Reflections on Mindfulness by Mary Mueller, BSN, RN

Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, enjoys a daily meditation practice that she carries with her in her travels and in her 40 year career as a pediatric nurse.
Mary Mueller, BSN, RN, enjoys a daily meditation practice that she carries with her in her travels and in her 40 year career as a pediatric nurse.

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.”

Mary's caption: I'm pictured here (right) with my very long time friend. We met in nursing school, 44 years ago. She is now a Nurse Practitioner with many degrees including one in Alternative Health and Healing. She lives in NYC, we talk all the time, about life, health and meditation. This picture is the two of us at my daughter's wedding, on the sandy beach where the wedding ceremony took place. It was lovely.
Mary's caption: I'm pictured here (right) with my very long time friend. We met in nursing school, 44 years ago. She is now a Nurse Practitioner with many degrees including one in Alternative Health and Healing. She lives in NYC, we talk all the time, about life, health and meditation. This picture is the two of us at my daughter's wedding, on the sandy beach where the wedding ceremony took place. It was lovely.

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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10 thoughts on “Reflections on Mindfulness by Mary Mueller, BSN, RN

  1. Cathy Bobbe

    I loved reading the interview and connecting in this small way with my college friend Mary Mueller. Just reading Mary's answers to your questions was wonderful for me! Thanks for posting this. Since I am recently retired from teaching, I have more time to be mindful of the choices I am making in my thinking and in my daily life. I wish I had had more of a 'practice' when I was in the midst of my teaching career with all the pressures that accompanied it. The work you do in the medical field is so important for all of us. I congratulate you all for actively seeking balance in your lives and giving so much to others.

    1. TheRN

      Thank you for your robust comment and continued insights on this topic, Cathy. I was just telling a nursing student that I wish I would have discovered a path to a mindfulness practice while learning other crucial skills in care delivery. It's never too late to start and to encourage others to start even earlier, eh? I appreciate your reflection and remarks. What a wonderful friendship you've maintained with Mary since you were nursing students together some 44 years ago!

  2. Barbara Wang

    Great post. I also have taken the MBSR and took away much from it. It is so freeing to be able to think about your thoughts and let them go, rather than creating the monkey-mind we have the tendency for. Keep telling these good stories!

    1. TheRN

      Thanks so much for your comment, Barb...and for sharing your context with MBSR. I'm only four days into the 8-week training and I can already identify with your reflection on the program. Eager to continue the dialogue with you!

  3. Marlys

    Thank you Mary for the beautiful post. Mindfulness has helped me to heal over the past nine years. I consider the practice the most important tool in my toolbox of self care. I was injured in an accident in 2006 and that injury lead to my eventual being disabled. I had to retire from working in 2010. The loss of health and work were overwhelming. It has taken six years to regain better health and peacefulness. My adaptive yoga practice through Mind, Body Solutions has been key to that path for me. Mindfulness is a key component to that yoga practice. We begin each season being reminded by our yoga guide to acknowledge those thoughts you spoke of and let them go for the moment. It is a wonderful feeling to realize I do not have to fix or respond to those thought that weigh me down both mentally and physically. I do believe in self care being key to a persons life.
    We a are free to respond to all other aspects of our life when we take care of ourselves first.
    Thank you Mary for your sharing your thoughts.

  4. Kari B.

    I love how I seem to come across posts from you, Natalie, at "Just the right time"!

    I know I saw this earlier and thought wow that sounds awesome and I really should consider this. I thought gee I wish I knew about the class Natalie is currently participating in before it started, I think I may have signed up for it. Each year, typically in the Spring I believe, there are a series of holistic nursing related classes offered together (through either Penny George or a similar program thru the University of Minnesota I believe). I had considered them in the past but they had not worked well into my work schedule and kids' school schedule. As I became more involved in the REGULAR use of essential oils (over the last two years) not surprisingly my interest in these topics has grown. This past winter I was thinking our schedules and life circumstances might make it the perfect time to look for those class offerings again. Life threw me a few curve balls and that thought was lost in the mix. In reality it still might have been the perfect time to pursue those courses but my mind was focused elsewhere and extremely distracted to boot. Now as I am transitioning back into hospital work and thinking deeply about what is best for both myself and my family going forward. NOW seems like THE right time to begin looking into this again. I know mindfulness would be helpful to me in life and at work (regardless of where I am working), I also think it would help a lot in the ways Mary has so eloquently described, specifically in my work in the PICU and Cardiac units settings at Children's. After 11+ years, and added demands that came with having children (& being a mostly-stay-at-home mom), I am finding the stress and high emotional demands in that setting are becoming harder on me personally and as a result I have a harder time staying focused rather than tumbling into the next "thing that comes up".

    I used to work often with Mary in the Float Team, especially when we would work as Transport Nurses together. Like some other nurse co-workers she is someone I have always felt a deeper connection with. I respect her compassion, integrity, honesty, calm demeanor, and skill as a nurse. I have always considered her a mentor even though that is something I would not say often about anyone and despite the fact that we never had a formal mentoring relationship. I truly miss working with her. I had considered contacting her to get together as I contemplate my nursing career during this time of transition. I feel her wisdom, knowledge, and contemplative nature could be very helpful in helping me chart my course going forward. I feel I am doing well with it on my own but that insight from additional eyes and minds that are objective yet have inside knowledge about the context in which I work could be truly invaluable.


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