Back when I was a researcher, I used to travel to conferences to make presentations. One of them was the meeting for the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which was held in Anaheim, CA. Yes, the largest conference devoted to the education of young children was held at Disney Land. The conference attendees were offered a special rate to go to the park. It was less than half the price and since it was for admission, after hours, there were no long lines for the rides.

Since this was a professional conference, I was attending with other people from the not-for-profit for which I worked. One of the people from work did not like me. She was the director of one of the other departments in the organization but since my position involved work in her department, she was one of my direct supervisors. And when I mean that she didn’t like me, I mean that she pretty much actively disliked me. She also did not like my work. As you could imagine, it was awkward hanging out with a group of people, one of whom had a lot of power over my job not to mention constantly emitting, “I don’t like you” vibes.

As I have mentioned previously, I do not like to go on scary amusement park rides. The group I was with wanted to go on the “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” ride. Ordinarily, I would have just said, “No way!” But my boss was there and I knew how much she believed in employee togetherness. I asked an employee how scary the ride was and she told me that it wasn’t. So I agreed to go on the ride.

The ride began and within about five seconds I realized that it was way too scary for me. I closed my eyes and started doing deep breathing. Soon, I felt calm. I was aware of the way the air felt on my skin as the ride accelerated in speed. I noticed smells of liquid vapors and of machine part lubricants. I could also hear the gasps and yells of the people who were experiencing the ride. I noticed sounds of surprise, fear, and exhileration. These are all strong emotions. I felt no strong emotions but I noticed and observed.

As a child and adolescent psychologist, I often work with children and families when they are in distress, experiencing strong emotions, mostly painful ones. It would not be helpful for me to join in with the distress. “Oh no! That’s terrible! What are you going to do?” I need to be present and engaged but not swept away. I need to avoid adding drama. I am there to carefully observe, interpret, and to provide assistance.

It is a complex process. Clinicians who do not demonstrate enough empathy and emotional connection are described as cold. Clinicians who demonstrate too much emotion are described as having poor boundaries. And the definition of what is too little or too much varies person to person. To be the right amount of present, calm, and connected is incredibly therapeutic to someone who is in distress. To be too little or too much is not only counter-therapeutic, it is also not healthy for the clinician.

I started formally practicing mindfulness nearly three years ago as a way of dealing with my breast cancer diagnosis as well as to live a healthier life. It occurs to me that many years before this time, I was already practicing it in session, with my patients. This helps me be effective and also minimizes the amount of stress I take home with me. It has been trickier to apply mindfulness to the rest of my life. But I have been doing it and I plan to continue. It has greatly enriched my life and helped me cope with the scary hurts and heartache much better. I still experience all emotions, at all levels. I experience pain. I am having more and more moments of acceptance and less and less suffering.

I have noticed some shifts in my personal relationships. Some of the shifts have been uncomfortable. I initially found myself getting annoyed at how upset people got at what I considered to be minor annoyances or future catastrophic outcomes of low probability. And it’s not all complaints or expressed fears. It’s the ones tinged with helplessness or hopelessness that really get to me. Anger turned to worry and worry turned to sadness, over time. I realize that some people in my life are on a much different ride. We are no longer experiencing the same ride. Although this is helpful as a therapist, it is harder with relationships that are more intimate and more expecting of reciprocity.

At this moment, I feel a bit sad about it. But I also know that my feelings have changed about this and will likely continue to change. I do know that I have selected the right ride for me and will try to live the healthiest way I can since that is best for me and my family.