Would You Be So Kind As To Read This Story?
On a recent sunny Sunday morning in a small town in Connecticut, a woman started to walk into a quaint little shop that sells delicious produce, prepared goods, and coffee. She was on her way to meet someone inside the shop who was buying her a morning coffee.
As she walked up to the door of the shop, this other woman in a floral dress, floral face mask, and straw hat started saying something to her, and then held her arm up, palm facing out, to stop her from going inside. The shop had a sign outside, recommending that no more than six customers should gather inside. There were already eight customers inside. The woman in the dress, also waiting to go inside, took it upon herself to enforce the six-customer limit.
So instead of going inside to get her cup of coffee, the woman stood off to the side, folded her arms, and waited. A few minutes later, her friend, the one who had gone on ahead to buy her coffee, came out and, standing on the porch of the store, said “here’s your coffee,” and held it out to her. “I’m not allowed to come in,” she said, casting a glance at the woman who had stopped her.
That’s nonsense, he told her, “come and get your coffee.”
The woman in the dress, who was waiting to go inside the shop, looking like she felt a bit stupid and perhaps fearing an uncomfortable confrontation, decided to just leave.
Conflicts and Combat
As we enter the fall and winter of this pandemic era, I’m likely not alone in thinking that these kinds of encounters might become more common.
The rules keep changing as we try to keep track of and negotiate complex and constantly evolving pandemic science. The pandemic has further revealed gross social inequities, along with social unrest that occasionally descends into violence. Then, there is the leadup to what promises to be a chaotic national election. As a perverse kind of bonus round, California, Oregon, and Washington are burning.
And then along comes some crotchety person holding their palm up in front of you, preventing you from getting that early morning cup of joe you want, right now.
How are we supposed to manage all that?
Sharon Salzberg, author of the recently published Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and The World, suggests that, whether resolving conflicts with crotchety people or combating global warming, mindfulness and meditation are key. Her new book is the subject of an upcoming event hosted by Kate McGetrick of Rise Therapy and Wellness of Madison at R.J. Julia Booksellers on Sunday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m. Salzberg also offers a book study guide, for those who want to delve deeper into what she has to offer.
The shoreline and Connecticut River valley are rich in options and opportunities to explore mindfulness and meditation, including some provided at no cost, as we move into the fall and winter of this pandemic era.
A Paradox, and Payoff
Those experienced with mediation and mindfulness techniques say it can seem hard, even though it’s pretty simple. The payoff for grappling with that paradox is significant.
That payoff, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic, includes a new perspective when you’re stressed out, along with new coping skills and the ability to help you focus on the present moment, helping you work through negative emotions. Dividends include a path to imagination and creativity when you’re stuck. Other benefits include patience and tolerance, qualities in all too short supply these days, just when they are needed most.
McGetrick says a key to success when it comes to meditation and mindfulness is to simply be willing to begin again, and again, and again. She also says it’s particularly important now to honor the moment.
“Can we just recognize how intense this time is, so then we can at least have some grace through this moment? Even when we are really well trained in these techniques, we have a tendency to just kind of beat ourselves up, or think it’s just not enough,” says McGetrick, who, just seven months ago in a whole different world, led a series of discussions on meditation and mindfulness at R.J. Julia that attracted more than 40 participants from all over Connecticut.
With practice, people can create new neural pathways that allow them to develop a different relationship with discomfort, she says.
One of her favored techniques goes by the acronym RAIN.
“R” means recognize the emotion you’re confronting and recognize your reaction to it. “A” means to acknowledge it, give yourself permission to feel it without judging it. “I” means to investigate it, to ask questions, to probe it gently and be curious about it, again without judging. “N” means to “non-identify” and to realize that you are not the emotion or feeling. You are not a bad, angry person. You’re a person who feels angry sometimes and that makes you feel bad. When you offer this compassion to yourself, then you can offer compassion to others.
“Sharon talks about this. We have to take care of ourselves, so we can help care for others,” McGetrick says.
More information about the upcoming session at R.J. Julia is available at www.rjjulia.com/events.
Like Going to a Concert
Colleen Kelly Alexander of Rooted Endurance in Madison says she struggled with meditation most of her life. She thought that she should be using her time more constructively, or “I would find when I tried to allow my thoughts to dissipate, things of the past, that were painful and easy to stuff away by keeping an active mind, would surface.”
