Baffled by Numbers

Navigating information towards better health decisions.

There's a Rocket in My Nicoise

When under fire, give in to stress, or fight back - with mindfulness

My family is away, each on their own mission. The youngest is coming home tomorrow from camp where she was a counselor, and I cannot wait. Instead of sitting home alone, I treat myself to a lovely café at a nursery, surrounded by flowers and trees. The salad nicoise arrives and it is perfect, the tuna seared just right, the vegetables fresh, the sauce delicious. Into my third bite, a siren sounds. People flock to a corner that's presumably a sheltered space. It doesn't seem cemented or safe to me. Instead, I lie down on the ground, next to a couple that's doing the same. I cover my head with my hands, and pray.

It's not a dream, or a screenplay, it's my evening, July 29th, 2014, 8:20 pm Israel time (7 hours before EST).

And it persists. The couple next to me is talking. He's telling her it’ll be alright. They don't know me or pay any attention to the stranger near them, but I draw comfort from having them near. The prayer – my prayer is simple, Judaism 101. It's the 'Shma' : Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one", found in Deuteronomy 6:4. My heart is racing but still I say the prayer, listen to the couple, and think of my family. A minute later we hear a muffled thud, which we have learned to recognize as an interception, the Iron Dome formed by the IDF has prevented the rocket that Hamas fired from exploding over me and Jerusalem.

When I get back to my salad, the chitter chatter around me resumes. People on dates, celebrating birthdays. My knees are shaky and I'm wondering of what I just did. Unawares, I have just exercised mindfulness (the class I took at Princeton University paid off!). Mindfulness involves being in the moment. Acknowledging your feelings, but not being taken over by them. I could feel my heart racing, but I did not top that with thinking "my heart is racing! I'm panicking! I'm freaking out here! I don't want to die!" Mindfulness also involves being grateful, which is aligned with noticing what you've got. At that moment, I had the couple near me, the ground to protect me, and my hands for shelter. I was grateful for them all.

Mindfulness can be considered part of positive psychology. It's the past that deals with engagement and with being in the moment. Other parts talk of being connected and seeking meaning. Turns out, this is exactly what I did. Even though I was alone, I found a way to be near others. Even though I was alone, I felt connected to God, and felt his protection. These things, which are nice when taught in class, have made a huge difference for me, on the nursery floor.

We cannot always determine the circumstances of our life. What we can determine is how we deal with them. The mind-body connection is often studied, showing how mindfulness and other positive psychology practices increase happiness and reduce disease. They help us focus on the salad, not the rocket.

 

Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., is a researcher at Princeton University. She specializes in medical decision making of patients and health professionals.

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