Mindfulness Activity #17
Yesterday, I was speaking with a friend in Canada who runs a large mental health service. She’s given me permission to share her story because she said that these daily mindfulness practices have been helpful to her and besides, she noted, most of you are in another country and do not know her…
She and I discussed how the responsibility to care for others was so intense that she could barely breathe. She explained that the worst part about the situation was that in the last 4 weeks, information she had available to her changed many times. More than that, she explained, sometimes there were no perfect choices…she was choosing between poor and less poor alternatives. She talked about how accepting these realities and still attempting to protect the patients in her care and the people who worked for her required almost constant redirecting herself back from thoughts like, “we should have anticipated this,” “I should have more space”, and frankly, “I wish I had left this job a few years ago”. To make matters worse, she was facing lots of criticism. Her mother was critical that she wasn’t home. Employees were angry and frightened and screamed at her during a virtual town hall meeting. Her leadership team was short with each other. Her husband had lots of advice in terms of how she should handle everything.
The burden of responsibility for others and the pain of things we can’t control that has potential to hurt other people can be almost paralyzing. Yesterday’s mindfulness, she said, was helpful. Accepting and turning the mind was what was needed. I told her I would send out another mindfulness that I thought might help. Implicit in a lot of her suffering (although she didn’t come out and say it) was judgment. She was judging herself for some things outside her control. She felt judgmental of others who had made decisions that left them underprepared. These judgments made it hard to be effective and just to be calm in the present moment.
Now, you might all think, “I don’t have responsibilities like your friend.” But, if this virus teaches us anything, it is that, indeed, each of our individual actions do impact the lives of other people. Zen teaches that every action we take is like a ripple in a pond affecting others. We all bear responsibility for the safety of others, for the emotional well-being of others, and for the sustainability of the planet. Sometimes, we get sick of the responsibilities, or we think we can’t help. Distancing from others kindly by waiting patiently and nonjudgmentally as they choose the most terrible program (oops judgment) for their hour of TV on your unit, waiting gently, instead of having an angry look as someone chooses their cereal in the grocery store aisle– these require letting go of judgment of others. Being effective requires letting go of anger at the lack of options and choosing wisely between options that exist. It is also so very important in mindfulness practice to refrain from judging yourself. Making the best choices, with the information you have and the options available to you, is the best way to care for yourself, your family, and those in your care.
Todays mindfulness practice involves, Jon Kabat-Zin discussing seeing reality without judgment. Please watch or listen as he explains it.
Get comfortable and take a few breaths. Notice where you hold judgment in your body, so you recognize it early. Who and what are you feeling judgmental about? Sit with palms facing up and let go of judgment with each exhale. As you exhale make it your intention to turn toward acceptance each time you notice a judgment. Do this for as long as you set your timer for.
Then, make it your practice today to notice judgmental thoughts and to strive to restate the thought without judgment. Refrain from saying judgmental things about others or acting towards others because of judgments. Refrain from judging yourself. When you catch yourself judging, take a deep breath, exhale and describe what is (instead of what shouldn’t be).
So today, try not to judge peers, teachers, workers, family members, supervisors, administrators, politicians, preachers. You get it…If you do take a breath and gently avoid thinking about them or approach gently with care.
Those of you who know me personally know that this is a practice I work on (and continue to need to work on).
Hope it helps you as unfairness bombards us. Have a peaceful weekend.