Being Mindful in Stressful Times

Photo by Caniceus

Being Mindful in Stressful Times

Discussion date: Thu, May 05, 2022 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Thursday Evening Online Program

May 5, 2022, 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern Time

Dear Still Water Friends,

Recently, as I enjoyed the blossoming trees and flowers at a local botanical garden, I was struck with a distressing memory of being at the same garden two years ago. It was early in the COVID pandemic and I remember my fear and uncertainty about being in public as I attempted to enjoy the beautiful surroundings while keeping a distance from fellow garden visitors.

I had forgotten that I felt so fearful, not just of other people, but even of my groceries! (Should I disinfect them?) I am very fortunate not to have gotten sick with COVID and not to have lost anyone close to me. Like many, I have tried to focus on coping with the changes and uncertainties of life during a global pandemic and on moving forward.

Of course, COVID hasn’t been the only stressor in recent years. There was the brutal murder of George Floyd, wildfires and other climate-related natural disasters, challenges to democracies, and now the war in Ukraine. These have been very difficult years. Even if we have enjoyed relative safety and privilege, it is painful to be aware of the suffering that surrounds us. Trauma experts have noted that we are managing in a time of “cascading collective traumas.”

As I begin to reengage in activities during this new phase of the pandemic, sometimes, I try to waive away the traumatic memories as silly or unimportant. Sometimes they trigger worry about what crises we might encounter next. And sometimes I am able to breathe and notice these recollections as they pass through my body and mind.

In Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child, Thich Nhat Hanh writes about how we struggle to acknowledge pain from our past:

Our blocks of pain, sorrow, anger, and despair always want to come up into our mind consciousness, into our living room, because they’ve grown big and need our attention. They want to emerge, but we don’t want these uninvited guests to come up because they’re painful to look at.

He encourages us to stop resisting our painful memories and reminds us that in order to heal we must let them in:

If we can learn not to fear our knots of suffering, we slowly begin to let them circulate up into our living room. We begin to learn how to embrace them and transform them with the energy of mindfulness. When we dismantle the barrier between the basement and the living room, blocks of pain will come up and we will have to suffer a bit. Our inner child may have a lot of fear and anger stored up from being down in the basement for so long. There is no way to avoid it.

That is why the practice of mindfulness is so important. If mindfulness is not there, it is very unpleasant to have these seeds come up. But if we know how to generate the energy of mindfulness, it’s very healing to invite them up every day and embrace them. Mindfulness is a strong source of energy that can recognize, embrace, and take care of these negative energies. Perhaps these seeds don’t want to come up at first, perhaps there’s too much fear and distrust, so we may have to coax them a bit. After being embraced for some time, a strong emotion will return back to the basement and become a seed again, weaker than before.

Every time you give your internal formations a bath of mindfulness, the blocks of pain in you become lighter. So give your anger, your despair, your fear, a bath of mindfulness every day. After several days or weeks of bringing them up daily and helping them go back down again, you create good circulation in your psyche.

My mindfulness practice helps me to hold my pain and fear with tenderness and observe the lack of immediate threat. As I reflect on the challenges of the past several years, I notice  growth and resilience as well as suffering.

This Thursday evening we will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:

  • What arises for you as you reflect on the challenges of the past few years?
  • Which of your thoughts and feelings might benefit from mindful attention?
  • How has your mindfulness practice helped to sustain you during this time?

Warm wishes,

Rachel Phillips-Anderson

 Mitchell Ratner’s article, “The Spirit of Plum Village,” was recently published in Lion’s Roar Magazine. In it Mitchell writes about his experiences with Thay and Plum Village in the 1990s. It is available on the Lion’s Roar website and, also, in an easily downloadable format on the Still Water MPC website.

True Presence: Wholeheartedly
Embracing Joy and Pain

Still Water Spring 2022 Online Practice Retreat
with Dharma Teachers Mitchell Ratner and Barbara Newell
Friday, June 10, 7:00 pm – Sunday, June 12, 12:30 pm
Click here for retreat announcement

Or go to

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, May 05, 2022


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