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Emotions, Mindfulness and Post-Traumatic Growth

An immense sense of gratitude for the sun rising and the clouds parting defines the moment. Despite the impending and current situation, my actions and motives reveal I’m doing what I can to prepare myself for today and the days to come. I’ve been walking, running and hiking. I’ve been fortunate to have cultivated a meditation practice and tools to mitigate and stay present with emotions. I’m teaching embodiment which helps my students, my family and I stay in our bodies, counteract anxiety and feel we have community in this time of social distancing. Recently, I addressed anxiety in a workshop and named the faces of anxiety and its cousin emotions that might be wrapped up in a big, messy, hobo’s sack: fear, grief, irritation, frustration, worry. And we’re carrying that sack over our shoulders, waiting for the next shoe to drop. Or unexpectedly an item falls from the sack, and we’ll suddenly feel frustrated, angry, hopeless, and sad for our losses and what will be. But naming it- anxiety, grief, anger- is a healthy way to move through rather than stuff down, emotion. Allowing vulnerability. As Brene Brown’s work suggests, means we can name, sit with and expose to others our current struggles. Courage emerges out of this ability to reveal ourselves.

Overall, it seems midwest culture is pretty down-to-earth. We are real, genuine and hearty people. When snow storms come in droves, we help our neighbors and commiserate and come together. But we can be stoic. We can grin and bear it for a long time. At some point, I wonder if the bearing becomes too much. I wonder if the emotions need an outlet- crying, contemplation, acknowledgment, reflection, wood chopping, screaming into the forest- in order to move on and not stay with our physical bodies and psyche ongoing. David Kessler, author of Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, asks how we might allow the COVID-19 pandemic be a growth opportunity rather than seat itself in a collective post-traumatic experience. Growth as individuals, families, communities and the greater society, rather than traumas we carry forward. We have the choice to step up and help ourselves and others through this rough spot. We may feel the urge to go into hiding- at least some of the time- and find refuge in escapism, irritation, blaming and detachment. Sure, we need our mental and physical breaks. But we can also step up to our emotional plate and recognize there is room for us to grow- to cultivate awareness of what we think. To know that thoughts are storylines of our minds and are built on fabrications or truths or past experiences. Learning to see, feel and experience life in its rawest sense- what is happening right here, right now- instead of a life with layers and layers of past experiences (wrongs you’ve endured, joys you hold on to) and repeated storylines (I never, I always, they always…) is our deepest challenge and our greatest freedom. All the hubbub about mindfulness and meditation is this ability to be present. To be aware of thoughts, emotions, of naked reality, unmuffled by preconceived layers of expectations or past trauma. Years of practice on the mat with great embodiment teachers, created a mindful awareness in the everyday and a meditation practice to lean on in times of great joy and serious adversity. I’m deeply grateful. I’m continuing to challenge my own urge to become fearful, narrow-minded and closed off.

As I step out to greet the dawn of this day, I’m provided with natures’s gift of birdsong, fresh air and dirt. And I can hold the workers on the front line in my heart as I not only walk, meditate and teach for me and my students, but for the effects this approach to life can have rippling outward. My meditation teacher said recently- may we practice to support our own concern and worry and also for the collective concern, worry and grief of our communities around the world. Joanna Macy, spiritual and environmental activist states in a recent interview that meditation and prayer need action - that we act with our hands, feet, voices, pocketbooks, and creativity wherever possible to support a Great Turning for the earth’s inhabitants, rather than a great unraveling. In a time when we may feel like all we can do is be home and sit on our hands, challenge yourself to confront procrastination, to ready yourself and your environment for whatever’s around the bend, to think creative, expansive thoughts and solutions, and to include others in your thoughts and aims daily. We need each other-to think of the other- and our sense of belonging, community and interconnectedness more than ever.

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