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Healthy Minds in Practice: Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Photo courtesy iStock

The fear and uncertainty these days can be overwhelming. Most of us are feeling challenged in multiple ways by the pandemic. Social distancing may leave us feeling lonely or scared. Juggling multiple responsibilities with fewer resources than we're used to makes us feel vulnerable. Having a sense of resilience can help us find calm and perspective in even the most challenging situations. This 10-minute practice calms the mind and helps us tap into our inner resilience.


Guided Practice: Calm in the Midst of Chaos

Led by Cortland Dahl

Hi, I’m Cortland Dahl with the Healthy Minds Program. Thanks for joining me. These continue to be pretty scary times we’re living in. The news is full of ominous predictions and dire warnings that get our minds spinning with fearful thoughts. I checked my news-feed a few minutes ago and I could feel the stress building in my body. This is a great time to bring a little balance to the mind. 

Start by finding a comfortable posture, one that helps you feel present and relaxed. Close your eyes and notice how you feel. No need to judge what you’re feeling as good or bad. Bring some openness and curiosity to this moment.

Now let’s set an inspiring motivation for doing this practice. We all need a little calm and balance in our lives these days, so you could let that motivate you. You could even think of this practice to calm your mind as a gift to the people in your life, or to the wider world. 

Great. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Bring to mind a soothing image as you breathe. You might imagine sliding into a warm bath or lying on the grass on a warm summer day, feeling the warmth of the sun on your face.

Allow your breath to return to its normal pace and feel the movement of your breath in and out. Allow your mind and body to settle. Give yourself a little space to unwind. Let go of all the doing and allow yourself to simply be. 

Whatever you’re feeling right now is perfectly fine. This is not about control, it’s about trust. Trust in your own strength and resilience. Give your mind and body some much-needed rest as you continue to be open and aware of whatever’s happening right now, in this moment. 

Now bring awareness to what you’re hearing. Pick one sound and stay with it. Notice its texture and subtlety. No need to focus too intensely here. Listen with a relaxed, almost effortless awareness. 

The point of this isn’t to empty the mind or force the mind and body to be calm. We’re just giving ourselves a little space to unwind. So see if you can stay open and curious as you continue to listen with awareness.

If thoughts start to fill your mind, don’t worry. That’s normal. Just notice all this restless mental energy and bring your awareness back to the richness of this moment. For these few moments, let go of all your worries and struggles and rest your awareness on the subtle details of what you’re hearing right now.

Great. Let go now and give yourself some time to simply be. We have enough doing in our lives. Give yourself permission to let all that go. It doesn’t matter if your mind is restless or calm. Simply be here now, fully and completely. 

There are so many ups and downs in life, yet somehow we manage to get through them all. You can trust your own strength and resilience. They’re part of who you are. Who we all are. Continue practicing now and use whichever object feels helpful. You can bring awareness to your breath, or to a sound, or simply let go and rest in open, effortless awareness.

Whatever you’re experiencing is perfectly fine. The key is to remain open and curious, even if what we’re experiencing is unpleasant. If you’re aware of what’s happening right now, that’s it. You’re doing it. 

Now slowly open your eyes. Take in the richness of this moment. Breathe. Notice what you see and hear. Drop all the mental effort and simply be for these last few moments of the practice.

There are a lot of good reasons to be anxious and fearful, especially these days. It’s hard to stay balanced. What you just did created a current of trust and inner strength. You can keep practicing awareness like this for short moments throughout your day. Even while you’re walking, cooking, cleaning or in a conversation, you can bring awareness to what’s happening in your mind and body and take a few calming breaths. 

These are times of monumental adjustment for all of us. We continue to face so much uncertainty.  I hope this practice will make things a little less stressful for you in these challenging times.

Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.

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