Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn (by Google)
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
—Love After Love, by Derek Walcott
They call it “getting the wind knocked out of you.” You know that feeling when you’ve fallen hard to the ground, or had such a forceful crash into someone or something, when you literally lose your breath for a moment? It’s usually accompanied by a pause in time, when moments seem to freeze and all you can see and feel is stillness. For a moment, you lose your footing, your orientation to time and space, and your direction. You’ve been immobilized, but just for a moment.
What about when the blow that is dealt is not physical and not momentary? It might be the unexpected death of a loved one, finding out that a spouse or partner has been unfaithful, the surprise service of divorce papers, a new and frightening medical diagnosis, a physical assault, or a sudden unexpected job loss. The chances are good that any one of these might happen to each of us, but it doesn’t make it any less shocking. This type of blow can take one’s breath away, even literally for a moment, but figuratively for quite a bit longer.
It can be like being pushed through a door, where you were familiar with your surroundings on one side, but once through, the other side is unfamiliar, unpredictable and frightening. Who are you supposed to be now? Where can you put your things down, where can you go from here, and most scary, why can’t you back through the door that’s closed behind you?
This type of stress is inevitable in life. Most of us, when we experience an unexpected and frightening life change, might do try to adapt in the following ways: we try to escape the circumstances or at least avoid thinking about it; we seek out others who have experienced a similar event; or we try to find meaning in it. None of these is the “wrong” thing to do, and each of them is an adaptive strategy that holds the purpose of keeping us safe.
The problem comes when we can’t move forward. When our efforts to adapt to one problem cause other, more serious problems to arise, it’s as if we are in quicksand. The more we try to get out, the more we get stuck, and the more we get pulled under. Just like in the old western movies, the only ways out of quicksand is to take a rope that is offered by another human being who isn’t stuck, or to lie on our backs and accept full contact with the quicksand until we can comfortably lie on top.
Neither of these strategies is easy, especially when we’re still in the breathless panic response. Whether the event is divorce, loss of a loved one, trauma, serious medical illness, or loss of work, we can stay in a state of suspended panic for quite awhile. Our bodies adapt to this type of stress by shutting down the non-essential functions and increasing the essential survival functions. Again, this response is adaptive, but if it goes on for too long, other harmful responses can take over.
Mental health counseling can be a tool for regaining one’s breath and balance. When in quicksand, stuck in a stress response, a therapist can not only provide the rope, but can also teach mindfulness skills, which simulate the ability to lie in full contact and floating on top of the quicksand. A therapist doesn’t make choices for you, but can help you to accept the reality of the circumstances you’ve been dealt, find the meaning and learning in the circumstances, and to move forward with a commitment to your values and choices.
You know that moment when the wind is knocked out of you? That moment you’re stuck in the quicksand? There’s someone there with you, someone you may not know yet, but who is a phone call away.
Alice Guidi, LCSW
Mindfulness Cognitive Behavioral Therapist
3 Fundy Rd, Ste 2
Falmouth, ME 04105