Mindfulness Meets the Full Catastrophe: What sustains you during difficult times?

You might not have noticed, but my weekly blogging took a decided pause in the last few weeks. It seems like there was one catastrophe after the other in my life and it was hard to keep up emotionally, physically, and mentally. There was simply not the psychic energy to put words to paper.

Sometimes life says “Deal with this. Oh, and then deal with this as well. And this and this and this.” We don’t get to determine when to say “stop, I’ve had enough, thank you.” We do get to figure out how we are going to manage what life gives us. And, to a large degree, I believe we have an opportunity to discover things about ourselves in the process, move into deeper waters of connection and understanding. 

Catastrophes, both large and small, short-term or long term, have an impact. Death by a thousand small cuts feels just as deadly (and maybe even more) than one or two big cuts. These cuts are moments, experiences, relationships, circumstances, and stories that we tell ourselves that challenge our way of being, our comfortable routines, and our beliefs about who we are.  And, right now, in particular, almost everyone I  know is feeling like life is giving them a little “extra” to deal with.

Besides the ordinary “catastrophes” of daily life—aging, illness, and death—people are dealing with the impact of the COVID pandemic, a challenging political environment, cultural upheaval, job insecurity, housing insecurity, environmental disasters, and a racist landscape, just to name a few. I believe it is fair to say that we are all suffering a little “extra” at the moment under the pressure of these circumstances.  

It is definitely a time to reflect on “What sustains you during these difficult times?  I’ll list the answers I’ve come up with recently as I’ve faced the challenges of life during the past month. I encourage you to do the same and to engage in action that comes from your reflections.

My tips for difficult times.

1. Feel It. Mindfulness technique number one, in my book, is to feel the emotions that arise for you during these times.  They are not pleasant and you don’t want to feel them. But, in my experience, the best way through to the other side of an emotion is to allow it and be with it fully as the first step. Name the emotion. Sadness. Grief. Fear. And then sit with it as long as you need to. Having supportive people in the vicinity is nice while this is happening, but not necessary. They can’t do the work for you, but their presence might feel comforting.

2. Take a Nap. I am seriously NOT a nap taker, but last Saturday that was the ONLY thing I could do. I’m not sure I fell asleep, but I pretended I was taking a nap. Lying on the bed and resting. I didn’t need to do anything, read anything, talk to anybody. Look at social media or otherwise flit through my phone. My body was resting. Resting your body is a very important thing to do during catastrophes.

3. Cry, if and when you can. I’m also not a very good crier. I think I used up my tear quotient in my 20s and 30s. I cried a lot back then. Now, it sometimes happens but not a lot. It happened recently. Finally. And it felt right and good. If you can cry. Let it rip. If you have a hard time crying, you might just give yourself some space to sit and be while you feel the emotions without the tears. It’s just as good, really.

4. Yoga. This one has saved me time and again. Truly. When my husband was in the hospital after having a heart attack while we were on vacation I faithfully got up every morning and did yoga on the deck of our cabin before anything else. It helped me face what came next. When we got back home, life got busy and I wasn’t doing it every day.  I felt noticeable worse. But, I started regularly doing it again and, like magic, I’m better again. More resilient. Happier. More joyful. I swear, it’s magic. By the way (a little pitch here), I do teach online twice a week over zoom through alleyCat Yoga. You can join me, if you’d like.

5. Nature. I just love to get in the middle of trees. Your nature may be somewhere else, like in the water. But, mine is in the trees. Actually, it just dawned on me that I am the “wood” element according to Chinese Medicine five element theory. I wonder if that is why I like trees and wood so much. You can take your own five element quiz here and maybe you’ll see what type of nature is good for you. You probably already know! So immerse yourself in it.

6. Alone time. I left for four days to go into a cabin in the woods. It has been very healing. While you might not have the luxury of doing that, alone time on a regular basis is definitely good for your most important relationship—the one with you.  Silence and alone time give you time to hear yourself think. Even if you can only get five minutes a day, that’s great. Maybe it’s in the bathtub or in a drive in your car. Find time to be with just you—no music, no podcast or audio book, no news, no nothing.

7. Find support and give support.  Reaching out for support is something I have had to work on over the years. Early in life I had to be very independent and it has taken me time to reach out to others for help. I am so much better at it these days and it gives me a lot of strength to be supported by others. Weakness comes from thinking you have to do everything alone. In addition, I find that getting and giving are both helpful for feeding the soul and it’s good to have a healthy balance of both. Reach out to others who are having difficulty and notice how it supports your own well-being.

8. Journaling. Writing is a wonderful tool for discovering things about yourself. As I have been writing this blog I’ve discovered things about myself. But, I also write in a journal that I don’t share with others. I write what I’m grateful for, and I write thoughts and reflections that come to me after being in nature or after periods of yoga or meditation practice.  I write to meet myself on paper.

9. Cooking and Gardening. I put these two together because they feel so earthy too me. Cooking feeds the belly and gardening feeds the soul and they both bring beauty and nourishment into your life. I was up early last weekend and made peach muffins two mornings in a row to feel something tangible like the smell of baking and the delight of eating something hot out of the oven. I go out into the garden to pull weeds and the world recedes into the distance for a while. Activities like these are good for grounding.  

10. Coloring. While I know this one kind of became a fad a while back, it’s definitely a new one for me. When I was on my last vacation, I went into an amazing paper store in Boulder, Colorado. I bought colored pencils and “The Cat Butt” coloring book. Little did I know it would be a great companion while I waited on my husband to have surgery two days later. I still love to color in the book, and I use the colored pencils in my journal. Words, pictures, and thoughts come alive with color and make a memory in my heart.

I hope these ten ideas spark your own imagination for things to do when you meet the full catastrophe in your life. The full catastrophe happens every day so make a list and have it handy when you need it. Discovering how to be resilient is crucial for these times we are living.

We are all undergoing a deeply challenging time, so be kind to each other out there. We don’t live our lives in solitude but in community. When one is affected, we are all affected.


Do.The.Work.  This is my effort to keep conversations alive about the impact of systematic racism and how to change it.

This week in Do.The.Work. Help the efforts to register voters. The League of Women Voters Registration Fund is working hard to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. Read more here