A couple of nights ago we faced a life-threatening health emergency with one of our children. Our middle son has Type 1 Diabetes. It’s well controlled and even though it’s a big part of our lives, it mostly now feels like a background fact. It’s been almost 4 years and, except for his initial diagnosis, he hasn’t faced a single emergency or hospitalization…until the other night.
One of the most upsetting things about what happened is that it was a simple mistake – picking up the wrong insulin and injecting him with fast-acting instead of short-acting insulin. He was fine in the end, but the whole thing was really scary. I won't mince words here - it was potentially fatal.
I hesitate in some ways to make this statement - it seems so cliché - but mindfulness totally saves me in moments like this. In looking back, I can see how having spent years practicing more mindful responses to stress (as opposed to my old way which was full-freak-out) has helped me even in the most critical of moments.
When things like this happen, the definition of mindfulness comes into vivid focus. And I'm reminded that this is why we practice, practice, practice at tuning in...even when we don't always feel like we're "succeeding."
I'm in no way different from anyone else. Next time I might lose it. But the practice comes to you when you need it. It's like running a marathon. Even if you haven't trained, you'll probably be more prepared if you're running a few miles every day than if you're sitting on the couch watching movies.
Everyday mindfulness is about seeing life as it is. It is about paying attention to what is really happening, taking in what we witness there and moving through that experience to the next place. It helps us to live more in tune with ourselves and with those around us. It helps us move closer to being the people we really want to be in the world and it supports us in getting back on track when we've lost our way.
It does not mean avoiding stress. It is not about pretending everything is okay when it’s not. It’s not about making yourself feel calm or relaxed all the time. It's not about being perfectly happy with every moment. It's about living fully aware of the way things really are and responding from that place so that we live more fully.
Mindfulness also helps me to recognize that my natural tendency is to chase worst-case scenarios, to imagine endless what-ifs. It helps me get up close and personal with that fact of my personality. There were certainly moments the other night when I thought - "What if...!". I know I'll mess up and fail and feel overwhelmed a million times in my life. Sometimes I worry that the next big "catastrophe" will be the final straw to stability. We all do...right...just me? When I'm mindful, I'm freed to see that that's only one part of the story.
When things are well, mindfulness helps me notice and be grateful. When things are tough, it provides the little bits of light in the woods.
The good news is, none of this is rocket science. We can all practice becoming more mindful. These are skills we all have – listening to what our bodies are telling us, naming and honoring all of the emotions we feel, seeing the ways in which our assumptions get in the way of more creative solutions to the problems we face each day.
Often, we’ve simply unlearned these abilities. Moments like this really remind me of why it’s important to keep relearning. It’s like going from black and white to full color again and again and again.
What if you could face all sorts of challenges and still hold yourself together enough to come out the other side wiser, stronger and still laughing? Maybe not every time, but at least some times...or even just a bit more than you are now.
It sounds impossible and yet these skills exist. Mindfulness is not the cure-all for all of the things that we face in life and certainly, many life events are so painful we can’t even bear to consider them. Trust me, my brain has gone there.
But what if you have an entire toolbox of abilities that you’re not accessing? What if you could rediscover those tools, learn when and how to access them and put into place the habit of using them every day?
You know, it might even be simpler than you think.
Want to learn how you can bring more mindfulness into your life?
Join me for my upcoming Mindfulness Skills for Parenting Workshop. We’ll be using the very practical and totally accessible methods outlined in the Personal Leadership program. Read more about PL here and check out my reflections on becoming a PL facilitator here.
Or, check out these resources below. Note - this list is far from exhaustive. These are some of my favorites.
Headspace (website and app)
Insight Timer (app)
UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center
University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness
Mindfulness/Meditation Teachers to trust:
Jon Kabat-Zinn (Google him for more info)
Making a World of Difference: Personal Leadership a Methodology of Two Principles and Six Practices - Schaetti, Ramsey and Watanabe
Wherever You Go There You Are and Full Catastrophe Living – both by Jon Kabat-Zinn
10% Happier – Dan Harris (This is a great, easy to read book for people who find themselves somewhat skeptical about how to go about living more mindfully.)
The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (not specifically mindfulness, but still a good resource)