She experienced significant physical, mental, and emotional trauma in 2011. She was put in a coma on a respirator. She developed an even more complicated relationship with her breath, a key tool in mindfulness and meditation.
“Focusing on breath would terrify me as it would be a trigger to being on a respirator, so I would avoid meditation and breathwork,” she says.
Then she discovered sound bath meditation, which envelopes the participant in sound from traditional Himalayan singing bowls, crystal bowls, gongs, and chimes. They are played with different mallets to achieve desired tones, in a format that allows the participant to just sit back, relax, and drop into a meditative state with a minimum of effort.
Alexander and her husband Sean Alexander, also of Rooted Endurance, have offered the sound bath meditation through the Town of Madison’s recreation department, and they offered a free session at Moxie in Madison, where they also offer public yoga sessions on Monday evenings and Wednesday mornings. They hope to offer future public sound bath meditation sessions, and they offer them by appointment and for a fee in their garden behind their studio.
Vibrational sound therapy is a great way to experience meditation without having mastered the skill of being still in your mind.
“By allowing yourself to just listen, think about going to a concert, you can let yourself wash in the sounds and vibrations,” she says.
For those who struggle with meditation, like she did, Alexander says the most important thing is to not judge yourself.
“Meditation tends to go against the tide of how we work as a society,” she says. “Being still and listening to self and sounds around us while focusing on our breath and being is an incredible gift.”
More information on upcoming sound bath meditation sessions can be found at www.rootedendurance.com.
Reclaiming a Vital Force
Christine Ucich of One World Wellness Studio in East Haven has trained in SunDo yoga and meditation for 26 years. SunDo offers a breath meditation method for improving mental and emotional states. The breathwork supports the vital energy of the whole person, also known in the practice as Qi. Benefits include healthier breathing (which is always a good thing in the pandemic era), a greater mind-body connection, and self-discovery.
“It’s a powerful tool for self-mastery, and, for a growing number of people, it’s the difference between living well and living in distraction,” she says.
While that can sound mysterious and complicated, Ucich says it’s similar to how babies breath in their bellies.
“We lose this natural mind-body-breath as we move through life,” she says. “SunDo is a reclaiming of the vital force we know as breath.”
Ucich says sample classes will be offered during an open studio Sunday, Sept. 27.
“This is a COVID-safe event with a limited number of spaces, temperature checks, social distancing, and regulated entry and exit procedures,” she says.
More information is available at www.oneworld-wellness.com/open-studio.html.
A Focus on the Essential, the Good
Elizabeth Hale-Rose, a clinical social worker, mindfulness meditation teacher and life coach with more than 25 years experience who provides mindfulness-based treatment services at Privé-Swiss Wellness, agrees this is a great time to recommit to a practice.
She recommends starting with a length of time you think you can commit to, and picking a place that will motivate you to create a regular habit.
“The fall and winter are traditionally stressful times for many people and the anxiety and uncertainty around the pandemic has only increased people’s fears. Meditation helps people control how they relate to their thinking and feelings so they can pay attention to what is essential and good in their lives,” she says.
Privé-Swiss Wellness in Ivoryton will be offering group meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other wellness programming soon. More information is available at www.priveswisswellness.com.
A Chocolate Meditation
Beth Lazor, who has taught meditation for several years in Madison, Branford, and Old Saybrook, currently is a social-emotional and religion teacher at East Shoreline Catholic Academy in Branford. She says a good starting or entry point is the breath.
“For beginners, I usually begin with a 16-second breath. Breathing in for four seconds, holding at the top of the breath for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and holding at the bottom of the breath for four seconds. We repeat that sequence three or four times. Try it and see how different you feel!”
She says meditation also can be integrated into other activities.
“I teach breathing meditations, walking meditations, art meditations, progressive relaxation, journey meditations, music meditations, eyes open or closed meditations, ocean breathing meditations, chocolate meditations, and much, much more!” she says.
Meditation can allow people to feel grounded and safe, and help ward off the winter blues.
“Meditation has been a lifesaver to so many during these stressful times. It helps you to become a better version of yourself by increasing your capacity for compassion,” she says.
More information about her work can be obtained by emailing her at email@example.com.
When You Can’t Stop Thinking
Johanne Vanelli, who offers free mediation sessions through the libraries in Clinton and North Haven, agrees that people beginning a mindfulness often have misconceptions. One she hears often, and experienced herself, is “I can’t stop thinking.”
