I have read articles recently describing how we are becoming immune to all the chaos. Although coping by way of cutting off my feelings could come in handy right about now, I’m finding it impossible to ignore or distract from them. Just as an atrocity passes, it seems like another follows soon afterwards. In the past several weeks our news has been flooded with attempted terrorist attacks, mass murders, hate crimes, raging forest fires, among other things.
I find myself and my patients relying on a combination of coping skills including ignoring, distracting, or being dismissive of our feelings. Along with feeling profoundly saddened and mournful, and becoming considerably anxious about the possibility of these atrocities directly impacting us, our families and those we know and love.
The influx of visuals from our social media, brings our fear to another level. We see individuals impacted who we can directly relate to. Mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends who share sentiments about the victims. We think about what they must feel and wonder how we would feel if we were in their position. We sometimes secretly recite, “g-d forbid” or “stop thinking about that” in the hope that we can somehow superstitiously ward off the possibility that it can personally touch us.
We are pulled with wanting to know details of these events so we can be protective and hypervigilant. We also know that the mounds of exposure could leave us feeling emotionally activated, and riddled with fear, sadness, and helplessness. I still hear the echoes of crying and screaming from the mother whose son died at Thousand Oaks after surviving the mass shooting in Las Vegas. We could only imagine how she must have thought that him surviving that shooting gave her reason to believe that it wasn’t his time to die, or that dodging an experience like that greatly reduced the chances of that ever happening to him again.
Thoughts like, “I want the shooter dead” or “I can imagine myself being the next victim” or “I can’t waste my time thinking about this because it’s too distressing” is fraught with very strong thoughts and feelings about how people view themselves. I have heard, “I have always thought of myself as a humanistic person, how could I wish someone dead?” or “What’s wrong with me that I can’t get this out of my mind?” or “Have I become so hardened and cold that I’m becoming immune to all of this?” These thoughts can be unsettling and can cause us to question our values and how we see ourselves.
Our perception about the world, about people in general, or the way in which we see ourselves are challenged. We are constantly exposed to disturbing and distressing images. The cumulative stress can be intense and emotionally activating. With the influx of events, we are also constantly forced to consider our mortality and come face to face with our human vulnerability and frailty. This can all be quite jarring and unsettling. We are all traumatized, in our own way.
It’s challenging to practice mindfulness when all we want to do is run away from our mind, rather than lean in toward it. It becomes way too threatening and uncomfortable when we question the world at large and ours and our family’s safety. We do what we’re inclined to do because of how our brain functions, we dismiss, avoid, minimize and rationalize our thoughts and feelings because in these instances, they become too much to bear, and we do what we must to survive and cope.
The mindfulness practice that can be beneficial is one where we are reminded of our strengths and the love we have toward our primary relationships. When we zone into the present moment, we are reminded that we are safe, our family is safe, and the life we are choosing to live is one in which we can love, appreciate, and be present with one another. The future is unknown, the only thing that’s known is what’s happening in the now.
The way in which we can accomplish that is with mindfulness exercises that ground us and get us in touch with our bodies. Our body is a wonderful reminder of us being here right now. Our mind can sway to the past and to the future, our body never leaves the here and now.
Some exercises to help ground you include:
- Crossing your hands over your chest and forming a butterfly and tapping your arm with your hands, one hand at a time, slowly, calmly and rhythmically.
- Tapping into your senses. Identify three things that you see, hear, and touch,
- Focusing on a given object like a candle or flower,
- Mindfully smelling a pleasing scent,
- Imagining a calming supportive person or environment,
- Sitting and feeling your feet firmly planted on the ground,
- Keenly paying attention to your breath, noting the inhalation and exhalation of your chest, and
- Stretching a rubber band between your fingers.
Guided Meditation For Mindful Parenting (click here for audio recording). Sit comfortably and gently close your eyes.
Become aware of your chest inflating and deflating. As you focus on your breath, you may notice that your mind takes you somewhere else. You may be thinking about the day, things you may need to accomplish or challenges you want to work through.
If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath and label it “thinking.” Label it in a loving, non-judgmental way. There is no right or wrong way. Everyone has mind clutter, but this is the time to focus on yourself and your body.
When you return to your breath, you may find that your mind keeps bringing you back to other thoughts. Again, if your mind clutter comes up, gently, non-judgmentally, and thoughtfully, return to your breath.
As you sit, become aware of your body, aware of the sensations, feelings of pleasure, and possibly tension. Acknowledge these sensations. Make room for them in every part of you. Let them be—without judgment, without wanting to rid yourself of them. Let them have space in your overall experience.
Notice any sensation, comfortable or uncomfortable, with curiosity and inquisitiveness. Give it space and allow it to be there. Accept all of you and everything you bring to the experience. Thoughts may keep coming up, general thoughts, thoughts about thoughts, and judgments about your thoughts. Remember: label it “thinking” and come back to your breath.
Your feelings, sensations, and focus may change from moment to moment. Allow yourself to experience it all with an open heart. Allow yourself to be all who you are, thinking as you think and feeling as you feel. All breaths and sensations are thriving, wonderful parts of you.
All thoughts and feelings are greeted with loving kindness and gratitude as they ebb and flow. Allow them to be, allow yourself to be, just as you are, wonderful, kind, thoughtful and loving.
Imagine yourself surrounded by your family, looking intently at each person, at their face and features, and appreciating all that you see. Visualize yourself smiling at each of them and them smiling back at you. Take in the warmth of your exchanges and how loving your interactions are.
Think about how being there for your family is of critical importance to you. Thank yourself for having such strong family values and for being a loving and present member of your family.
Think about locking arms with your family members. The bond is strong and forceful. You feel the stronghold as you are unified and holding onto one another. It feels like no force can break the bond or strength of your love for one another. It’s binding and powerful.
Take in each person openly, unconditionally, and compassionately. Contemplate to yourself why your family is so important to you. Notice how your body feels when you connect with these feelings. Notice where you feel it in your body.
Your posture is upright and tall because you feel proud and joyful of the family you cultivated. Take a moment to notice how pleased and satisfied you feel and the intensity of emotion that surfaces for you as you have that thought.
Repeat to yourself, “I will commit to listening, hearing, and noticing my family, with an open heart, and without distractions. Being with them fully in the present moment.” Repeat again, “I will commit to listening, hearing, and noticing my family, with an open heart, and without distractions. Being with them fully in the present moment.”
On a count of three and when you’re ready you can open your eyes. One, two, and three. Congratulate yourself for your willingness and openness toward your journey.
It’s natural that we would have a multitude of thoughts and feelings that get evoked in the midst of such chaos. This naturally happens out of circumstances that evoke feelings of sadness, worry, and helplessness. The present moment is truly all that we can secure. We can assure ourselves opportunities where we keenly notice and have gratitude for our beloved relationships and form stronger bonds with those we intensely love and care for.