top of page

Peace may take practice

Updated: Sep 20, 2021

Practicing mindfulness/meditation can help our brain learn more calming habits even when we are not meditating.

View of a mountain range in early morning light.
"It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation which brings happiness." - Thomas Jefferson

Mindfulness or meditation may seem mysterious but it is quite simple - being present, noticing the anger at the overheated feeling and letting it go in the moment rather than focusing it more on the thermostat or fossil fuel companies. Short term reactions can be coped with calmly which frees up more brain energy for planning a constructive response to the concern such as helping to organize the building of a local recycling center. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes seven underlying attitudes to try to include in the practice of mindfulness in his book Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, (1). Whatever you are doing can incorporate a more mindful attitude about it - simply meaning being more in the moment rather than worrying about the past or future or fairness or unfairness.

The attitudes to try to develop for living more mindfully according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD, include:

  1. Non-Judging acceptance of thoughts or feeling, even if judgmental.

  2. Patience to let time take the time it needs for healing, or for the clock to reach the end of the work day and be present in each moment.

  3. Beginner's Mind, a child-like openness to experiences without expectations based on previous experiences or what you may have been told.

  4. Trust - in yourself and your own understanding of you. Trying to copy someone else's meditation style is not mindfulness or meditation - so no mysteries - trust what feels right to you - in each moment.

  5. Non-Striving, let go of goals, especially the goal to relax, or the goal to relax specifically for 15 minutes or 30 minutes or however many minutes - like saying "Chill out, bruh," you may just get more anxious or angry. Some people may find going for a walk or doing the dishes or sweeping the floor to be meditatively relaxing.

  6. Acceptance - of your current state of health or other issues can help work through stages of grieving if need be rather than staying angry or in denial about the issues. Appreciating your body and life in the now can help free up energy to work towards changing things rather than being stuck in anger or denial or mired down in depression. Change happens, getting old is not for sissies, to paraphrase Bette Davis.

  7. Letting Go or non-attachment - we tend to cling to positive experiences and don't want them to end and resist negative experiences and try to avoid thinking about them or doing them - but the dishes still need to be washed. Mindfulness or meditation works towards accepting both positive and negative without clinging or resisting. "Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be," to quote Doris Day's famous song lyric.

Bonus attitudes that are helpful for living mindfully according to Jon Kabat-Zinn: Non-harming, generosity, gratitude, forbearance, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, empathic joy, and equanimity. (pages 21-31, 1)

Full Catastrophe Living may seem like a negative title for a book about mindfulness however Jon Kabat-Zinn explains his reasoning in the introduction. Life is full of ups and downs and acceptance of the catastrophes and the joys is life. The downs help make the ups that much more joyful and today's catastrophe is tomorrow's funny story or important lesson.

In Cognitive regulation treatment patients are taught to modify their thinking in ways that can help modify their emotions. What we think about what we are feeling can make things better or worse for our mood and for our health. Four basic strategies or lessons for patients to learn and practice are described in a research article about an area of the brain that may be involved in helping us control our fear response. (2)

  • Changing what we are thinking about an issue can help us modify our emotions and reactions to the issue.

  • The experiences that a person has had in the past may help us control our feelings about new experiences.

  • Learning new information can help us modify our thoughts and emotions about an issue or event.

  • 'Catastrophizing' can be a common thought process where irrational thinking about an issue can lead us to believe that things are worse than they really are.

  • For more detail see: (Shurick et al., 2012; Raio et al., 2013).

Whether a catastrophe is real or as bad as we think it seems, accepting the situation can help us calm down enough to cope with it better. Overheated bodies may make us feel angry or anxious and pausing to recognize those feelings, 'Gosh I am sweaty and thirsty, and cranky and maybe I should get a glass of cold water before making this important phone call,' can help save us some real catastrophes of our own making.

Reference List

  1. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness, (1990, 2013 revised edition).

  2. Kroes MCW, Dunsmoor JE, Hakimi M, et al. Patients with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex lesions are capable of discriminatory threat learning but appear impaired in cognitive regulation of subjective fear. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2019;14(6):601–612. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz039


bottom of page