Social media. News. Think about doing sit-ups. Snacks. Repeat.
This has been the cycle for many of us over the past few days, and while the immediate end may not be in sight, Mindful in Memphis moderator Dr. Chanda Murphy said that focusing on now can lead us to a better later.
Founded over 30 years ago, Mindful in Memphis provides pathways and partners for those who want to learn to develop a peaceful awareness of themselves and others. Mindfulness, as Dr. Murphy said, is a tool that can provide some calm in an anxious time.
Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leaders in mindfulness theory and practice, defines the topic as being purposefully aware of the present moment with non-judgement.
A time like this, when our present moment kind of sucks, may be the perfect moment to begin.
“I know we can’t completely turn off planning or looking into the future, but you can ask yourself what you know now,” Murphy said. “This is an unprecedented time, and none of us know what is going to happen, and so we should try to quit forecasting or control it. Focus on what you do have.”
Around 2014, Dr. Murphy was hospitalized for a stress-related health issues and was told that her “workaholic” lifestyle as a college professor had to change.
“I fell in love with the mindfulness and meditation piece. I became passionate about it during my own struggle with stress, which was getting worse and worse every year when I was teaching my college students,” she said.
Since then, Dr. Murphy has practiced and taught yoga, mindfulness, and meditation techniques to Memphis citizens from all backgrounds. But now, when all we hear seems grim, it can be difficult to find those moments of peace that these practices can provide.
Certainly, the fear of the unknown and factors out of one’s control can be substantial aggravators of stress—two concepts Memphis and the world have gotten to know well in the past few weeks.
“Now more than ever, all of us are getting caught up in the unknown. ‘What happens if my child doesn’t go back to school soon?’ or ‘What happens if my company goes under?’ — ‘What happens if?’”
These are real problems, but problems we cannot change in the present moment with anxiety or stress, Murphy said. An exercise she uses, one we could all use, is to see the positive that may come out of this.
“Every single one us is affected by this in some way. This is forcing us into a time to move slower and practice mindfulness. Many times, we don’t change or develop new habits until we’re forced to do so,” she said.
For many of us, this can be the time to develop some new habits that can carry over into our lives when this is all over, she added.
“A positive way to look at this is to think of the good things that will come out of this. Of course there will be negatives, but this forced way of working in the present moment can only make us better as a society,” she said. “One big thing that people forget in the secularized version of mindfulness is the piece of compassion. It’s needed right now.”
When we look for the bad, that is likely all we’ll find. But Dr. Murphy and others across the city are doing what they can to help.