Since the shelter-in-place began we’ve heard a lot more about mindfulness in mainstream media. It’s being suggested on websites, videos, and posts as one way to support us through the pandemic, and a good self-care practice to adopt.
But how is it helpful? And why should we think about building mindfulness into our daily life when we already have so much going on? We posed this question to Zen Caregiving Project’s Executive Director, Roy Remer, and here’s what he had to say.
Can we start at the beginning? What is mindfulness?
A definition of mindfulness I like is: paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and without judgment. Let’s break that down.
- Paying attention to the present moment: often our minds are not really tracking what is happening right here, right now. Many of us get stuck thinking about past events and what we have done or should have done. Or we are jumping ahead to the future – what’s next on our to-do list, what we hope will happen, or what we are worried might happen. The practice of mindfulness helps us keep our attention on what is happening in the present moment. For instance, when we are washing our hands, instead of rushing through to get it done, we can work on really being there with the activity, feeling the sensations of water on the skin, listening to the sounds of the water, observing the suds from the hand soap. It doesn’t mean it takes any longer but it is an opportunity to return to the present moment experience, and you will probably find more pleasure in the activity.
- On purpose: By this I mean, noticing when the mind gets distracted. Distraction is natural – it happens to all of us, all the time. Even the most experienced meditators will find that their minds wander as that is what minds do. But the point here is to notice when this happens. The noticing allows an opportunity to bring our distracted attention back to the present.
- Without judgment: As it is human to become distracted, we should also be kind to ourselves when we notice we have once again become distracted. We congratulate ourselves on noticing our mind has wandered and gently return to the present moment. This process of noticing distraction and coming back to the present is a lifelong process – which is why it is called mindfulness practice – we need never stop working on it! Though, over time it does get easier.
How does mindfulness help us in our daily life?
- Mindfulness helps settle the mind. A calm mind allows us to respond thoughtfully rather than react immediately to an event or thought. When our mind is calm it can help calm those around us. I am sure we have all experienced being with someone who is very anxious or agitated and how that can leave us feeling unsettled too. It is also true one person’s calmness may have a calming effect on others.
- Mindfulness helps to focus attention. We all know that multi-tasking is tiring, and often not productive. Mindfulness helps us to focus our attention on one thing at a time, reducing fatigue. It also reduces human error as we are a lot less likely to make mistakes if we have all our attention on the task at hand. As a caregiver, this reduction in error is particularly important.
- Mindfulness increases awareness of the present moment. Many of us spend a lot of time dwelling on negative thoughts about past events that we can’t change and worrying about future events that haven’t happened yet. Mindfulness helps to interrupt those looping thoughts and helps us see the difference between our thoughts and what is actually happening right now.
Being more aware of our present moment experience also helps with self-care. We notice sooner when we feel tired, or are having an emotional experience, and make sure we stop and look after ourselves.
How can mindfulness help me in difficult situations?
Having a mindfulness practice allows us to stay calm in challenging situations. It also helps build our resilience by supporting our ability to bounce back from difficult circumstances. When we are paying attention, we can see when we add something extra that does not help a situation. Negative or harmful thinking for instance. There is a difficult situation, and then there is the way we meet a difficult situation. We can stop, take a few breaths, and see what is in front of us clearly. Mindfulness builds a capacity to be with discomfort.
But what if I don’t have a lot of time for mindfulness?
The more you practice, the greater the benefit. The good news is you don’t have to spend hours meditating to get benefits. Meditation helps a lot. Though, even integrating a little bit of mindfulness into your daily routine is helpful in building the skills I mentioned above. And you may just find that instead of being another thing on your “to-do list”, mindfulness becomes something that you just do naturally, or even something you want to do! Start out with small, easy mindfulness activities.
How do I find out more?
There is lots of information online about mindfulness and we also run a course called Foundations of Mindful Caregiving, that explores how to integrate mindfulness in caregiving and the related areas of compassion, loss, and self-care. The next series begins on 4th June – see our website for more details.
