The Truth About the World

This isn’t a post about how I’ve figured out the meaning of life or why any of us were put on this earth. Rather, it is about a song, and more specifically, about the power of music – to lift us up, to carry us through, to help us heal in times of need.

I was recently introduced to the song “The Truth About the World” by Andrea Marie during a Saturday morning Zoom session with some local Nia sisters. To be honest, I couldn’t hear the song that well through Zoom but fortunately, I tagged it through the Shazam app. Later, I found the song through Apple Music and had a chance to listen more closely. And I was blown away.

The song starts with a simple blend of acoustic guitar and keyboard, with some soft, non-lyric vocals. Then comes the first verse:

Have you grown tired
of feeling alone
Numb to the earth
and numb to the soul

Whoa. My first thought was how these words struck a chord given that so many of us have been staying at home, social distancing since the pandemic started, leading to a sense of isolation – and a need for connection with loved ones, near and far. Then I learned that the song is from an album she released in 2016…and it made me think about how many people may have been feeling this way before the words “corona virus” became a part of the lexicon.

Over the next two verses, a variety of percussion instruments join in as well as some strings. A simple drum beat, echoing a heartbeat, growing louder as the song continues…and then we reach the repeating chorus:

Everyone is hurting
Everyone is searching
Everyone is looking
for the truth about love
For the truth about a god
For the truth about the world

On the fourth and final chorus, the instruments begin to drop out until it is just vocals and the drum beat. A simple end, mirroring the simple beginning to a song that is anything but simple in meaning. And so, so powerful. I have had this song on daily rotation for the last week – sometimes it makes me cry, other times it brings a sense of hope and healing. I was not surprised to learn that the artist is also a member of a contemporary worship band called United Pursuit. I don’t typically listen to “religious” music but there are times when music transcends faith.

Click here to listen to a live performance or search for the song on your favorite music streaming app.

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the self-care strategies that has helped me manage much of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily meditation practice. For almost four years now, I have started my day with Insight Timer, listening to either a guided meditation or meditative music. As anyone who practices mindfulness meditation knows, a mainstay of the practice is focusing on your breath as a way to stay anchored in the present moment. Perhaps now more than ever, I have come to appreciate the calming power of deep breathing.

In thinking about the breath, I had the idea about a month ago to create a playlist of songs that have to do with the breath or breathing. A few favorite songs came to mind and I also did a quick search in my music library. I started with the following songs, but plan to add to the list as I come across others that fit the theme – and contribute to my peace of mind, particularly on those days when I am feeling rattled by the state of the world. Lately, I have been listening to this playlist on Monday mornings, as a way to start off the week on a positive note.

“Breathe” playlist
I’m Alive (with Dave Matthews) – Kenny Chesney
Breathe (feat. Colbie Caillat) – Taylor Swift
breathin – Ariana Grande
Breathe – Michelle Branch
Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to use music as a way to manage the roller coaster of emotions you may experience as this pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, with no clear end in sight. Find songs that will make you smile when you are feeling down, as well as those that will help you relax when you’re wound a little too tight. You can even throw in the ones that make you want to get up and move. Create your #pandemicplaylists and tap into the healing power of music.

Highlights from the Mindfulness in America Summit

Last year, I fortuitously stumbled across the Mindfulness in America Summit held in New York City in October. I could not attend in person due to the distance, but they had a wonderfully inexpensive option to join via live broadcast. It was a wonderful day-and-a-half program with a number of leading experts in the field of mindfulness. I had hoped to attend in person this year, but alas, had to opt for the virtual ticket again. Nevertheless, it was another amazing experience with more excellent speakers. I thought I would share some of the highlights and the incredible ways that mindfulness is being applied in so many different arenas.

Day 1

The conference opened with the father of modern-day mindfulness himself, Jon Kabat-Zinn. He led participants in a sitting meditation but made the point that every moment is the meditation. The message: yes, our daily mindfulness practice is important to build the skill, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that living our lives with awareness from moment to moment is what mindfulness is really about.

  • Mindfulness and Politics: I was so excited to hear from Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH), author of “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.” He was asked how mindfulness can help individuals deal with the current divisiveness present in our country these days. He emphasized the need for all of us to return to civility and understand that those with differing opinions are not stupid. He also shared an update on three key pieces of legislation related to mindfulness:
    • Federal education funds designated for use on social and emotional learning in schools, including programs to teach students mindfulness.
    • The creation of grants to help modify VFW facilities to include rooms for mind-body practices such as meditation.
    • The creation of a wellness program on Capitol Hill, to include mental health counselors trained in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques as well as designated rooms in congressional buildings for meditation and similar practices.

