I recently got a gentle order from my doctor to look into Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) as an approach to help overcome some of the health issues I’ve been facing this year: severe asthma exacerbations, migraines, and GI distress. My physician extolled the virtues of reducing stress in relationship to boosting the immune system, being more in touch with the warning signs our bodies give us when we are getting ill, and being more in touch with ourselves to in fact heed those warning signs when they come -- instead of pushing through to the point of illness. I know of two dear friends and nurse colleagues who have done the 8-week MBSR training, and of course I reached out and shared my MBSR prescription with both of them. One of those women is Mary Mueller, a nurse mentor and colleague I’ve known since before I knew I wanted to be a nurse! When I told Mary I was going back to school to become a nurse, she generously gifted me the stethoscope she used in nursing school and a starched white nurse hat.
When I told Mary I was planning to enroll in an 8-week online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, she generously gifted me the following insights:
“Before taking the Mindfulness class by Jon Kabat-Zinn, I had some experience with meditation through Yoga. I noticed how calm and peaceful I felt even after 5 minutes of laying on the floor on my Yoga mat. I also had difficulty dealing with the stresses in my life. I am a reader, loved reading self-help books, read so many books about meditation, Buddhism, ways to look at my life in a healthier way. I visited some Meditation Centers in the Twin Cities, took a meditation class at one. It was difficult to motivate myself to have a formal practice at home or use the meditation in my daily life. I saw this class listed in the Wellness Center at Penny George Institute of Health and Healing and decided to give it a try, especially since it came with Nursing CEUs and I used MNA money to pay for the class.
It truly made a huge difference in my life. The course made me really understand what meditation is, and how to create a daily practice. For me, meditation is becoming aware of how I was reacting to all the stresses and experiences in my life. Here's a list of most important realizations:
• I have learned how to love accept and be kind to myself. To be aware that I already have everything I need inside of me to be happy and content with me and the life I have created.
• I am not my thoughts, my thoughts come and go and I can let them go, go on to another thought and while I am sitting meditating I can give myself permission to sit with a thought, look at it say " oh that's an interesting thought", then go on to the next thought. I do not have to jump up and fix or react to the thought. I can observe it, be with it, and know that it is only a thought.
• I can be in the moment, then when my "monkey mind" starts off on a worry, rumination of past mistakes, regrets, future worries, anxious thought, i can notice what my mind is doing, and change my habit of staying with that anxiety or worry. It is a habit. I can let it rest, visit it another day, and go back to being in the moment, meditate on the breath, another thought, an object I see, or a sound I hear. Then when my mind wanders again I can recognize it happening, kindly say, "oh my monkey mind got me again," then each time it happens I am kind to myself, bringing the thoughts back into the moment, and continue on. I don't need to criticize myself, beat myself up. I can give loving kindness to me as I do with others.
• There are many people around me who struggle with the same sufferings and anxieties, we can all support each other, this life is about connecting to all around us, we are all in the same boat. We can accept and honor each other in this journey. We all want happiness, we all have basic goodness, and we all want to be free from suffering. We are in this together. This is comforting and calming. Meditation is not just about me sitting on my cushion. It’s about me taking care of myself with the intention of then being able to care for others. I think about that intention every time I meditate and it is very comforting.
Meditation has allowed me to accept myself as I am, and to take care of myself FIRST and then be kind and genuine to others. I am by no means perfect, I still have days where I get depressed, anxious, overwhelmed. Some days I do not know why I am even sitting there meditating, I do not understand in many ways why this works. But I see myself getting back on track more quickly and feeling more joy and appreciation and gratitude for all that is good in my life. We do not need to be perfect, just able to love and be loved. And be aware of all around us.”
When I asked Mary how mindfulness and meditation practices have affected her nursing practice, she offered this:
“Oh my gosh, meditation and mindfulness have greatly impacted my nursing care. I've learned how to take care of myself so I can genuinely care of others. I am more focused throughout the day. Nursing is all about thinking of others, what do they need now, what will they need when they are sent home, how do they feel, how can I help them relieve their pain. If I am mindful and aware of my needs away from work, I can be more mindful at work. If I am compassionate and kind, less judgmental to myself, I know then how to be that way with others. It's like I am practicing the art and science of caring for myself. Then, I can practice care on others. If I notice my thoughts, my feelings, and my responses to stresses, I can notice them in my patients and families and respond more effectively.
I have a formal meditation practice for 20-30 minutes a day. During that 20 minutes, I notice, I observe, I am aware of what is happening in my mind, my feelings, and my thoughts. I pause, I listen, I look, I hear. I then am able to notice and be aware of what goes on throughout the rest of the day. I have more tools in my box to cope with the stresses and chaos in life, both at work and at home. I have a more balanced life. To be a nurse, the balance is necessary.”
Editor’s note: Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, graduated with a BSN in nursing from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1976. She has been a pediatric nurse for 40 years at the time of this publication. Mary spent all but one year of her nursing career in a hospital setting. Her one-year break from hospital nursing was in 1978, when she was a VISTA Volunteer (domestic Peace Corp) in South Texas working with children of Migrant Farm workers. Mary has worked at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota for 27 years. She started in the Special Care Nursery/NICU, migrated to the Float Team for 14 years, and is presently working in the Surgery Center at Children's/Minneapolis. Mary has been married for 34 years to her best friend and soulmate, Terry Dussault. Their family consists of three adult daughters; Emily, and husband Tanner, Lauren, and husband Chris, and their youngest, Carolyn, is a senior in college. Mary clearly lives the breadth and depth of her life and I am so grateful for the rich and insightful reflections she shared in the above guest blog post.
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