Mindfulness on a Sunday Walk with Friends

by | Jun 8, 2020 | Physician Mindfulness

Heading out on a Sunday morning dog walk at a local nature reserve with a small group of friends, and I’m noticing just how much my mind is off in judgment.

It’s a lovely cool day, respite from the 80-degree humidity of the past week. With yesterday’s thunderstorm, the shades of green around us are varied and rich. We see the swan family gliding easily on the water, the cygnets hovering close to mom and dad. My friends comment on their beauty and I try to look interested, but where is my mind? It’s off thinking about all the things on my to-do list and accusing me of laziness for taking this time outside. Now it’s zoomed off replaying my oft-repeating inner conversation with a friend who I perceive isn’t doing a good job relating to her teen. Now, telling me that I’m so much less articulate than the friends I’m with. And now, that I’m bad for eating that chocolate ice cream I ate last night.

I’ve come to see that my mind is a judgment producing machine! No matter what I’m doing, it’s at the ready and looking out for differences, for comparisons, for anything it perceives is something that shouldn’t be the way that it is. It hardly matters what it seizes upon, simply on the alert and ready to pronounce something as good or, much more likely, as bad. I’ve worked very hard on reigning in my judgments and yet, inevitably, off goes my mind again.

Does All the Judging Serve Us?

This morning, I’m finding myself questioning how this pattern of judging, judging, judging is serving me. I know it keeps my mind spinning, that’s for sure. And the spinning makes it difficult for me to be present. And that lack of attentiveness to what’s actually going on in front of me is not serving me well. It takes me away from being present with my son, for example, or with the friends I walk with this morning. Far away from the natural beauty offered to me on this walk. And having my mind spin in this way is also exhausting. It’s a lot of mental energy that surely I could be applying to more productive ventures.

And what about how my judging mind keeps me acting with unconscious bias? In ways I’m not even aware of, that same latching onto unimportant differences that my mind is so prone to do? The cost of this pattern is definitely not low.

So what am I to do?

I know from experience that, first and foremost, I need to be kind to myself. Judging my judging mind only creates more judgment, more ill ease, and invariably, more judgments about myself and others. What a dangerous cascade that can be!

I also know that I need to take many pauses. Pausing when I have a judging thought. Pausing when I’m about to say something that only serves to reinforce my judging mind. Pausing when I start questioning what on earth is wrong for me for being so caught up in judgment. Pausing, as I remind myself that it’s OK if I don’t get things perfectly right, and that I’m OK no matter what my mind tells me. These pauses give me just enough time to redirect my mind, to take a tad more control over it’s wanderings.

I can also leave my busy judging mind and come back to what’s actually in front of me. I can focus my attention on the gracefulness of the swan family. I can notice how the light hits the trees. I can pay attention to the feel of the cool air on my skin. Watching what the dog is doing is always an available option. My senses can always be counted on to provide respite from the machinations of my judging mind.

Most of the people I know want to be more present yet many of us find our minds off in judgment after judgment. And most certainly want to bring to our consciousness the ways our judging contributes to broad societal patterns that we all need to help stop. We’ve been conditioned to judgment so disrupting that pattern takes work. Lots and lots of work. Yet, it’s work that is deeply worthwhile.

I’ll keep working with my judging mind. Every moment seems to provide opportunity aplenty.

  1. Embrace uncertainty

When you stop and think about it, uncertainty and change are the only things that are certain. Impermanence is one of the basic laws of our world.

After all, everything changes. Our relationships change. Our kids grow up and change. Our bodies age and change. Our environments change. Our planet changes.

All too often, however, we forget this basic truth. We somehow expect things to be predictable and stable.

The problem is that this expectation sets us up for difficulty. It leaves us struggling unnecessarily when something shifts. It adds a layer of suffering above and beyond that caused by all the VUCA around us.

What I’m getting at is that we have a choice. We can meet uncertainty with reactivity or we can meet it with mindful understanding.

More than meditating on a remote mountainside, mindfulness helps us have the calm, steadiness, and clarity we need to work constructively with all the change and uncertainty.

At the same time, while we can find ourselves resisting change, we can remind ourselves that it does not have to mean something bad! Just take a moment right now to think of all the difficulties you have faced in your life and work that are now resolved and far behind you. This can help you see how change has actually been quite the positive.

  1. Respond to complexity with compassion

Even knowing that change is the only thing that is certain, it can still be difficult to weather. Living in such a VUCA time is difficult. You deserve compassion for managing all the challenges.

With mindful awareness, we can bring ourselves compassion for what we’re going through. There is increasing evidence that self-compassion is a powerful antidote to stress and even burnout. From where I sit, I think that it is actually one of the most powerful medicinals available to us.

  1. Take purposeful pauses

With mindfulness, we are aware of what is going on within and around us. We tune in and pay attention to our experience. We learn to utilize our breath to take us out of the fears, worries, stories, and preoccupations our minds are so good at generating about what might come next, and bring us back to the present moment. Here in the present, we leave that overly activated limbic state and can experience a sense of calm.

A pause also serves to allow our prefrontal cortex to come online. It creates a critically important space between our emotional response and conscious, intentional action.

Once we have paused, we can then see more clearly that fear had taken hold. 

With a pause, we become the witness of our experience as opposed to the one trapped by it.

  1. View VUCA as opportunity

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself reacting to the VUCA environment with something of a fixed mindset. With a fixed mindset, I am telling myself things like ‘it shouldn’t be this way’ and ‘why is this happening?’

When I can utilize mindful awareness, I can see that I’ve boxed myself in with a fixed mindset. I can challenge myself to grow. By grow, I mean challenging myself to see whatever difficulty I’m experiencing as an opportunity to learn.

Here again, mindfulness again throws us a lifeline. Mindful awareness involves leaning into curiosity.

I can flip the script and ask myself:

What can I learn from this experience?

How can I use this to be a better version of myself?

How can I help others cope in this VUCA environment?

What do I want to look back and see about how I acted?

In summary, while VUCA is definitely the order of the day in healthcare and beyond, you don’t have to succumb. You don’t have to live in fear. There are constructive actions you can take to help you cope with uncertainty, build calm in chaos, and even thrive in chaos and VUCA. While we can’t control much that is contributing to the VUCA time, with mindfulness we can control how we respond to it.

I hope you’ll try out these 4 mindfulness strategies as I have seen them help countless people. I’d love to hear how it goes.

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To learn more about how mindfulness coaching can help you cope with this VUCA time, please reach out for a complimentary consult.

6 Free Resources To Help You During COVID19 And Beyond.

  1. 14-day meditation series 
  2. Imposter No More PDF
  3. Resilience Book Chapter
  4. Leading In Crisis PDF
  5. Balance To Burnout PDF
  6. 30-minute consult

Take advantage of one or more of these valuable resources created for clinicians and non-clinicians.