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  • Translator: Tanya Cushman Reviewer: Peter van de Ven

  • As a social-work educator and former practitioner,

  • I'm interested in building and maintaining

  • the emotional and mental capacity

  • of those who do the hard work of helping others.

  • Take, for instance, a day in the life of a social worker.

  • I'll call her Kerry.

  • A typical day for Kerry may start like this.

  • In the morning, she checks her emails,

  • and she's quickly interrupted

  • because a client is in need of emergency shelter.

  • She handles the client situation

  • and begins the application process

  • for a grant that will fund more beds for her agency.

  • More beds means more veterans off the streets,

  • more single moms and their children in a safe place to stay for the night.

  • By midafternoon, she transitions and settles into group therapy,

  • where she hears the emotional content and the stories of trauma and abuse

  • of the women, who survived domestic violence.

  • She offers the skills and interventions of a social worker,

  • and she provides comfort and empowerment to the women

  • in order to get them back up on their feet again.

  • By the end of the day,

  • she has seen many clients,

  • she has heard many stories,

  • and she's spent.

  • She's emptied of herself.

  • She's given over her skills and interventions,

  • time and resources,

  • the best that she could give.

  • It's a busy day. It's stressful.

  • And many days are like this for Kerry

  • and for social workers in general.

  • In fact, social workers suffer from burnout quite often.

  • And though I realize that not all of you are social workers -

  • and I can't fathom why -

  • (Laughter)

  • but you often, probably,

  • experience intense periods of stress in your own life as well.

  • So today, I want to talk to you about an ancient practice

  • that you can use to further extend your capacity to deal with stress.

  • It's called mindfulness.

  • Mindfulness, in a short definition,

  • is the ability to stay in the present moment.

  • In fact, it is the ability to so focus your attention on the present

  • that you're able to evaluate your thoughts nonjudgmentally.

  • I also want to share with you three reasons why I believe

  • mindfulness can extend and build your capacity to take on pressures,

  • especially as you do the hard work of helping others.

  • It can expand your ability to take on stresses

  • in a more healthy way.

  • I came into mindfulness practice

  • because I experienced an intense period of stress in my life.

  • I did not like the way I felt when I had this stress,

  • I did not like the way I sounded to others,

  • and I didn't like the way I reacted.

  • Mindfulness gave me the tools to be able to calm and be present

  • and be able to evaluate

  • how I was acting, how I was feeling, how I was thinking.

  • Take, for instance, this picture.

  • It is a blurry something.

  • This is how we feel when we 're under a lot of stress:

  • a blurry mess.

  • Our thoughts jump from thought to thought,

  • and we're out of focus.

  • Our life feels chaotic and unclear.

  • What mindfulness does

  • is it helps us to step out and zoom out of that blurry mess.

  • Our life becomes more focused.

  • Our thoughts start to come together.

  • We're able to form a picture of our lives more clearly again.

  • The first reason why mindfulness can extend and build your capacity

  • to be able to help others,

  • taking on their stress,

  • is because it helps us experience our stress differently.

  • Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is a researcher from Massachusetts,

  • and he was the first

  • to westernize and secularize the practice of mindfulness,

  • as it comes originally from Buddhist religious thought.

  • Over eight weeks,

  • he had patients who dealt with chronic pain due to medical conditions

  • practice mindfulness.

  • And after the eight weeks,

  • these patients reported a decrease in pain

  • and a decrease in intensity of that chronicity of pain;

  • that pain, in general, was not so front and center anymore.

  • Now, nothing changed in their medical condition,

  • but their experience of pain did.

  • In this ongoing study I'm a part of,

  • I have created a six-week program

  • that draws from Christian-based mindfulness practices.

  • I've asked these students to listen to these modules that I've created,

  • on their cellphones or their laptops,

  • and report their levels of stress before and after this mindfulness program.

  • They reported lower levels of stress

  • as well as increased levels of mindfulness state.

  • Their thoughts were more centered and focused

  • as a result of the mindfulness practice.

  • Mindfulness allows us to experience our stress differently.

  • Things do not change.

  • These students' lives were still impacted

  • by the academic pressures and their personal lives,

  • but yet their experience of pain differed.

  • This leads me to my second reason

  • why mindfulness can help you deal with stress:

  • it helps you make better decisions.

  • When we're assaulted with big situations

  • where we need to carry the responsibilities of crises

  • or we need to just simply make a step in the right direction,

  • mindfulness can clarify our thoughts.

  • Instead of a jumbled mess,

  • we can prioritize our values,

  • we can integrate whole parts of ourselves

  • and act in a way that is congruent with who we are.

  • Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio understands this very well.

  • As a policy maker,

  • he understands good policy requires a sharp mind and a warm heart.

  • And in his work, he actually leads mindfulness practices on Capitol Hill.

  • Now just take a second and imagine that for a moment:

  • Republicans and Democrats in the same room together

  • in mindfulness bliss.

  • It's a neat picture and so needed in our times.

