I am not a naturally calm person. Like many successful nerds, I am naturally anxious. I like to know what to expect and if what is expected is not to my liking, I like to know how to change it. I like it when people are happy and they like me. I would like to know that my wonderful and unique daughter could never be harmed and will be a happy adult with meaningful relationships and work. I would really like it if none of the people I love got sick or died. I would also like it if my house were clean 24/7. Finally, I would like it if my daughter were to stop singing a Justin Bieber song at the top of her voice, while I am trying to write this post. I don’t care if she’s changed the words to “this is such a stupid song.” It’s REALLY loud. And it’s a Justin Bieber song and not only are his songs bad but it looks like his life may be going toward a very sad Lindsey Lohan direction. I’m a mom and a lover of kids and I don’t want a sad life for Justin Bieber, whether I like his songs or not.

But I have digressed, once again. None of us have control over our lives. We have influence and that is it. It is the same for our children’s lives. We have influence but not control. It is the same for breast cancer. I have influence to reduce the risk of recurrence or the occurrence of another potentially deadly disease, but not total control. As individuals, our relationship with the universe is one in which we matter but are not masters.

Prior to my forties, my current life circumstances would have likely put me around the bend. There would be a lot more crying and beating of my breast. I would yell at my husband, a lot, because that is what I do when I am feeling totally out of control. Or I would just stay in bed all day, every day, thinking dark and scary thoughts.

Not to say I don’t have my moments, but I am still a happy person and pretty even-keeled. To what do I attribute this calm? Well, there are  a lot of things including my wonderful friends, family, healthcare providers, and blog buddies, but today I want to talk about mindfulness.

Mindfulness meditation is the real deal. It has been used in eastern philosophical and religious traditions for a long long time and in mainstream, evidence-based psychology, and behavioral medicine for 20-30 years (yeah, I should look it up, but I am lazy). I am far from an expert in mindfulness but even my very beginner-level 10 minutes of deep breathing every morning and evening coupled with a mindset of trying to stay in the moment and observe and accept what comes my way, have gone an enormous way in helping me keep balance in my life.

And this is not a fringe practice, mind you, the big University of Washington, which is turbo-research oriented and one of the top institutions in the country (multiple disciplines including psychology and medicine), loves mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is helpful for a myriad of difficulties from suicidality, to day-to-day stress management, to pain management, to the prevention of the recurrence of breast cancer.

I started practicing mindfulness consistently after my mastectomy. The first thing I noticed is that meditation was relaxing and unlike some other forms of meditation I have done, I wasn’t struggling to make my mind “blank”. In mindfulness, it’s not a “no-no” to drift off in thought. It’s just something that happens. The second thing I noticed was that my brain got a chance to rest. That doesn’t happen frequently for me.  I have a very busy brain, which was put into turbo drive by my cancer diagnosis. The “voices in my head” gradually became less chatty and frenetic. The third thing I noticed is that I became much less irritable and much better equipped to handle big stressors without freaking out.

If you are interested in trying it out, if only to help pass the time while you are seated in a doctor’s waiting room, I recommend any of the following resources:

Mindfulness Meditations for Teens (Yeah, I know it says “teens” but it’s my favorite and very applicable to the world of adults) by Bodhipaksa. I also see that in addition to CD form, it is now available as an mp3 download.

Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery: A Step-by-Step MBSR Approach to Help You Cope with Treatment and Reclaim Your Life (This is particularly good if you like a program that is laid out for you week by week. There are a number of mindfulness techniques explained, including breathing, meditation, and yoga.

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. (This is a good place to start if you would like a background on mindfulness meditation. The author, Dr. Kabat-Zinn has been teaching mindfulness meditation skills for decades and also produces CD’s. and mp3 downloads.)