Once upon a time there were two little towns, Upstream and Downstream. Read the original article by Donald Ardell here.
Downstream villagers started noticing bodies floating in the river. Overtime the volume of bodies increased. The villagers were able to save some, but couldn’t save all, yet they were still proud of their rescue efforts, the emergency treatment they provided and their nice new hospital. Some of the villagers wondered what was happening Upstream to cause the deluge of bodies, but most were swamped with work and so busy with rescue efforts, that there was no time to investigate the source of the problem.
As a nurse reading this parable, my mind goes to many places. Our current healthcare system or specific patient conditions. The non-compliant or uninformed type 2 Diabetic, who continues to require more insulin without learning about carbohydrate exchanges or a walking program. The anxious, exhausted person who deals with the effects of insomnia by scheduling coffee intake throughout their day and relaxes with wine before bed, which continues to disrupt the REM cycle.
It takes courage to have a look at our own Upstream. We all have systems in place, which allow us to live on autopilot even when it is completely dysfunctional. My busyness was dysfunctional. I know I wasn’t born a busy bee. I have proof in the photos on monkey bars and catching fireflies in jars with holes poked into the top. Sometime after I stopped playing Ringolevio, the “to-do” list came into my life and I never looked back.
It’s not the to-do list that I have a problem with. It’s all the nonsense I keep adding to it. A few years ago I was diagnosed with hypertension at a time when I was at peak physical fitness training for an Ironman triathlon. My resting heart rate was 50 and I was at a healthy weight. My diastolic pressures were over 100 and it was time to look Upstream. My doctor couldn’t prescribe a diuretic because I was training and racing and needed to stay hydrated. My heart rate was too low to take a beta-blocker so I took an ace inhibitor. I accepted my fate and chalked it up to my father’s genes.
Then I had another look Upstream. Could my busyness and over-scheduled lifestyle be playing a part? Gradually I took on fewer commitments and disappointed friends here and there by saying no to invites. My schedule had been so tight that there was no room for error. I became a bit of a freak in which efficiency and productivity were high priorities.
I wanted to be carefree. I mentioned this to a friend and she told me to get a pet. This intrigued me. So at the ripe age of 40-something, I adopted Stella, my first dog, a 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel mix. Stella radically changed my life and I learned new ways to be in the present moment. I let go of both triathlons and blood pressure medicine. After a year on Lisinopril, I was able to wean off and haven’t needed any medication in four years.
I was happy to pop those pills because the BP numbers freaked me out, as did the idea of a stroke, but I was even happier to eliminate the need for them in the first place. Who knows for sure what did the trick but I trust that taking a hard look at my life, slowing down and bringing more mindfulness into my life had something to do with it.
This past week I met twenty-three people who have decided to look at their Upstream. They have chosen to spend the next 8 weeks with me exploring how Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) can impact their lives. Their motivations vary from wanting to sleep better, treat physical symptoms of stress such as headaches or muscle tension, whereas others want to decrease the internal chatter in their head, or learn to react with less irritability to loved ones or coworkers.
Each path will look different and will be met with varying levels of acceptance and resistance along the way. I’m psyched to witness each of their paths with them. If you are curious about MBSR, stay tuned, as I will be writing each week about a topic that relates to the class of the week. While nothing is a substitute for this program, feel free to participate in your own way by using my guided body scan here.
SAVE THE DATE: 3/20-22 MINDFULNESS RETREAT IN THE MOUNTAINS. JOIN US IN LAKE TAHOE AT GRANLIBAKKEN RESORT.