“I thought just like a lot of people that meditation would stop my mind from thinking, which is impossible to do since that’s what your mind is supposed to do. Instead I was taught and now teach my student that meditation does not stop the thoughts, but interrupts the thought process by focusing your attention on something else like the movement and sensations of the breath,” she says. “Through the practice you train your attention to always come back to the focus point of the meditation which may vary depending on the type of meditation.”
Vanelli’s classes through the Henry Carter Hull Library are Mondays at 11 a.m. More information is available at hchlibrary.org. She also teaches at the North Haven Memorial Library, with dates and times posted at www.northhavenlibrary.net. Participants are asked to pre-register for the free sessions.
A 90-Minute Moving Meditation
Imagine you’re driving in a car, in the summer. You’re late for an important meeting but you are stuck in traffic and your A/C is broken. You try to crack the windows, but they are broken, too. You can’t move, you’re roasting, and this meeting you’re late for is a big deal, an opportunity of a lifetime.
“Welcome to your 90-minute moving meditation, welcome to Bikram Yoga,” says Robin Brace, who owns and runs True Bikram, with studios in Madison and New Haven. “Meditation is training the mind. We are training the mind to face life’s greatest challenges. How will you develop that skill faster? Sitting in a quiet room on a soft cushion with candles and soft music? Or sitting in 105 degrees staring at yourself in a mirror doing 26 yoga postures that work every bone, joint, muscle, and organ system in your body?”
Truth be told, Brace’s studios also offers Yin yoga, which is slow and gentle, along with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Classes are offered both virtually and in studios that have been retrofitted with filters and specialized air-processing equipment. But, even with her enthusiasm for other practices, Brace says Bikram yoga offers particular benefits to those who want to maintain focus under strenuous conditions. And what’s more strenuous than a pandemic?
On a good day, the 90 minutes feels more like 90 seconds. And there were times when it felt like 90 days. Still, there is no failure, as long as you show up. You just do as much as you can do on any given day.
“Just tonight a woman who’s been practicing for 10 years said the practice taught her to be compassionate to herself. It taught her that she was enough,” Brace says.
Would You Be So Kind?
So, remember that woman holding her palm up at that store that morning?
OK, so, that was me.
As soon as I did it, I felt like a jerk. There I was, in a flowery dress, with a flowery mask on, and a straw hat, acting like a traffic cop, preventing this woman from getting her cup of coffee.
I beat myself up all the way to my car. I was mad at the other woman. And then I recognized that the real trigger was my fear of getting sick, and being so very tired of worrying about that every time I went into a store to shop for food, an activity that used to be filled with joy.
Then I remembered what I had learned at McGetrick’s last series of classes at R.J Julia, to give myself some grace. I realized I did not take time to take a breath and assess the situation before acting. I understood how offensive my palm-out gesture, in particular, might have been. In some countries it’s considered an insult on par with a curse. It’s effective in an emergency, but maybe it wasn’t exactly an emergency that I had my mind set on buying a particular brand of tortilla chips in that shop, though, truth be told, they are really good.
On the other hand, if I’m standing in line, do I just let people sail by and get in front of me? I discussed it with some of my friends, including Brace, with whom I’ve been practicing for well over a decade. She told me that she, too, sometimes struggles with the need to tell people over and over and over again the same thing in the pandemic era.
Follow the lines.
Follow the directions.
Again and again.
Then she told me how she says it: “Would you be so kind as to follow the lines on the floor?” “Would you be so kind as to follow the directions on how to use the bathroom?”
She said in her former career as an airline attendant, she had to repeat instructions over and over and over again, and that’s how they did it. She says it with a lilt in her voice and a smile on her face.
I loved it.
So, I thought, in the future, for the most part, just let stuff go. Just take a minute before reacting, just take a breath, before deciding to act. If it is important, something hard to walk away from, then try to ask it in a way that someone else could hear.
And, if I blew it again, I would forgive myself and try to do better next time.
My opportunity came not long after. I was in line to get a train ticket. I was in a rush, my train was minutes away from arriving at the station.
The guy in line, right in front of me, was wearing his mask under his nose.
We were inside.
I took a breath and focused on him for a minute. He seemed calm and approachable.
“Excuse me. Would you be so kind as to adjust your mask so it is covering your nose?” I asked.
“Oh!” he said. “Of course. It always inches down whenever I talk.”
He adjusted it and that was that.