by Krystn Ledoux
I could feel my eyes growing heavy and grainy as I sighed deeply and cast a weary glance at the paintbrush in my hand. It was well after 11 p.m. and I knew it was time to put my home renovations and myself to bed for the night. As has become my ritual since we purchased our fixer-upper last fall, I moved quickly with my cleanup, hoping to steal a few precious minutes of relaxation before my eyes closed involuntarily.
We each have our unique definition of what passes for relaxation and mine happens to be catching up on the day’s news before bed. It is a habit that I have never been able to shed, born of a long career in politics. As the soft glow of the TV filled my darkened house, I was immediately assaulted with the horrific headline: 22 DEAD IN TERROR ATTACK AT ARIANA GRANDE CONCERT IN MANCHESTER UK. Images of panic-stricken teens, ’tweens, children and their parents immediately sent me careening into a familiar routine. Momentary shock followed by immense sadness and, ultimately, a rising sense of panic and fear.
As a child, my family, friends and teachers labeled me as “sensitive.” The pain, sadness, joys and triumphs of others have always readily become mine. I never considered this to be a particular liability until the boundless optimism and carefree days of my youth gave way to the realities and responsibilities of adulthood and parenting. Over time, my highly sensitive and empathetic nature transformed into progressively crippling anxiety and fear.
As the horrific news from England played in an endless loop, my mind went into overdrive unleashing emotions and thoughts too overwhelming to process. What if that had been my 11-year-old daughter and me at the concert? How can I help? Those poor innocent kids! Oh god, please tell me my friends who moved to England weren’t there. I want to turn back time and make everyone safe. I’ve been down this well-worn path so many times before that the ending is almost never in doubt. I was doomed to a sleepless night of tears and panic, pacing the house, endlessly checking on my children, praying for exhaustion to bring respite.
But last night was different. Mixed in with my jumble of thoughts and emotions, I could almost hear my colleague telling me to “just breathe.” Calling me a novice at mindfulness might be overly generous, but since I began working at Copper Beech Institute, mindfulness has become a part of my daily life. However, prior to last night, I had never attempted to use mindfulness in a moment of crisis. With nothing to lose, I turned off the TV, got comfortable and found my breath.
My breath was ragged and irregular at first, and focusing on it wasn’t very calming. As my breathing slowly returned to normal, though, I found my mind following suit. Everything I had been thinking and feeling was still there, but it was like someone had untangled a hopelessly jumbled string of Christmas lights. I felt able to concentrate on one thought at a time, accept it, file it away, and move on to the next.
I’m almost ashamed to admit that at some point, I became so relaxed that I fell sound asleep. My husband found me on the couch this morning, puzzled as to why I was still dressed and not under a blanket. He regarded me with barely concealed amusement and mild suspicion as I recounted the prior night’s events. Normally his amusement would have annoyed me, but today I am deeply content in knowing that I was able to help myself last night in a way that no medication, therapy, or glass of wine ever has. Though my mindfulness practice may continue to have training wheels for years to come, I am excited and energized to learn more and dive deeper into my inner reservoir of strength and peace.