  • Congressman Ryan uses mindfulness,

  • and he spoke to Anderson Cooper about this in a 60 Minutes episode

  • and said it has helped him prevent himself from burning out,

  • that the stress and the pace of policy making is intense,

  • and it's given him the ability to reach across the aisle

  • and extend a hand to people that he doesn't agree with

  • in order to craft good policy,

  • anticipating how those policies will play out

  • in the day to day lives of people it will affect.

  • You see, mindfulness allows us to be more compassionate,

  • to, instead of react, be more empathetic;

  • instead of be in conflict, be more collaborative;

  • instead of be self-centered, we're more self-aware.

  • These are the gifts of mindfulness.

  • And mindfulness builds compassion for others,

  • and as we anticipate the needs of others,

  • our decisions are not as focused on reaction,

  • but we're able to anticipate how those decisions play out,

  • how they help or hinder the healing process

  • for society or organization or for relationships.

  • So do me a favor

  • and do this exercise with me for just a few moments

  • so you can experience what I'm talking about.

  • Close your eyes

  • and take three deep breaths in with me.

  • Take your first breath in and fill your lungs to capacity.

  • Imagine that this air is very clean and good and pure,

  • and allow it to nourish your body,

  • and exhale.

  • Take your second deep breath in,

  • and allow that breath to travel through those tight parts of your body,

  • maybe your gut or your shoulders or your neck areas,

  • where it's often tight.

  • And relax.

  • And exhale.

  • And on your third breath,

  • do the same and assign your breath a color of purity.

  • Allow that breath, again, to travel to those tight places,

  • soothe those sore spots,

  • take in that relaxation.

  • Exhale.

  • Continue to breathe in this way as I talk to you.

  • There's nothing you need to do right now except to breathe.

  • There's nothing that is asked of you.

  • There's no task to be completed,

  • except for you to simply just sit and breathe.

  • You can put all the to-do lists away.

  • You can let go of the worries of the day.

  • Just sit and breathe.

  • Thank you. You can open your eyes.

  • I hope what this exercise showed you

  • is just a little taste

  • of what a mindfulness exercise could do for you,

  • especially as you confront conflict or big situations

  • or organizational places where you need to make big decisions.

  • You can take a step back and breathe just for a moment

  • and be present

  • and be able to then renourish, rejuvenate yourself

  • before you confront that situation

  • or before you need to make that decision.

  • Because what happens in mindfulness, as you sit in awareness,

  • is the truth of reality that starts to come to fruition,

  • which is this:

  • The past cannot be changed.

  • The future cannot be forced.

  • All we have is the present moment.

  • And in that present moment,

  • we can make the best decisions we can in order to better the lives of others,

  • but it takes some thought

  • and it takes some congruence.

  • It takes our ability

  • to connect with our values and the things that we hold dear.

  • So you, hopefully, have experienced

  • that breath is a foundation of a mindfulness practice,

  • which leads me to the third and final reason

  • why mindfulness can extend and expand your ability to take on stress,

  • especially as you help others,

  • which is mindfulness fosters wellness.

  • And what I mean by wellness

  • is this ability to cope with stressors in our lives and bounce back.

  • In fact, mindfulness is a tool of self-care.

  • When we give of ourselves to a cause

  • or we provide skills and interventions that will make a change in healing,

  • we need to rejuvenate and we need to refresh the wells.

  • Mindfulness allows us that space and time

  • to refresh, to connect

  • and to be able to access all different parts of ourselves.

  • In a 2014 study by Shonin, Gordon and Griffiths,

  • these researchers

  • used a more religiously oriented mindfulness-based practice -

  • it was more faithful to its Buddhist roots -

  • and these researchers

  • asked the participants how they felt after this six-week program.

  • One participant said that they felt "cradled in comfort."

  • In a study I conducted last year,

  • I asked Christian psychotherapists who used mindfulness-based therapies

  • questions like,

  • How did you feel using this mindfulness-based therapy

  • with your client?

  • What worked? What didn't work?

  • But they responded in a very interesting way,

  • and they said

  • that they felt a presence of the divine with them in that room

  • as they work with their clients.

  • In fact, that divine presence assisted them;

  • it was a source outside of themselves that helped them in discernment,

  • that helped them extend the healing process.

  • It helped further the work that they did in healing their clients.

  • These therapists understood

  • that they could access a part of themselves,

  • a spiritual side that was accessed through the practice of mindfulness.

  • And when we can use spirituality, our body responds.

  • And when our body responds, our mind responds.

  • And when our mind responds, our spiritual selves respond again,

  • so forth and so on in a virtuous cycle.

  • Mindfulness allows us to extend the limits of our human capabilities

  • by accessing all parts of ourselves.

  • We don't have to compartmentalize those different aspects;

  • we can all work in unison to confront a situation

  • or to help us determine what the next step is.

  • Mindfulness fosters wellness

  • because we're caring for ourselves as we care for others.

  • We use all spheres of our lives to attack the problem.

  • So if you're interested in building a mindfulness practice,

  • first start with your breath.