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Mindful : December 2016
Then came the big shift. “ Yeah, shit happens, but shift happens, too. If I can shift my attitude in this moment, I can shift my attitude in any moment.” Bouncing back from disappointment, difficulty, even disaster, simply means using the response flexibility innate in our brains to shift gears, shift perspectives, see options that we couldn’t see before. Response flexibility allows us to shift out of our very automatic, habitual, and quick reac- tivity into a more skillful responsiveness. By shifting our response, we become more resilient; we learn and grow; we recover our well-being. We strengthen our capacity to create a shift in our responses to challenging life events, even potential crises, by mindfully, compassionately paying attention to our reactivity. Watch Your Reactivity I was working in my San Francisco office one day, seeing the individuals and couples I counsel in my psychotherapy practice. On a long break, I was sitting there, quietly meditating, but I had left the ringer of my phone on because I was expecting a phone call with the results of my most recent mammogram. When the call came with the results—“There’s a slight abnormality on the x-ray. Could you come in and have the mammogram done again?”—my anxiety went right through the roof. Thoughts immediately sprang to mind of two friends who’d recently had surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy for their breast cancer. Because I had been meditating just the moment before, I had enough calm and clarity to watch my anxiety soar, to watch those thoughts rapidly spill over each other. I could see my reactivity. I could see my reactivity to my reactivity. My hand went to my heart immediately. I even said to the nurse on the phone, “I’m breathing. I’m b-r-e -a-t-h-i-n - g.” Then I scheduled the second appointment and sat back down to meditate again. Being compassionate to myself as the experi- encer of the fear, opening out to my connection to others, my common humanity, I thought, “I’m not alone. I’m not the only one.” I also appreci- ated the resources I would need medically and emotionally and that I would be able to access. Appreciating these resources and connections counteracts the tendency to see oneself as a lone victim of circumstances. The results of the second mammogram later were fine. My practice allowed me to return → Hand on Heart 1 Place your hand over your hear t so that you feel the warm touch of your hand on your chest. 2 Begin to breathe more slowly, more gently, more deeply, into your heart center. 3 Recall a moment, just one moment, when you felt safe, loved, and cherished by another human being. (With practice, evoking this memory can happen instantly, too.) Not the entire relationship, just one moment. This could be a moment with a spouse or a parent or a child. It could be a moment with a friend, a therapist, a teacher, or even a beloved pet. 4 As you remember this moment, let its warmth wash through your body; savor this feeling for 30 seconds. 5 When you are ready, reflect on any shift you felt in your body from this practice. PRACTICE This practice can help you respond skillfully to distressing events. You can do it quickly, many times a day if need be, to bring a calming awareness to your experiences. Simply stop—pause—and: 76 mindful December 2015 insight