About a year ago I was asked to give a presentation to a large group of medical residents about what mindfulness is, and the benefits of practicing it. The retreat they were attending was about death and dying. The doctor who asked me to open the retreat was forthright in sharing that the previous years had not gone so well. He mentioned the residents were very disengaged and distracted throughout the day. He was hoping I could get it off on the right foot.

In typical molly fashion, I excitedly accepted a new challenge. 

The morning of the retreat arrived. I woke up after a fitful night sleep to a ping pong match in my gut. As I moved through my morning routine, the sensations shifted to an elephant sitting on my chest. Driving to the retreat, my mind was racing wondering how and why I thought this was a good idea. My entire nervous system was on high alert. I arrived a few minutes early, walked into the room, and found a space tucked in the corner. I sat down to gather myself. As the residents began filing into the space around me, my entire torso grew hot and heavy, while my hands and feet went cold. My heart began thumping in my chest, while I was transported back to my childhood. I’m the athletic sister sandwiched between two brilliant brothers. With my doctor father, and nurse mother, I was surrounded by very logical thinking human beings. My brain thought that way, but only to point.  Which was nowhere near theirs. I became 17 again, heading to the SAT exams to get into college with my 13 year old brother, who was taking it for fun. (Yes, you read that correctly. Some people think standardized tests can be fun). I found myself trying to appear smaller and smaller. Suddenly, I became aware of these thoughts and sensations, and took a moment to close my eyes. I felt my breath enter my nostrils and exit slowly out my mouth. I felt my tush in the chair, and my feet on the ground. I let myself feel the weight of gravity holding my body still and steady. I reminded myself that my presence in this room mattered. I didn’t need to be the smartest one in the room, I just needed to remain present and open to the experience of sharing my medical story, my knowledge, and my practices with the people around me. 

I joined the gathered group of soon to be doctors. I sat down while their eyes turned to me. I felt myself sitting in my chair again, my feet on the ground and my body breathing me. The sweat began to drip from my armpits because that is simply how my body responds to nervousness. I started to speak. I sat up strong and tall. I spoke soft and clear. I shared the benefits of regular mindful practice, and I guided them through some practices they could take with them on their journeys, to help in times of stress.

I share this story with the middle schoolers I teach. It’s a powerful example of how our bodies and minds react to stress, and the tools we have within to settle down our nervous systems. The simple acts of stopping, checking in, and self-compassion can be superpowers. They are lying just beneath the surface, waiting for us to connect with them.

The doctor who asked me to do this later shared with me that this was his best Death and Dying Retreat to date. 

Go ahead, try on your newfound superpowers! Need help?

Happy to custom fit your new SuperSuit – just connect with me!

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.

~Pema Chodron

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