There is no need to tell any of you what a challenging time we are living in. Life has really changed, and it has happened very quickly. There are so many uncertainties we are all facing. How bad will the pandemic get? How long will it last? Who will be the next among us to fall ill? In such times, what we need most is love.
I am moved by the irony of how my heart has opened to strangers at a time when we are cautioned against being out in public. Sheltering in my home with my wife and dog, I am constantly awakened to the present moment by deep feelings of appreciation for people I don’t even know. I am feeling an urge to thank everyone- the mail carriers, the store clerks, the employees of Zoom, neighbors staying out of their cars and walking around the neighborhood, the children playing soccer in the street, the neighbors who planted the flowers in bloom, the utility workers who keep at it, the medical workers who are hidden in the places I hope I don’t visit anytime soon. The list is endless.
In our Mindful Caregiver Education courses, we teach ways of keeping compassion activated amidst the demanding circumstances of caregiving. We draw upon the ancient wisdom traditions and the most recent science to explain how to access our deep and innate well of compassion. I am finding these teachings extremely relevant during this time of Corona.
For many, accessing compassion for strangers is extremely difficult. In the world we live in, this is quite common. Thupten Jinpa, in his wonderful book A Fearless Heart, explains that acknowledging two essential truths about all humans is helpful for breaking down the barriers we put up between us and strangers. One, all beings strive for happiness and freedom from suffering. And two, beings are dependent upon each other for their very existence; we survive because of our interdependence. When we stop to think about it, we see it is absolutely true. Just take a moment to think of all the beings who have played a part in bringing you your most recent meal. Again, the list is endless.
When life has been turned on its head and I am wondering if there will be toilet paper on the shelves of my local market when I run out, I can’t help but think about those people who are working hard to see that it is there for me to purchase. And, when I wake up in the morning and remember that I am not going into work, I think of all the faces I will not be seeing. And, when I turn on the radio or pick up the newspaper, I think of all the people who have been impacted by this pandemic. How are all these strangers holding up?
Just like me, all beings want to be happy and free from suffering. And, just like me, all beings are dependent upon others. The wise teacher Ram Dass said, “We are all just walking each other home.” Even when we are confined to our homes, nothing could be truer. So, when fear and feelings of isolation creep in, turn toward compassion. Turn toward love. It is really needed right now. And, I think it is what will allow us to emerge out of this difficult time better off than we were before.
From a recent study conducted by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving,
“…there are more than 43.5 million adults in the United States who have provided unpaid care to an adult or child within the last year. 34.2 million of these Americans provide care to an adult age 50 or older. On average, a family caregiver will spend over 24 hours each week providing care to a loved one, although many report spending over 40 hours per week on caregiving duties.”
Caregiving, in any capacity, can be quite rewarding but it also comes with its own set of challenges. For some, caregiving can be stressful, overwhelming, strenuous and frustrating. Asccare.com lists a number of difficulties for you to pay close attention to, here are a few;
- Depression and isolation
- Sleep deprivation
- Emotional and physical stress
- Lack of privacy
- Being afraid to ask for help
- Financial strain
- Managing time
Coping with any one of these challenges can be trying though many of you face multiple challenges on a daily basis. Thankfully there are mindfulness-based tools and approaches to help you build emotional resilience to maintain delivery of high-quality and compassionate care to your loved ones.
Our Mindful Caregiving Education (MCE) introduces caregivers to mindfulness-based approaches and tools to help build their emotional resilience and work with stress. These approaches help caregivers successfully navigate the unique and challenging situations that can arise in caregiving. Through mindfulness-based education, you can build the skills needed to take on the common challenges of caregiving.
Zen Caregiving Project’s Mindful Family Caregiving, Four-Part Online Series, starting April 7, helps family caregivers find support and community while sharing resilience-building tools to improve the caregiving experience. This online series will help you:
- Increase the capacity to cope with discomfort and suffering
- Create a plan for maintaining self-care
- Establish healthy boundaries in relationships
- Deepen and sustain compassion for self and others
I invite you to take a moment and consider our Mindful Family Caregiving course and see if it fits with your schedule. If you have any questions, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org