After having survived stage 4 cancer for the last 9+ years, I could never have anticipated that during the course of that survivorship, I would encounter the plague – AKA Covid-19. So previously, I would have said that cancer changed everything, but that was only in the microcosm of my own life. With the onset of Covid-19 literally everything changed everywhere on a global level! Whole countries are shut down. Our governments and health agencies are asking us to practice social or physical distancing and heightened hygiene, including frequent hand washing and wearing home made masks. Employers are encouraging those who can, to work from home.
Here in Canada, and more specifically, in Ontario where I live, we are going on 9 weeks of essentially a shelter in place unless you are a frontline worker or have an emergency. We are permitted to get groceries once a week and go to medical appointments, but that has pretty much been it. Just this week our provincial government had begun to ease the restrictions by allowing some businesses to open as long as they offer curb-side pick up. As for me, being immune-compromised and having lung cancer I have pretty much been home bound and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.
I, like many find myself with an abundance of time on my hands. The goals I wanted before, even the ones I had worked so hard for, changed yet again. So, to try and instil some perspective and a little serenity now (especially when I’m panicking, which at the beginning of all this, was essentially all the time! Since, I didn’t survive cancer to be taken out by a virus!). Was to go back and practice mindfulness. In light of that, I also decided to repost the 8- week series I posted some time back.
It was upon the recommendation of my psychologist, that I enrolled in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)* course. I was hesitant initially, because really who has time for an 8-week program?! But I did it, not once but twice. Now you may think MBSR is hokey and all kumbaya, but it’s one of the only meditation modalities being studied scientifically, and used in hospitals. It was hands down one of the best things I have ever done for myself and my mental health, which is why I’m going to do it again.
It isn’t for the feint of heart, because of the time commitment (8 Weeks + home practice), but I swear it is worth it. In the professionally led sessions, I would meet with a small group of stressed out – over worked – harried individuals each week and we would learn a specific practice or a few. Then we were tasked with homework. Typically it was an exercise in attention, some sort of meditation, and a very short “journal”. Initially it was a challenge fitting it in, but somehow if you are committed, you do find time.
The first time I learned MBSR was 10 years ago when I was transitioning back to work. Ican tell you that the skills I learned in those 8-weeks saved me a few times. Like the day they told me my cancer had come back, and that there wasn’t much they could do (at that time). Just before receiving the news, I had meditated while waiting for my oncologist, so I was calm and able to be rational and breathe. It allowed me to be clear headed and coherent enough to ask questions, something I likely wouldn’t have been able to do had I been extremely emotional.
As with anything, you need to practice or your skills get rusty. I have to admit that over the years, my practice hasn’t been what it used to be and once again life got in the way, so I took the course again, this time as a very willing participant. I will tell you, my mental health has been better since. I won’t lie, I don’t practice everyday (although I should), but I use it when I need it.
I thought that if anyone out there was willing, I would start with this post, to “lead” a very rudimentary Mindfulness Group, by posting what each weeks lesson is, the practices and leave it up to you to try it out.
There is no right or wrong way, to do this. It is a personal practice about learning to notice, becoming aware, and taking a moment to breathe. If you are game, Week 1 Resources will be posted below. I’ll post follow-ups every Sunday for the next 7 weeks.
Be well, Stay hone, Stay safe.
*In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn founded MBSR at the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic
at the University of Massachusetts and nearly twenty years later the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine. Both these institutions supported the growth and implementation of MBSR into research and hospitals worldwide.
Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are.
– Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn (2007)
Week 1 Mindfulness: Awareness & Automatic Pilot
- When we are on Autopilot, we are more likely to become annoyed or have our “buttons pressed”.
- Becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, we can choose not to go down “the rabbit hole” or mental ruts.
- The aim of MBSR is to increase awareness so that we have more choices when we respond to situations, rather than react automatically.
- To achieve this, we practice becoming more aware of where our attention is and deliberately changing the focus over and over.
Activity 1: Raisins (or any small edible)
Take a raisin, or any small edible item. On a piece of paper, write down your immediate thoughts about that item. Next, use each sense to examine the item. Eyes, ears, fingers, mouth. Do each for a good minute. Now write down what you notice.
Meditation 1: Body Scan
Begin with a 45-minute body scan (see below). I suggest a quiet place where you can either sit or lay down. It’s ok if you fall asleep. I did.
- Do the body scan 6x for week one
- Record what you notice each time you do the practice.
- Choose one routine activity (washing your face, brushing your teeth, lacing your shoe, etc.) and make it deliberate, just like the raisin activity.
- Eat one meal mindfully (i.e. Like the raisin activity)
www.guilford.com/MBCT_audio (Requires creating a user account)
- Learning suggestions
- Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothing (sweats or yoga-type clothing work well).
- Use a mat or pad that you can lie on the floor with.
- If the temperature varies the room you are using you might want to dress in layers.
- Choose a quiet spot or time when others will not be interrupting.
- Download meditations to an iPod or other listening device for easy listening.
- Good Luck