Moderating Emotions When the World Sways

There’s a rapid fall as the pendulum drops from the right on its descent to the middle; it stays suspended for a time at the bottom of its arc before seizing momentum and rising left again.

The pendulum of life, the one that normally swings from challenge to opportunity, from season to season, has shifted to overdrive. The new pandemic-fueled pendulum of emotions, hopes, concerns, and even intense darkness is our new shared reality. This pendulum of despair and optimism has significant force.

My personal pendulum normally sways as life undulates, but now it shifts hourly and sometimes from minute to minute. But here we are all of us as we bear-witness to our shared reality, without a clear end in sight; thrust literally from feast to famine overnight.

This pandemic pendulum is shared with my community, with all British Columbians, and with our distressed world. One day I live fully in gratitude, in the moment, grateful for my health, for my home in Whistler, grateful for the love of my husband and family, and for the resilient spirit of my community.

At the other side of the pendulum I have more anxiety than I have ever known. My parents live in the USA where I watch the horror movie unfold by the hour south of our closed border.

I feel the distress across our community as I watch the challenges our entire region is facing. This experience on the left side of the pendulum, is shared by all of us as residents, local governments, provincial and federal leaders, social service organizations, large and small business owners; we’re all together on this uber-fueled, pandemic pendulum.

So how do we stay in that space that we normally occupy, where the pendulum sways seem manageable, where we co-exist with the teeter totter of our regular lives?

In my case, I’ve seized hold of my mindfulness practice. This is my tool to stare-down and slow the pendulum and its power over me.

Mindfulness gives me an instrument to observe, to pay attention, to notice when I start to climb on-board the fear-inducing ride.

I watch as the left tries to take hold, as the panic sweeps across my upper body and I feel like a heavy foot is pressing down on my chest. Then I shift right – usually when I get outside in the fresh air. This is when I witness community and caring; I share a smile or wave with someone else momentarily on the right too.

And every morning, early, I just sit. I sit and I breathe, and I observe what breathing and being still feels like.

It’s as simple as that and yet not so simple. Sitting still is not a new thing for me. I’ve had a mindful meditation practice for more than two decades. I’m not at peace with this frightening experience, this global scourge, but being mindful allows me to keep at bay the left, the side that can feel dismal, like grieving someone I’ve known my entire life. 

Mindfulness is a tool that allows me to reflect and feel somewhat settled in this greatly shifting time. This idea of presence isn’t something to “get” or research on-line (although you can certainly do so), it’s inside each of us.

Mindfulness is a personal awareness practice. It’s the action of taking notice, of observing one’s own feelings and thoughts so we can rest and settle our minds. The opportunity for mindfulness is everywhere.

When I wash my hands mindfully and deliberately for my health, and that of others in my community. While I write the grocery list for my solo, once a week, quick foray, conscious while in the store to thank all the staff I see. When I speak to a community member or a business owner on the phone about their worries, I listen deeply to demonstrate that I do hear them, and I’ll do my best to seek out the information they need. When I sit at my dinner table each evening and share gratitude with my guy. We’re so grateful to be Canadian, to have a public health system such as ours where the front-line is the true battlefield.

I draw on mindfulness as a tool, like something I would include on a hike, something I would pack along like a nourishing lunch or an extra layer. Mindfulness is an essential piece of equipment to manage the great sweeps of the pendulum as it attempts to rock us all wildly back and forth.  

Mindfulness is not a cure, but it allows me to feel like I’ve reached camp before dark, like I’ve still got water left in my canteen.  

Before the next sweep shifts left again, before it gets too dark, check out what’s in your own pack. You may find a version of mindfulness there for you that could bring some emotional moderation in this troubled time.

Wash your hands, keep your distance and be mindful.

(This article was also published in April 2020 in Pique Newsmagazine in Dispatches under the headline The Pandemic Pendulum.)

Aware in Nature

The lime green moss is proof that growth is happening right before my eyes. I catch a pungent whiff of cedar as the crack of a branch alerts me to presence nearby. I glance ahead, alert for a bear. If need be, I can give him a wide berth, unless of course I am confronted by a mama with cubs. But the sound is only a guy on a mountain bike, intersecting the shared trail ahead.

I remind myself to be present. Here, in this moment, without a bear there is only me, the forest, and deep awareness. I find it easy to access mental calmness when I’m immersed in nature, with mindful prompts at every turn.

The opportunity to be mindful is everywhere when I get outside, in the woods, on a trail – even in a city park. When I walk, I pay full attention to the experience of one foot followed by the other, the weight of each heal connecting to hard earth, my feet rolling forward and rising with synchronicity before hitting ground once more. I feel the cool wind on my face as dampness seeps down my collar. I listen like wildlife might, with a titled head. There’s a crunch as my shoes strike gravel; a melody of birdsong, call and response; a babble as the creek rushes past, full of new melt; it draws me into its  flow.

