Mindfulness in the Midst of Chaos

My first bout with anxiety struck me on the first night of a scouting trip to India for my company EllieFunDay. I abruptly woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air. At first, I thought I had an asthma attack and tried using my inhaler to help me breathe. But when that didn’t work, I realized that something worse was happening, I was having a full scale panic attack. My husband told me to breathe slowly, but it felt like the world was caving in on me. I felt like nothing I did was good enough and that no matter how hard I tried this endeavor was going to fail.

Since then, I’ve had other experiences of anxiety, one that landed me in the ER. I was overworked, tired and run down and I knew I need to make a change. Being a social entrepreneur can be a lonely and tough road and it wasn’t until I started having major health issues was I ready to start making some serious life changes.

After an opportune conversation with an old coworker of mine, she mentioned to me that she was taking mindfulness classes and said it was a game-changer for her. One key advice that she gave me was “You can’t take care of any one, if you don’t take care of yourself first.” Sage wisdom that I certainly knew in the back of my head but unfortunately, didn’t hit home until now. So I started researching for practices on mindfulness and the whole intention behind it. Mindfulness is a practice of bringing awareness to oneself and being able to be present and intentional.

I occasionally picked up a bit of this during yoga classes, but as I dug deeper I knew that I needed to find a way to make this more of a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, so I didn’t need to feel like I had to add another “extra thing” on my already overwhelming list of to-dos.

That’s when I discovered Centering Prayer, a type of meditation based on the teachings of Thomas Keating, a Cistercian Monk. The premise of Centering Prayer is to practice being still in the presence of the Almighty while focusing on a singular thought, visual or feeling.

The basic practice is this:

  1. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed, relax, and quiet yourself – this means with a straight back and a sense of awareness so that one does not fall asleep.
  2. Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Almighty’s presence and open to His divine action within you. These words can be as simple as : Hope, Joy, Love, Trust, Patience. Sometimes I find a meaningful word that I should meditate on for that day.”
  3. Let that word be gently present in your mind as a symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Almighty’s presence and open to His divine action within you.
  4. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.
  5. Use a timer: General practice times can range from 20 min to an hour, if not longer. Because this is a practice (not something to be achieved), it’s good to build up to your time. There are a couple of smartphone apps that gently ease you into centering prayer. I like to use Abide or The Centering Prayer App.

Through practicing this daily, I found the benefits weren’t necessarily immediate, but more so restorative through time. One the biggest changes I’ve noticed in myself was my own level of self-awareness.  I started paying attention to my own feelings, thoughts and personal needs. As the CEO, I’m always looking out for everyone else and constantly putting out fires, and I often forget that I’m hungry, tired or feeling stretched. But more recently, just being more aware of my own needs has taught me to stop and eat, exercise or rest. It’s also helped me gain a deeper sense of control over my thoughts. I have the crazy, “monkey” brain of a creative and it often goes into a million different directions. Meditation helps me focus more intensely on a given task rather then become distracted by the things around me.

So many times as women, we are caregivers, leaders, wives, bosses, etc. and the world tells us we can have it all. That’s an immense amount of pressure to put on ourselves. But this practice of just learning to “be” in the presence without the pressures of what we “should” be doing in the moment is so countercultural to our hyper-productive society. My hope is that the “being” will fuel us down the road to be good at the “doing”.


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