The Gifts of Mindfulness

The Gifts of Mindfulness

written by Barbara Holtzman

The Chinese symbol for the word “crisis” is a combination of 2 other symbols – “danger” and “opportunity.” We are well aware of the dangers of this time we are living in. But are we taking advantage of the opportunity?

Many people are using this self-quarantine to connect with friends, watch movies, and eat a lot of junk food. I agree that we need to enjoy ourselves, if our circumstances are fortunate enough that we are able. I too am enjoying connecting with friends and family and getting a lot of projects done, in addition to my work. But, if we are just keeping ourselves busy, in my opinion, we are missing a great opportunity.

What is the opportunity? To slow down and be fully present. To feel fully alive.

You know those moments of presence– noticing the vibrant color of a flower, looking into the eyes of a loved one, the exquisiteness of that first bite of chocolate. But it’s a moment and soon enough, we’re busy “doing.” The next project, surfing the internet, or getting lost in thought. Or that delicious bite of chocolate, if we’re not savoring it, has turned into a mindless binge.

Many people have told me that they’re appreciating the calm that comes from slowing down. It allows us to notice – not just the trees budding and the crocuses popping up, but everything. Experiencing appreciation for being warm and cozy while a rainstorm rages outside. Experiencing the joy of connection with our friends and family. Feeling the grief of seeing images of doctors and nurses in Covid 19 combat uniform. Experiencing the fear triggered by reading of the increasing numbers of cases of the virus. Feeling all of it. Not distracting ourselves from it or getting lost in our thoughts about what’s happening. Feeling it in our bodies and hearts – deeply, fully, and letting it move through us, as we hold our experience with awareness and compassion.

How can we bear this? We’ve spent a lifetime avoiding our feelings. We numb with food and alcohol. We distract with TV and internet and just being busy. Our compulsive behaviors, designed to shift us away from pain– usually without our even being aware of it. What’s the harm of it? Maybe none. Unless we want to feel alive while we are still alive.

A few days ago, I noticed that I was feeling numb. Depressed. Instead of reaching for my phone or looking for something to eat – a distraction – I decided to just sit with it. I didn’t try to “figure it out” – my old way of coping. I just sat and paid attention to what I was feeling. And I became aware of grief, very deep grief. And then the sobs arose, crested, and passed. And I felt tired but no longer numb. I felt like myself again.

I’m using this quarantine retreat to slow down and be present to myself. To become more aware of what I’m feeling, wanting, needing. Instead of constantly distracting myself with busyness.

Mindfulness is even helping me keep myself safe. I now notice the itch on my nose or the irritation in my eye and give myself a moment to pause to simply experience the uncomfortable sensation. And just like my sitting with the grief, the sensation builds, crests, and passes – and I don’t have to scratch! I’m practicing using mindfulness to keep myself safe from the virus by learning how to stop touching my face!

There are many ways to learn and practice mindfulness. Simply noticing the sensations of the water, the lather of the soap as we shower, as we wash our hands. If you’d like instruction, there are free courses online – so many resources now available.

I’d like to offer one of my own. I have an mp3 version of my CD that accompanies my book “Conscious Eating, Conscious Living; A Practical Guide to Making Peace with Food & Your Body.” There are 5 guided meditations, including “Coping with Feelings without Using Food” and a “Conscious Eating” experience. I’d like to offer it to you as a gift to help you practice. (Email me at and I will send it to you.)

It’s an opportunity to learn how to be with your emotions without needing to distract or numb or medicate. To learn how to take a pause between the urge for food (or the itch on your nose) and the old, automatic reaction. And in that pause, to discover the freedom that comes with being able to make a choice.

In a few days, I will post another article with more tips on how we can use this opportunity to change our relationship with food. Until then, take good care of yourself – and notice and appreciate everything.

By Barbara L Holtzman, MSW, LICSW, Psychotherapist, Lifestyle Coach, & Author of “Conscious Eating, Conscious Living; A Practical Guide to Making Peace with Food & Your Body”