I have loved being outdoors since as early as I can remember. The seed was planted by my parents when my sister and I were young. My parents weren’t solely nature lovers, instead they could be described as appreciative of wide-open spaces. As immigrants from the UK they made it their mission for the four of us to enjoy everything about the Canadian outdoors. I recall a winter picnic in deep snow in Northern Manitoba and laughing into the wind on the deck of a ferry in February (when other families were sipping hot chocolate inside).

Being mindfully aware in nature means seeing more clearly in rich depth and detail. The thick weight of yellow pollen on branches, railings, and shallow ponds; an abundance of minute cones on a single hemlock tree; colourful “gratitude rocks” painted by children as shared messages connecting a community. Mindfulness also means I’m aware of others along the trail; I pass with a smile and the requisite safe space.

Walking everyday is not just physically beneficial, it’s nourishment for my mind and spirit. Being outside in nature is a prompt to slow down, to take notice, to witness the richness of the outdoors, even to steer around a bear should we happen to share the trail.

Tips for Enjoying a Mindful Walk:

Set an Intention: 

Before you head out set the intention to WALK and NOTICE. Plan phone calls and podcast catch-up another time and be aware of nature around you as you walk.

Be Curious:

Mindfulness is being aware and openly curious. Walk with a naturalist’s sense of observation. Be aware of how your energy is impacted by being outdoors.

Take Your Time:

Allow enough time to savor the experience of walking and being outdoors.

Mindful Facilitation

The process of strategic planning includes disciplined steps. One of the steps typically involves a collaborative session or workshop where team leaders, stakeholders or board members come together to develop plans for a project or an organization’s future – the next quarter, the coming year or beyond. Mindful facilitation can play a key role in organizational strategic planning.

A facilitator’s role is to act as wrangler, conductor, site-supervisor, coach, and humourist all in one. As an “outsider” the facilitator offers the process – the system by which outcomes can be achieved. The facilitator coordinates the session with someone inside the organization and is then responsible to bring it all together by suggesting the pre-work required before the strat-session, formatting the workshop structure, managing the time, creating an environment for participants that is open, respectful, creative, inclusive, thought-provoking, and on-topic. Team members in an organization, subject-matter experts, stakeholders offer knowledge as the content. The facilitator’s role is to combine all the inputs together in a framework so that by wrap-time the group can see ahead for the next project, year or planning cycle.

The facilitator’s role is to establish and maintain a state of focused awareness, a platform of mindful “presence” where great outputs can be fostered. Mindfulness is described as a state of being fully aware in the present moment, with a keen sense of curiosity and openness. This platform of mindful awareness informs more aligned decision making and strategic action planning. Focusing on key elements relevant to an industry and sector, drilling down to specific market conditions and consumer insights that resonate for a target audience, prioritizing tactics that can be implemented with resources, time and budget – these steps come together as mindful teamwork in action.

Mindfulness first found its way into my facilitation style as a brand strategist in the ad agency world. My team travelled across North America running multi-day sessions for clients. We were responsible to deliver strategic, data-driven, creatively infused, immersive sessions. We were the A-team on a results-driven mission. The collaboration of expertise at our on-site sessions propelled clients and their projects forward. It was, quite often, fairly intense.

My tactic for navigating the intensity drew on my personal mindfulness practice. Mindfulness honed my ability in a strategic setting to be an observer and a listener. To be a witness to the unfolding of information as well as to the establishment of respectful, client/colleague/friend relationships. Being aware and present during those long sessions enhanced my ability to filter information and to summarize the elements that were most relevant, most appropriate and targeted for results. It helped me to be a better strategist, team player and a more insightful facilitator.

As a seasoned facilitator mindfulness is as valuable to me as the years of experience I have gained across diverse sectors and complex initiatives. Mindfulness is the platform from which awareness, curiosity and openness can inform collaboration, decision making and strategic outcomes.

Tips for Mindful Facilitation:

Focused Preplanning:

Pre-planning and the work that takes place in advance of a strategic session are key elements to the outcome. The facilitator’s pre-planning role is to clarify expectations with the client, conduct their own due diligence, and assign any homework to participants in advance of the session.   

Reality Check:

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Be clear about what the group can and should deliver with the time and resources available for both the strategic session and for the expected outcomes.

Aware, Open Attitude:

When the code of conduct is outlined for the session the facilitator should include an “invitation” for participants to commit to being mindful, aware, open and curious without judgement. This approach can enhance the experience and net better outcomes for the group as a whole.