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Navigating post-pandemic life through mindfulness

ASU expert offers mindfulness strategies that will help in this time of transition

Man sitting and writing on paper
May 14, 2021

This week, Nika Gueci, executive director at the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience at Arizona State University, is speaking at the "Mindfulness for Healthcare" virtual summit. The conference brings together academics, health care professionals, scientists and experts in a virtual setting to discuss how mindfulness practices can support a more equitable, caring and compassionate health care system.

Though the summit is geared toward health care leaders navigating the post-pandemic landscape, the mindfulness strategies Gueci will offer apply to any industry. ASU News spoke with Gueci to learn how mindfulness can help individuals during this time of transition, as well as catalyze change within organizations and systems. After a year marked by a pandemic, tumultuous election and intense social reckoning, Gueci offers guidance on how mindfulness can help move us forward as a nation.

Question: Mindfulness is often recommended as a tool people can use to better manage stress and difficult feelings and situations. This last year provided plenty of opportunities to test that out. As we begin to move beyond the pandemic and life returns to some semblance of “normal,” how can mindfulness support this return?

Headshot of Nika Gueci

Nika Gueci, executive director at the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience.

Answer: Our current environment is one of transition. We’re going through so much ambiguity about what will life look like in this post-pandemic landscape — and we’re going through this both together and apart. Together because the threat on our health and well-being is real and relations between one another have come back to the surface in a striking way. Alone because life experiences are different for everyone, as the prevalence of racism, health injustice and disparities are not felt in a similar way throughout our society.

We are living in a new reality where there is so much unknown — we’re constantly faced not just with ambiguity, but with risk — risk in going outside of our houses, in navigating social situations. Everyday situations can be perceived of as challenges faced with risk where we have to weigh the pros and cons every time we make seemingly small decisions. This chronic stress stemming from the unknown can lead to a deep fatigue.

Mindfulness, or an intentional presence in the moment, can lead not only to stress reduction, but also to emotional regulation. Knowing that this current environment is challenging can also help us be kinder to ourselves. Maybe we don’t push ourselves as hard as we did before — and that’s OK! Go easy on yourself, try not to beat yourself up — bringing in compassion may open up some of that brain space that stress and anxiety closes up, thereby allowing more room to navigate the uncertainty that transition can bring. 

Q: 2020 was a year of reckoning for individuals and organizations around topics including race and privilege, social justice, inequality and so much more. Where does mindfulness fit into the narrative of this country in 2021? What role can it play in moving the nation forward?

A: One of the Attitudinal Foundations of mindfulness is acceptance. Acceptance, in this sense, means seeing things for what they are rather than what we want them to be. Mindful acceptance does not mean resignation. We can actually utilize mindfulness as a driving force and a tool for advocacy. Mindfulness can promote awareness and sensitivity to existing societal problems, discernment of the kind of impact we want (and are able) to make, and a targeted focus for our efforts. 

Mindfulness does not negate action. In fact, one of the falsehoods of society is that we are told that we need to choose, that we need to be either this way or that way, that if we believe this, that we cannot possibly believe that. This is a dangerous and restricting untruth. We can hold so much at once. We can be both courageous and vulnerable, angry and composed, peaceful and dynamic. Mindfulness can help us navigate our way across these spectrums and respond in a thoughtful way.

This summer, the center’s “Caring and Connection Initiative” will focus on these topics. Live YouTube sessions will be led by Tiara Cash, culture and equity specialist, who will discuss mindfulness through the Equitable Mindfulness (EM) framework. The EM framework that Cash developed is intended to create social transformation through the practice of mindfulness. 

Q: How has this last year challenged you, and what has it taught you?

A: This has been a tough year where I, along with millions of other people, have experienced uncertainty, grief and loss. Life gives us lesson after lesson, and many times, those lessons feel pretty awful. Fear and pain are emotions that are fiercely personal when going through them and suffering can be an isolating experience. 

This past year has reminded me that almost everybody has experienced deep pain. As I emerged out of the private wilderness of grief, I saw that most everyone in this world knows what it means to lose something or someone that they love, what it means to experience trauma, what it means to want to escape. Mindfulness of this connection is where we meet as humans. This is where pain is transformed — into connection, support and an understanding of the human condition. This is the place where I find resilience in myself and in others — being mindful and compassionate of my own and other’s experiences.

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