Meditation Helps Us Avoid Regrets and Live Life Fully

Rather than making resolutions at the start of this new year, my clients and I are focusing our intentions on making it a year of no regrets. We’re inspired by Mindful magazine’s recent review of Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Nurse Ware describes the feelings she consistently heard while giving palliative care to the terminally ill:

  1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
  3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  4. “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”
  5. “I wish I’d let myself be happier.”[1]

It does take courage to live a life true to one’s self, but as author Bronnie Ware explains, “… nothing could be as painful as lying on your deathbed with that regret.”[2] How do we find that courage? Nurse Ware attributes her meditation practice as her source of strength when caring for the dying:

[Meditation] taught me not to judge. I had compassion and respect for whatever that life had been like. I think regret is a very harsh judgment on yourself. The dying people who were expressing regrets to me already had their own judgment. They certainly didn’t need mine. Through meditation I also learned mindfulness and being very present with the people. That’s probably a large part of why our relationships became so personal. When you have a listener that’s obviously present and truly listening, it does give the person permission to open up. And it wasn’t just the dying people I was looking after, it was the family dynamic. All the stuff that comes up for the family being left behind, there’s some truly irrational behavior, a lot of fear and drama. I think meditation really helped me stay calm. I was often the unofficial mediator in the family, and I think meditation is the key to my success in that role.[3]

Ware believes in the power of meditation for all of us to avoid regrets at life’s end:

I think if you can develop compassion for yourself, you’re not going to have regrets. Rather than judging yourself for something you did or didn’t do and having regrets about it, you can actually look back on it later with compassion for who you once were. I think in our busy lives, without meditation, it’s very easy to be ruled by your busy mind, by fear and others’ expectations. I think once you do connect with that part of yourself with a regular practice, there comes a time when your heart speaks too loudly for you to ignore.[4]

Regarding the regrets expressed by her patients, Ware predicts that some of these sentiments may change over time, based on evolving gender roles, generational attitudes toward counseling and therapy, and the widespread use of the Internet and social media to stay connected with friends. I encourage you to read the complete interview on Mindful.org.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 


 

[1] “Nurse Reveals Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,” Mindful.org, Dec. 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Video Workshop: Mindfulness As Self Care with Dr. Pamela Cappetta

I taught this workshop on Mindfulness as Self Care to a group at the School of Education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA on Jan. 25, 2014. We recorded the sessions and offer them to you here in three short sections totaling 45 minutes. I hope it will be 45 minutes well spent on your journey to greater calm and focus in your life.

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

Mindfulness as Self Care, part 1

Mindfulness as Self Care, part 2

Mindfulness as Self Care, part 3

Mindfulness Is a Way of Life

I’m gratified by the peace and joy that I see in my Mindfulness Practice students as they learn to work with stress and their emotions. Through Mindfulness techniques they’re able to decrease their reactions to the stress and achieve tranquility in their lives. Mindfulness is gaining wide adoption in our society, as shown by many recent articles in the mainstream media. Why this growing focus on mindfulness?

Some supporters note the hectic pace of our daily lives, which tend to be overscheduled and rife with distractions and information overload.  More than ever before, it seems, we look for tools and skills to maintain our sense of self amidst the noise and demands for our attention. Ironically, the “time saving” devices we use can be part of the problem. As Kate Pickert says in the February 3, 2014 issue of Time Magazine (paywall):

“In a time when no one seems to have enough time, our devices allow us to be many places at once–but at the cost of being unable to fully inhabit the place where we actually want to be.”

That constant pull away from the place where we actually want to be can take a toll on our sense of wellbeing, draining our resilience and frustrating our intentions to live life fully. Mindfulness practice can help! As Pickert observes,

“If distraction is the pre-eminent condition of our age, then mindfulness, in the eyes of its enthusiasts, is the most logical response. Its strength lies in its universality. Though meditation is considered an essential means to achieving mindfulness, the ultimate goal is simply to give your attention fully to what you’re doing. One can work mindfully, parent mindfully and learn mindfully. One can exercise and even eat mindfully. The banking giant Chase now advises customers on how to spend mindfully.”

