a beagle in an open field.  The issues occur when we can’t call the mind back home; when we feel we are somehow disconnected from ourselves, or have forgotten to engage in meaningful, loving, or creative tasks, things, or relationships. When the mind forgets to become present and we are just doing what we can to get by, this is being in survival mode.

Being in survival mode is like wearing blinders. It keeps us “just doing the next thing” and keeps us from experiencing what is truly present in and around us. Meditation is helpful during these novel and stressful times, and, like gratitude[1], it is also essential to our well-being.

Meditation, like gratitude, helps shift us from simply surviving to thriving.  It changes our perception and our perspective, allowing us to notice the beauty in and around us.

Engaging in the simple act of meditation can improve your ability to focus, help you to think more clearly[2], and reduce your body’s stress response[3]

Meditation can be as easy as breathing. Or as simple as an app on your phone. It can take only a minute, or it can last as long as you’d like. Meditation is flexible like that.

There are many resources available to help you with learning the basics of meditation. A quick Google search or a search in the App Store will bring up more references than there are yellow bricks on the road to home.  You will decide what works for you.

In the meantime, please join me at 9:30am on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the month of May for live meditation sessions on Instagram @hopewayclt.  Sessions will offer a brief introduction to meditation and then a practice session that will last between 20 to 30 minutes total.

It is true that we are all in this together.  Meditation and other self-care practices can help us to get through this together, better.

 

[1] The Greater Good Magazine, “How Gratitude Can Help You Through Hard Times”; R.Emmons

[2] Center for Healthy Minds (website)

[3] US News, “12 Meditation tips during the Corona Virus Pandemic”, E.K.Howley

 

Editor’s note: This blog post is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.