Welcome back! Last week Dr. Rosch walked us through a couple of mindfulness videos. Did you get a chance to try them? If not, click HERE and give them a second look.
This week, we visit with our own Executive Director at the Northwest Osteopathic Medical Foundation, as he tells his story about the Art of Mindfulness. Grab a Cup of Coffee and allow him to share his story…
In the fall of 2010, my life was falling apart. My wife of almost 25 years had left me and the emotional stress
of the divorce was having a negative effect on my relationships at work. Feeling my life spinning out of control, I resorted back to the rigid time management / task management practices that were all the rage for young professionals in the early 1980’s. Living alone for the first time in decades, I was engaging in a lot of really negative self-talk, and what social life I did have centered around gin and olives.
Living in New York City at the time, I kept seeing ads on the subway for classes at The School of Practical Philosophy. I had no interest in sitting in a group and talking about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, but the ads promised real applications of basic principles that would lead to a more happy and fulfilled life. I decided to join, and in the process changed my life forever.
The simplest and most practical exercise we learned was called “the practice.” Probably the most basic mindfulness technique, it involved 90 – 120 seconds of focusing one at a time on each of your five senses and bringing yourself as much as possible into the present moment.
But my biggest “ah-ha” moment came with an exercise that had us focus on “attention open’ vs. ‘attention centered”. I discovered that when I walked, I usually looked down at the ground in front of me and was almost always “attention centered”. The simple act of looking up, eye level or above, caused me to switch to “attention open”. My self-talk stopped instantly and I came right back into the moment. This is a very powerful mindfulness tool for me. I only wish I had an equivalent for driving in the car.
After seven years, I wish I could say I was confident with my mindfulness, but I’m still learning. I rarely miss doing “the practice” in the morning and have found bathroom breaks a good trigger to stop once or twice during the day for this exercise.
I struggle with my evenings, and especially at night. My anxiety level rises starting about 5 or 6 and seems to just grow until I fall asleep. I don’t have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, but evenings always seem so hectic, stressful, and out of control. Most of the people around me seem to be “high energy” in the evening and I’m the opposite. When I do remember to take time for some mindfulness, my evenings and night always seem to go better. I’m less irritable and don’t hit the fridge as often for something terrible to eat. This is an area that needs more attention.
Driving is also problematic. I learned all my mindfulness exercises at a time when I didn’t drive. Commuting was a time to relax on the subway or ferry. Now, I find it hard to break the cycle of negative self-talk while in the car and the stress of traffic just makes things worse. Audio books and music can be helpful, but they make conversation difficult. I try to always arrive where I need to go at least 10 minutes early so I have a few minutes to get myself back in the moment, but I’d rather learn to be more mindful and in the moment while driving.
One of the things I miss about my classes is doing “the practice” as part of a group. The group experience is so much more powerful. I suspect the roots of religion come from this type of shared experience. Knowing what I’ve learned about DOs over the last several years, I’d really like to participate in a group mindfulness exercise with DOs and/or others, who have a good sense of the healing power of touch, and hold their hands. Someday, when I find the right group of DOs.
Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story. I hope I’ve contributed in some small way to the work you do and the people you touch.
Thank you David, for being vulnerable to the topic (yes he’s my husband, and no I didn’t make him write this, he volunteered!). Please read our Guest DO’s response below.
As always, thank you for reading us…we appreciate you. Don’t forget to come back next week…we miss you when you aren’t here!
The Practice is a wonderful way to bring yourself into the present moment- thanks for sharing.
As driving is an all-hands-on-deck activity the suggestion to arrive early and reflect is a wise one. I always plan my travel during non-peak periods if I am able. If not- I brace myself but bring along an audiobook from my favorite author. Loving the Tom Hanks book now!
Evenings I think are hard for everyone as we are tired at the end of the day and we have to be extra mindful to be mindful. Celebrate small successes though! I put meditation on my do do list for the end of the day activities. I also use sensory skills to supplement being present for example-sipping warm tea and being mindful of the sensation of warmth and flavor, or late in the evenings a warm bath and also using scent (lavender oil is my go-to) and rub this into pressure points on my temples and hands. Long walks after dinner are a personal favorite.
Laura M Rosch DO MS, is a board-certified internist for 37 years has been practicing mindfulness since the birth of her eldest daughter 18 years ago. She currently lectures to first year medical students on mindfulness while in medical school. She chairs the Department of Internal Medicine at Midwestern University and is on staff at Northwestern Memorial, where she sees patients part-time for their Urgent Care Centers. Dr. Rosch has taught wellness and group exercise programs for 40 years and is certified by the American Council of Exercise and holds a Food for Life credentials from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. She practices Vinyassa Yoga and is working on her certificate to become a certified Clinical Hypnotherapist.
It’s so sad that I drive through some of the most beautiful country in the world and forget to stop and enjoy my surroundings. Thank you for that insight.
Thank you for your response and helpful suggestions. You are right on about the observation of my physical body, especially when I am dealing with difficult emotions. Strange how difficult emotions manifests itself with physical movement in the same way that physical pain does. I’m going to pay more attention to my body.
Thank you for taking the time to participate in the Foundation’s social media presence. Especially, thank you for your response to my personal contribution.
Thanks to the Foundation Board, I’ve now cut my commute from 1.25+ hours to about 15 minutes by moving the office out of Portland and into the suburbs. I still need to drive, but a lot can now be done in off peak hours.
I also really appreciate your insight into using my full range of senses in the evening. I’m stuck with too much old fashioned machismo for a lavender bath, but I think the warm tea, or just plain warm water, would be very helpful.
A divorce is certainly a life changing event. I’m glad you have found a way to practice mindfulness, which I have also experienced as an ongoing learning practice. I understand some of your angst with driving in traffic and the busyness of the daily “grind.” I commuted 80 minutes each way to Portland for a year and during that time, I appreciated the solitude in the car to reflect on the greatness of our world. Instead of ruminating on what was going to happen for the day or what I needed to get done at home, I looked at the beauty of our Willamette Valley or the sun rising to generate gratitude in the moment for what I could experience each day during a commute. In your drive, remember you are here for a purpose and the positive impact you have on others.
Thank you, Laura and David, for the lovely posts.
In my experience, even a moment of practice – between patients, while sitting at a stop light, upon arising in the am – eases stress and often leads to increased clarity and emotional balance.
Rather than planning for extended periods of practice, I often practice throughout the day – taking the time to observe one breath, listen with my eyes closed, notice the people in the line next to me, adjust my position so that my spine is aligned.
When I allow for these moments of awareness, I often feel more engaged and a quieter state of mind arises. It is so cool that neuroscience now reveals that even short periods of practice lead to changes in brain structure and function.
In response to David’s post, another practice that has been shared with me is to sit with difficult emotions (such as anxiety, depression and fear). Rather than shifting my attention or ignoring these painful emotions, I notice the different ways that my physical body is reacting to these emotions and with curiosity (when possible), observe my thoughts.
When I do so with kindness to myself, recognizing that the human experience includes all emotions, I am often able to get perspective, and allow the emotions to diffuse.
Thank you for this blog…it can help all us us reduce the stress and resulting anxiety in our lives.