Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts Calmer Choice, non-profit organization in Barnstable, Massachusetts

How Mindfulness Can Help You Through Uncertain Times

While re-reading some of the material in my training manual from the Calmer Choice Program, I came across the following sentence:

“Mindful awareness doesn’t necessarily make the anxious feeling go away, but as we develop greater awareness, we become more comfortable when those uncomfortable feelings show up because we are aware of their presence and perhaps their cause.”

In a time when almost everyone seems to be experiencing new or worsened anxiety, it is worth looking a little deeper as to what this cause might really be.

Recently, during a webinar I attended that offered advice on working with trauma-impacted youth, I learned something that seemed highly relevant during these uncertain times:

To build resilience, we need three things:

  1. A manageable amount of stress.
  2. A certain amount of predictability.
  3. A certain amount of controllability–that is to say the feeling that we have some control over the events in our lives.

With the right balance of these things in our lives, we are able to meet new challenges, to recharge ourselves, and to overcome adversity. Given the state of the world at the moment I think it is a pretty fair assessment that few, if any of us, have a surplus of these three things right now–at least externally.

We are faced with uncertainty every single day, and we are totally unable to control or predict what is going to happen. This realization got me thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (as shown below).

Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The idea behind this hierarchy is that the basic needs at the bottom lay the foundation for the rest of the needs; that they must be built from the bottom up.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to meet our psychological needs if our basic needs are not met.

At this point in time, we are trying to build our psychological ‘homes’ on a very shaky foundation - many of us are trying for perfection in a far from perfect situation. How can we be expected to reach self-actualization or self-fulfillment if our sense of safety is constantly under threat?

Many are facing job uncertainty, to the point that even our physiological needs seem endangered. We are encouraged to isolate and keep our distance from others–the very opposite of connection and intimacy, a resource that so many of us rely on in normal times.

The philosopher Krishnamurti once said that “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” And while we may not want to jump to the assumption that our society is sick, at the very least we can say that things are getting pretty scary.

So, what can we do to help ourselves (and hopefully others) while experiencing such turmoil? The first step, for me, was admitting to myself that it is okay to not be okay right now. It’s okay to not practice mindful awareness for hours on end when I’m feeling anxious. Sometimes all it takes is being with the anxiety, letting myself know that these feelings are here and that they are transient. This is what I’m learning through my mindful awareness practice during this time.

Mindful awareness isn’t about being perfect or seeking perfection, but rather, as I learned through the Calmer Choice training program, about being present and allowing what is happening to just be, and to respond (rather than react) with compassion.

Mindfulness during uncertainty 2020 11 06 184622

The aim of mindful awareness, as taught in the Calmer Choice Program, is paying attention on purpose to what’s happening right now, internally and externally, with kindness and curiosity for ourselves and others.

So, while embracing an attitude of kindness and curiosity towards ourselves and others is no easy feat, it is a step that we can take to find some internal peace in a far from perfect world.