Is your boat sinking? Mindfulness to the rescue.

The month of May was full of surprises and challenges for me in both my work and home life. Some unexpected circumstances (bathroom renovation) beyond my control temporarily displaced me from my home.  And those combined with other challenges (burglary) were enough to throw me a bit off balance.

 When things run smoothly, we often take our circumstances for granted. It is not until we are out of balance that we recognize we have a problem. Just as pain can be an early warning sign in the body, finding our lives off balance can be just what we need to bring us back into alignment.  What we do with our early warning signs is up to us.

Denial, substance use, over eating, lashing out at people, or numbing out with media may provide a false sense of relief but ultimately does not address the source of the problem.  If we can find a way to stay with our difficulties rather than turn away, we may be able to find a place of calm in the midst of crisis.

If you have ever driven on black ice, you probably learned it was safer and more effective to gently turn into the direction of the skid to avoid fishtailing.  If we can gently turn into our difficult circumstances and get curious, rather than deny or avoid them, we may discover there is more right with us than wrong.   

There is a great acronym that comes out of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), called STOP.  In the midst of a difficulty, here is what you can try:

S: Stop what you are doing.

T: Take a breath

O: Observe your internal and external environment.  Get curious about what is happening in your body, checking in with body sensations, tension and temperature in the body.

P: Proceed

(Try it today, unless you happen upon a stress-free day).

Learning to be mindful in a crisis is quite challenging.  It is like learning to swim when the boat is sinking. 

There is strong motivation but your brain is not as receptive when the amygdala (fear center of the brain) is activated.  There are hundreds of books on mindfulness.  Here are some suggestions

* How to Meditate by Pema Chodron

* Meditation for Beginners by Jack Kornfield

* Loving Kindness by Sharon Salzberg

Reading about mindfulness is great, but reading about it is no substitute for practicing meditation. You can even start with just five minutes a day.

Consider listening to a guided meditation recording or taking an introductory meditation class or an 8-week MBSR course.  Having a bit of mindfulness training in our toolbox can make those bumpy rides a bit more tolerable…it sure helped me out in May!