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Healthy Minds in Practice: Clarity in Uncertain Times

Illustration courtesy iStock

The events of 2020 have left most people feeling uncertain and overwhelmed. When thoughts and reactions overwhelm us, it can be helpful to reframe them through the lens of insight and appreciation. This 10-minute practice is focused on finding ways to regain clarity - even during the most challenging times.


Guided Practice: Clarity in Uncertain Times

Led by Cortland Dahl

Hi, this is Cortland Dahl with the Healthy Minds Program. The current pandemic is disrupting our lives in ways we couldn’t have imagined just a short time ago. The uncertainty can be overwhelming, and the hardship we’re facing is very real. In this practice, we’ll loosen the grip of all the fearful thoughts and feelings we have and hopefully find a fresh perspective to help us through this challenging time. 

To begin, gently close your eyes if you find that helpful and bring some awareness to your body. Are you holding tension anywhere? Sometimes we get tense in our face or jaw or in our shoulders. Take a few slow, calming breaths and allow any tension you might be feeling to relax a bit. 

Now let’s add some compassion. The whole world is facing tremendous hardship right now. By doing this practice you’re not only helping yourself, you’re doing your part to bring a little more balance into the world. Take a moment to motivate yourself with a compassionate wish for the world. 

Great. Next, give yourself some space to simply be. Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling right now. Let your mind do whatever it needs to do. See if you can remain open and curious about your experience for the next few moments.

What thoughts are moving through your mind right now? Take a step back and observe your thoughts, like you’re watching the images on a movie screen.

Don’t worry about the content of your thoughts. Whatever you’re thinking about is fine. Simply notice what your mind is doing right now without judging any of it as good or bad.

When our thoughts and reactions take hold of our mind, they often narrow our perspective and get us overly focused on the negative. It’s not that they’re wrong. They’re just narrow. They’re not capturing the whole picture. See if you can widen your perspective or try to see things from another angle?

As you explore new perspectives, notice any assumptions you might be making. Our thoughts can often feel like reality, but you can use this opportunity to question your thoughts. Are these assumptions really true? What if I had a different set of assumptions, what would that look like? 

The point here isn’t to see that all our thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions are wrong. It’s just that they’re limited. They’re just thoughts, nothing more than words and images in the mind. Continue to observe your thoughts with some openness and curiosity. Notice how each new thought is like a lens that colors your perception. 

Great. Next, let go and give yourself a moment to simply be. You don’t need to observe your thoughts. You don’t have to do anything, actually. Just rest your mind for a few moments. 

If you’re feeling restless, take a few deep breaths. As you exhale, allow yourself to relax and unwind. Notice how that feels in your body. 

Let your breath return to its normal pace now and notice what’s happening right now. Take in some of the small details around you. Bring awareness to the sounds you’re hearing, or the play of light on your eyelids. 

The challenges we’re facing right now cause a lot of suffering, but they can also remind us of how much there is to be grateful for. Let’s tap into that for a few moments. Bring to mind and appreciate someone or something that’s helping support you through this challenging time. Reflect on what you appreciate about them. 

Continue to explore. Let your mind roam and find little things to appreciate. And don’t forget to include yourself. Notice your own skills and positive qualities too. 

For the last few moments, you can drop the reflection. Slowly open your eyes if they’ve been closed and take everything in as though you’re seeing with a fresh perspective. 

The most challenging moments in life are often the greatest opportunities to learn and grow. This is a painful time, but it’s also an opportunity. What we’re all going through is incredibly hard, but if we can make even a tiny bit of space to see more clearly, and appreciate some of the little things, this fresh perspective is something we can carry with us through all the ups and downs of life. 

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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