Can you be mindful when it counts?

Meditation seems so much easier when you are sitting in your regular spot with your usual accouterments.  It is relatively easy to be mindful when you are doing something mundane like brushing your teeth or walking or eating.  Have you ever had a very stressful event when you really needed to be mindful?  The other day I had two major events that required my ability to consciously shift my awareness out of my subconscious fight or flight drive and into conscious mind.  I needed to immediately activate my prefrontal cortex and my anterior cingulate cortex.  The first event was catching a plane to go to Vancouver.  I was asked to present at a conference on Mindfulness in Healthcare to over one hundred conference attendees.  Flying as been a tricky thing for me.  Many of you know that I have run off of two planes just before push back due to panic attacks.  Thanks to meditation and mindfulness, I have largely got it under control (thanks also Ativan and beer).  I have experienced several successful flight since my two rude ejections a few years ago.  

Yesterday we were catching a plane to go to Vancouver for the conference.  While waiting in the lounge area for boarding, I started to get that old familiar feeling: prickling skin, sweating, racing heart, and I stopped talking.  Siri notices these signs quickly and deftly slides an Ativan across the table.  I put it under my tongue and begin to focus on breathing.  To add to the mindful experience, I listen to a meditation audio track on breathing.  I start to relax.  We wait until the last possible moment before boarding.  Being herded like cattle down the Jetway contributes to my anxiety as I feel like I am being led to slaughter.  Once the plane pushes back, and the air flows, I am all good.  The flight was bumpy but that never has been my concern or trigger – it is always the lack of airflow.  As you know when they shut the door and they wait for the engines to fire-up, there is no air flowing and this is what kicks off (or used to) my panic attacks.  It is essentially a hypoxic reaction.  

We make it to Vancouver without a hitch.  Thankfully the years of mindful practices pays off.  We quickly settle into sleep at the hotel as the presentation on Mindfulness in Healthcare is the next morning.  We wake-up early and a bit groggy – Ativan still lingering.   We caught a cab to the conference.  We arrived to meet the conference organizers who seemed to know who we were but they couldn’t find our name tags – no big deal.  We met some lovely people and enjoyed the keynote speaker.  After lunch it was my turn.  I never experience tech problems because I always have back-ups.  I also have no anxiety with public speaking.  Thirty minutes before the presentation I check my presentation by handing my flash drive to the tech support guy.  I am most concerned to see whether my embedded videos will work as they are the most important part of my ninety minute show. The videos did not work.  Now five minutes to start.  Time for mindful practice Brett.  I smile and focus on deep belly breathing.  Eureka! I remember I brought my laptop.  We quickly switch cables and with a minute to spare, it seems the videos work!  

I am introduced and I begin…showtime!  I start the group with a meditation – not guided…just a two minute experience of silence.  I ask them to open their eyes and they seem receptive.  After my bio, I jump into some theory on the brain and how meditation works (if you want to see the video, it is here:  The group seems to be hanging in there with the more dry part of the presentation.  I know the good stuff is coming.  My awesome videos that explain the concepts perfectly and then…it…happens!  My computer starts to randomly shut down.  At first it was every few minutes and then every few seconds.  The tech guy wanted to switch computers but I knew my videos would only work on my computer.  Every time it crashes, there is a collective and audible sigh of disappointment.  I could lose my mind!  But I do not.  I practice what I preach and breath through the challenges.  We get through the videos and then switch computers.  The last few slides work flawlessly.  The presentation is over.  A sympathetic applause ensues.  I thank them for their patience.  A mindful group of attendees comes up and offers support and seemingly genuine compliments.  I survived an ordeal that could have been a disaster.  I have seen presenters lose their mind over technical failures.  It is stressful presenting in front of a group of people who are hanging on your word – judging and evaluating.  Even without technical challenges, it gets your cortisol flowing.  It is during these times when mindfully focusing on your breathing can help avert disaster.  

The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, try to apply the acronym S.T.O.P.  Stop what you are doing.  Take a breath. Observe what is happening in your body.   Plan to try a different approach.