The following content was published as a live #EdenMoment on The Eden Alternative® Facebook Page and YouTube Channel on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
At one time, I had the privilege of working in a Hospital Emergency Department. It was a Level II Trauma Center, and I worked second shift with a nurse I’ll call John. It was intense work, dealing with car accidents, heart attacks, and other life-and-death situations, as well as all the routine things, like earaches and stitches, which should have been tended to in an urgent care center, except that we didn’t have one in those days.
Dinner, if you ate at all, was cold pizza and chocolate, and taking a break to stretch your legs or get some fresh air was out of the question. Apart from John’s kindness, courage, and brilliance, I remember that during our time together he took up smoking. It surprised me, because he was already in his thirties and had never smoked before, but I realized that going outside for a cigarette was the only excuse you could use to step back from the work for a breather. It wasn’t a rule; it was the culture of the workplace.
Too many of our lives are focused on the DO-ing, and give short shrift to the importance of BE-ing, whether taking a break or taking care of yourself. Even though I’ve specialized in encouraging self-care for care partners my whole career, this is an area where I’ve needed to continually grow and learn.
Like many of you, I’ve juggled an overly-full calendar and multiple roles as a clinician, gerontology professor, public speaker, lifelong learner, wife, daughter, mother and grandmother, and Educator and Mentor for the Eden Alternative(R).
In February of this year, I closed my counseling practice and moved back to my home state of Pennsylvania, just before the pandemic hit. After working more than forty years in aging and Elder care, navigating a difficult relocation, and the sudden onset of the covid-19 pandemic, I wasn’t surprised by my need for rest. I was very surprised, though, by how peaceful I felt, how quiet my mind was, and by how much I appreciated just BE-ing in my new space, which is surrounded by trees and flooded with sunlight.
I’ve been thinking about how I got to this place of peace, a place where I truly relish BE-ing and can relinquish the need to be DO-ing…
Dr. Bill Thomas, co-founder of The Eden Alternative, writes about BE-ing and DO-ing in his book, “What are Old People for? How Elders will Save the World.” He talks about Be-ing and Do-ing as two sides of a ribbon.
As care partners, we have a tendency to focus on others, so we tend to skew toward DO-ing. Our culture may encourage us to go-go-go, but this imbalance isn’t good for our well-being. BE-ing is like the exhalation that comes after each inhalation of our breath. It’s part of the normal rhythm and cycle of life.
My message today is that you don’t have to wait until you retire, or until a pandemic forces you into lockdown, or until stress makes you sick, to practice BE-ing…
Even in the most intense times, you can connect to BE-ing. In fact, learning how to BE in the moment will help you cope with stress, perform at peak level, and maintain focus so you can respond to the person with whom you share care, rather than just react to the stressors and demands around you.
Mindful awareness is a simple technique that will help you cultivate a practice of BE-ing, even in the midst of true chaos.
Here is a simple exercise that just involves tuning in to your environment with your senses…
- Let’s start by taking a deep breath, letting the air fill your belly, and then exhale fully.
- Now, just look around you, wherever you are. Notice what you SEE through your sense of vision. It might be a color, shape, or shadow. Just look at whatever catches your eye, and move on.
- Next, (and you might want to close your eyes for this part), LISTEN for a moment. What sounds can you hear? What noises are in the room with you, and what sounds seem further away? Name them if you can.
- Now notice any scents or aromas that may be coming to your sense of SMELL.
- And finally, pay attention to what your SKIN is experiencing; the feeling of the chair beneath your thighs or against your back, clothing against your skin, perhaps there is a breeze on your hands or face…
- And we can end with another breath, and when you’re ready, open your eyes and come back to the room and to the community we are sharing right now.
What was it like for you to tune in to what your senses are taking in, even for this brief moment?
This is a short sample of a mindful awareness practice that you can use on a daily basis. I like to apply it to the framework for well-being that Dr. Thomas calls MESH:
- The M in MESH is for Movement, and this practice can greatly enhance your experience of walking in nature, stretching, or doing yoga. (Use it when you’re doing dishes or folding laundry, too, and notice how it transforms the experience)!
- E is for Eating, and studies have shown that eating mindfully can help you enjoy your food more, eat more slowly and healthfully, and even lose unwanted weight, if that is your goal
- S is for Sleep. I use this practice when I’m having trouble falling asleep, and it works for me!
- H is for Healing, and this practice is the first thing I teach my clients. It helps us to realize that we are not victims of our chaotic environments, and that we are more than our thoughts, emotions, and sensations. It’s an easy, but powerful, way to ground and center ourselves.
SEE BELOW for the full mindful awareness exercise that I was taught by my mentor, Andrew Seubert of ClearPath Healing Arts Center. I invite you to practice it for a few minutes each day, and throughout the day as you think of it. It’s a wonderful way to weave some BE-ing into your DO-ing!
Thanks so much for BE-ing with me for today’s #EdenMoment!
Thomas, W. (2004). What are old people for? How Elders will save the world. Acton, MA: Vanderwyk & Burnham.
Andrew Seubert, Clear Path Healing Arts Center www.clearpathhealingarts.com
“Lose weight with mindful eating” available at https://diet.mayoclinic.org/diet/motivate/lose-weight-with-mindful-eating?xid=nl_MayoClinicDiet_20141225
“Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep” from the Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing available at https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726
The Eden Alternative(R) Website: www.edenalt.org
After an extraordinarily satisfying career working with Elders and their family care partners, Lisa Kendall is exploring new ways to support growth and healing as a coach, trainer, and consultant for care partners, teams, and organizations. Please stay connected by subscribing to this webpage (see the button at right)