 

  • The New Face of Mindfulness: There was a panel at the end of the day with three leaders representing the “new faces of mindfulness”: Jesse Israel (of The Big Quiet), Gabrielle Prisco (Executive Director of the Lineage Project) and Diego Perez (a writer known as Yung Pueblo). All three of them spoke openly about challenging circumstances in their own lives that led to their personal mindfulness practices as well as the work they are currently doing in that arena. I was most inspired by Ms. Prisco, who had previously worked as a lawyer in the family court system. She spoke of the toxic culture inherent in that system, for all parties involved (clients and staff) and the absence of the word “love” throughout the system and process. Her organization brings mindfulness programs to vulnerable youth to help them manage stress, build inner strength, and cultivate compassion. They also train youth-serving organizations in the development of mindful practices. She envisions a youth justice system built on love with workers pledging a Hippocratic-like oath to “first do no harm.”

 

Day 2

The second day was jam-packed with top-notch speakers representing areas as diverse as law, healthcare, the military and professional sports. For the sake of space and time, I have selected just a few of the sessions I found most meaningful:

  • Mindfulness in the Military: Anderson Cooper interviewed neuroscientist Amishi Jha, PhD and Major General Walter Piatt about mindfulness training for active duty soldiers. There has been quite a bit of research done using mindfulness in the post-deployment arena, particularly for soldiers diagnosed with PTSD. However, Dr. Jha recognized the need for such training both pre-deployment and in the field. She found a willing participant in Major General Piatt and has received grant funding to study the impact of Mindfulness Based Attention Training for soldiers, which is an adaptation of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program. Major General Piatt argued that all military personnel need “mental toughness” training much like the physical training (PT) that is required every day.

 

  • Mindfulness in Healing and Healthcare: Dan Harris (ABC Nightline co-anchor and author of “10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge and Found Self-Help That Actually Works”) interviewed Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna. Mr. Bertolini was in a very serious skiing accident in 2004 and turned to yoga and mindfulness to help manage his pain after finding little relief from multiple pain medications. His personal experience and recovery were so remarkable that he suggested offering yoga and mindfulness to Aetna employees to help deal with stress. They did a pilot study in order to convince the skeptical Chief Medical Officer at Aetna and had incredible results: they reduced stress by 33%, increased productivity by 62 minutes/month and saved the lives of two employees who admitted that they had been on the brink of suicide due to the pressures at work. The program has since been rolled out to all employees and expanded to include other practices such as pet therapy and PTO banks (where employees can give their paid time off to other employees in need).

I was even more excited to hear Mr. Bertolini’s rationale behind Aetna’s decision to merge with CVS, which is grounded in the desire to address social determinants of health. In the United States, your zip code often plays a larger role in determining your longevity than your genetic code. The leaders at Aetna realized that an organization like CVS, with pharmacies/clinics in almost every community, would be better equipped to help reduce local barriers to health and wellbeing. Mr. Bertolini sounded like a health coach when he said, “We need to ask, ‘What is it about your health that gets in the way of the life you want to lead?’” He used the analogy of “TripTiks®” for health – similar to those highlighted road maps that AAA used to provide to members when they traveled, we need to help individuals map out the road to better health.

  • A Mindful Approach to Race and Social Justice in the US: I am not sure my summary can accurately reflect just how powerful this session was. Once again, I was awestruck by Rhonda Magee, a Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco, who also teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions for lawyers, law students, and for minimizing social-identity-based bias. She, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Anderson Cooper had a moving discussion about the current “woundedness” in society and how the next two to three generations need to address it to help us all heal. They talked about using mindfulness and compassion to explore who we are in relation to each other and to help recognize our own biases. Professor Magee challenged us to begin conversations with people who we don’t think we have anything in common with and be willing to sustain that dialogue. That is not an easy ask in today’s world where it seems we become more divided every day, but as she noted, we need to turn the lens of awareness to where the pain is in order to begin the process of healing.

 

If you missed the summit but want to attend next year, click here to visit Wisdom 2.0, the organization that presents the summit. You can sign up for their e-mail list to stay abreast of this and other mindfulness events.