It’s true that whatever we’re doing, we can do it with intentional awareness. Even when we’re not “doing” something (maybe especially when we’re simply “being”), we can be intentionally aware of our own thoughts and feelings.

I like to describe Mindfulness as “waking up to what is.” It’s a non-judging awareness in the present moment. It’s possible to bring mindfulness into all activities of daily life, both internal and external. Practitioners enjoy lower stress and greater calmness, in the mind and the body. We gain insight and wisdom into the habits of judging, thinking and reacting that are at the core of stress reactions.

If the promises of improved wellness for mind and body seem too good to be true, consider the medical evidence that support these claims. In 1979 Jon Kabat-Zinn, the best-known proponent of mindfulness practice in this country, joined with three physicians to open a stress-reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts that was based on meditation and mindfulness.

“Almost immediately, some of the clinic’s patients reported that their pain levels diminished. For others, the pain remained the same, but the mindfulness training made them better able to handle the stress of living with illness. They were able to separate their day-to-day experiences from their identity as pain patients.”[i]

Kabat-Zinn’s program eventually became the curriculum that’s now used by hundreds of Mindfulness teachers. Numerous studies have been funded by Congress and the NIH to evaluate the effectiveness of MBSR [Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction]:

“… scientists have been able to prove that meditation and rigorous mindfulness training can lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, increase immune response and possibly even affect gene expression. Scientific study is also showing that meditation can have an impact on the structure of the brain itself. Building on the discovery that brains can change based on experiences and are not, as previously believed, static masses that are set by the time a person reaches adulthood, a growing field of neuroscientists are now studying whether meditation–and the mindfulness that results from it–can counteract what happens to our minds because of stress, trauma and constant distraction. The research has fueled the rapid growth of MBSR and other mindfulness programs inside corporations and public institutions.”[ii]

Whether you’re seeking tools to cope with chronic pain, or to find clarity, or to restore your sense of balance and inner peace, I urge you to consider Mindfulness practice. There are many resources available to help you get started:

Peace,

Dr. Pamm

 

 


[i] Pickert, Kate. “The Mindful Revolution,” TIME, Feb. 3, 2014.

[ii] Ibid.

Free Download: “5 Practices for a Mindful Day”

5 Practices for a Mindful Day is handy guide for developing this natural human ability – it’s not all in your head! Please download this free PDF—courtesy of Mindful.org—and begin to manage your stress with these simple and effective tips.

Mindfulness Meditation: Self-care for Busy People

Notice your breathing as you begin to read this article. Take a few nice breaths and notice if you can feel the texture of your breath as it crosses over your lips or through your nostrils. Notice your thoughts. Are you judging whether this piece will catch your attention or if you will stop reading now? Are you thinking about what has to be done when you finish this article?

If you followed the suggestions above you have already begun to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is practiced by paying attention to purpose in your life as it unfolds moment by moment. By using a lens of non-judgment and curiosity we can begin to view our lives with more acceptance and compassion. There is evidence that this practice helps decrease automatic responses to stress and increase neuroplasticity in the brain (new brain cells).

Mindfulness is often done in a formal meditation but can be done anywhere and anytime as a form of self-care. By becoming committed to this simple practice of paying attention and “naming and noting” the present moment experiences, we become aware of patterns of thought that disrupt our peacefulness. Return to your breath over and over to keep the ever wandering mind in the present moment.

Notice your body. Are you sitting down or standing up as you read? Do you have any aches or pains in your body? Notice the clothing you have on today. Do you like the colors and textures of the clothing?

Notice your emotions. Are you feeling: Peaceful? Anxious? Calm? Rushed? Sad? Joyful? Sleepy?

One of my favorite homework assignments for myself and my clients is to watch the wind blow for ten minutes daily. Often folks look at me like I am crazy when I make this suggestion. Try it. Watching the wind blow is a simple process. You have time.

Watch your breath and notice the way you feel when you breathe. Notice your surroundings. Look at the colors of objects around you. If you can’t get outside, notice the air from a fan blowing. Notice how the breeze or stillness of the air touches your skin.

Becoming an active member of your self-care team will be time well spent!!

This post by Dr. Pamela Cappetta was first published on Behavioral Health Matters.

Behavioral Health Matters web site