Attending Intentionally to What Matters in This Moment

What if I feel guilty for focusing on meaning when basic needs demand my attention?

It may feel incredibly difficult or even indulgent to consider what brings us meaning when we are facing such a collective threat to our health and our financial stability. It may also feel trivializing to invoke the words of a Holocaust survivor here, as even though what we are facing is difficult, it is nowhere near the level of the atrocities which Frankl witnessed and endured.

Yet he suffered such unfathomable horror, pain, and loss, that the wisdom he emerged with certainly seems worth attending to during our own trying times. Additionally, suffering is not something that is meant to be compared. Frankl (1959) himself noted, “suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore, the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative” (p. 44).

In other words, we do not have to experience the rock bottom of human atrocity in order to allow ourselves space and self-compassion for our emotional experience in the midst of suffering. This is hard. Your pain makes sense. 

An important piece of the psychological flexibility puzzle is mindfulness.

So, how exactly do we empower ourselves to become more psychologically flexible? A good place to start is with mindfulness, or present centered awareness. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1994), founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction, succinctly defines mindfulness as the ongoing practice of “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally” (p. 4).

In her book, Be Mighty: A Woman’s Guide to Liberation from Anxiety, Worry, & Stress Using Mindfulness & Acceptance, CSAM director Dr. Jill Stoddard (2019) invites us to imagine that when we are not engaging mindfully, we are like airplanes on autopilot. Not fully present to what is happening inside and outside of our skin, we are running on muscle memory. We are still making choices for which we are responsible, but we are not totally conscious of the fact that we are doing so.

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