What brought you to take Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction?
Not that I couldn’t have benefited from it long before I started, but my tipping point was after my daughter suffered a traumatic event. Even though she was a young adult at the time, I had an urge to ‘parent’ her and had no idea how to do that. It seemed like every step I took to help backfired. I felt unprepared and ill equipped to effectively guide her through her healing and really, my healing as well. Parents naturally want to take their children’s struggles and pain as their own burden as a way to protect them. It isn’t helpful for anyone. MBSR gave me tools to cope with all the emotions that I was feeling. I discovered a patient, caring and present parent in place of the lost soul that was created by the trauma.
What did you discover about yourself during and/or after the course?
Being my best self by letting go of expectations that cause stress, being present and nonjudgmental, allows for a more companionate, loving and supportive parent and frankly, person. I am more loving of myself and that translates into being more compassionate with others.
Why do you continue to practice mindfulness? What are your deeper intentions?
It is a journey. There isn’t a point where you say, I’m done, I reached the end. There will always be struggles and suffering. Life is full of those and now, I am able to face those with a different lens. Because, even in times of suffering, there is joy. My relationships are stronger, the little irritating things of life seem to just fall away instead of festering. It isn’t perfect, it never will be but if such deep changes came about in such a short time from regularly sitting quietly, how is that not a big deal, it’s huge, transformative, freeing and incredibly meaningful.
Has mindfulness changed how you live or your outlook on life? If so, how?
Mindfulness is sneaky. You don’t think that it is doing anything. When I first started to meditate, I was alarmed at the amount of thoughts that went through my head. I incorrectly assumed that my mind would be absent of thoughts, feelings and calm. I was exhausted and I resisted. When the pandemic started, I started to meditate daily instead of the rather random practice I had previously maintained. With formal practice and accepting that the mind is full of thinking, that is what it does and to just observe, it changed me. It turned a pandemic that feels restrictive for most, into what I view as an incredible gift. The time with family, new ideas on how to do things, connecting with others, and allowed me to recognize what was essential to my existence instead of what I thought was so important. Now, when something difficult occurs in my life, I turn to meditation, not to clear my mind but to let the thoughts have their way. I see them all, which is what they want, and I don’t try to hold on to them. If emotions well up, I let them be. They are like small children demanding attention and if I ignore them, they throw a tantrum so now I embrace them until they are ready to run along and go play.
Meditation isn’t a vacuum of thoughts but more like the photos on my screensaver. They come and go without much fanfare most days. And what could be better than that?
What do you do for your career, hobby, volunteering?
My love for being outdoors hiking, gardening, and anything near water directed me to degrees in environmental education and secondary education. After working for a short time as a park ranger, then office assistant, I worked as a naturalist with a focus on early childhood programming because although my degree didn’t prepare me for early childhood, my daughter did. As life goes, my path turned and am no longer a naturalist. I am the Polk County Conservation Water Quality Monitoring Program Coordinator, manage the reservation system and archive system. Nature is a passion, integral part of my career and a hobby. I am so grateful to be able to work with all the dedicated staff that provide quality outdoor experiences and natural spaces that allow our bodies and souls to be free, fill us with joy and provide everlasting memories.
In addition to providing more than 15,000 acres of prairies, wetlands, woodlands and 22 parks, wildlife areas and recreational trails to explore, Polk County Conservation also provides education and outdoor recreational opportunities. Several years ago, we added a wellness program to our educational opportunities, a great fit as we know being active outside is good for our physical and emotional health. Programming which explores wellness practices, new to us but those that have been around for many years, like forest bathing, yoga and meditation are regularly offered throughout the county. Find out more here: Wellness Programs sponsored by Unity Point
Research has proven time in nature lowers blood pressure, improves depression, anxiety, and decreases cortisol levels. Trees and plants in nature give off chemicals called phytoncides. These forest chemicals boost the immune system, improve mental health, and self-esteem. Many doctors are now prescribing nature to improve the patients overall health and wellness.
Learn more about Polk County Conservation here: www.leadingyououtdoors.org Ginny says they’re always looking for volunteers to help with their water quality monitoring program! Click here for more info.