Don’t Eat Perfectly But Don’t Eat The Whole Damn Box Of Cookies: Using "Wise Mind" For Hard Times
Updated: May 13, 2020
Holy mixed messages, Batman! (It’s just dawned on me that there’s at least one adult generation younger than me who won’t understand that Batman reference, and yet, my dad humor stubbornly remains.) I don’t know about you, but since this whole pandemic mess started, I’ve been getting mixed advice in my social media feeds on how to cope with it all, and it’s making my head spin.
Power through it, structure your days, do your online gym class, eat well every day, meditate every day; and with all this spare time, why not create the best work of your life? Et voilà! You’ll show this crisis the middle finger with how on top of things you are, and proudly reveal your new invention/online business/sci-fi novel/objet d’art when this is all over.
Take a nap, keep your PJ's on, let the kids run wild, do whatever you want, feel all the feelings, all the time. Et voilà! You’ll barrel your way through this crisis somehow! Who cares if you haven’t showered for three days, your muscles have atrophied, and you’ve watched all of the available Britney Spears interviews from 1998 to 2010 on YouTube?
In order to stop you from driving yourself bonkers trying to figure out which one of these approaches to take on any given day, I suggest you put your wise mind to use.
The idea of employing the wise mind, in the sense of what I’m referring to here, comes from Marsha Linehan and her groundbreaking work in, and invention of, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Wise mind is the powerful meeting place between emotion mind and reasonable mind.
Emotion mind is singularly focused on feelings. When we’re totally in emotion mind, we feel controlled by our emotions.
Reasonable mind is logical and rational. When we completely reside in reasonable mind, we neglect our emotions.
Unsurprisingly, solely existing in either is unhealthy.
You can see how these two minds are reflected in the recommendations we’re being fed right now:
The gentle assurances that we can chaotically fumble through and obey every feeling and whim keep us in emotion mind. This makes us feel less in control, and prone to making unhealthy decisions (like eating a pack of cookies).
The rallying cries to keep on top of things, stay disciplined, and use the time to learn and be productive keep us in reasonable mind. This can lead to us suppressing our emotions, which is pretty dire for our mental health and our relationships.
The idea, then, is to find the meeting place within yourself where you can listen to and heed the advice of both your emotion mind and your reasonable mind.
Start by asking yourself whether you’re divvying up the authority between your feelings and your rational thoughts relatively equally or not. How can you give both a voice?
Check in with your body, too. Contrary to what you might think, you won’t find wise mind in your head. It’s actually in your gut, between your rib cage and belly button (or solar plexus chakra for the spiritually inclined). To check in with it, sit quietly and place your hand over this area. Focus on your breath and let your hand gently rise and fall as you breathe. When you’re feeling calm enough, think of something that’s bothering you and ask your wise mind for guidance on what to do about it.*
As with all coping skills, this takes practice and patience. Don’t beat up on yourself if you’re unsure or confused about how to do it and how to interpret every thought and feeling. Having the intention to focus on your wise mind and practising doing so is enough. You will get better at it.
Bottom line: sure, binge-watch that new series for a couple of hours, but not for a week. Feel all the feels, but don’t let them stop you from functioning. And yes, be concerned about your loved ones, but don’t let fear rule your days.
Here’s to a saner way of coping, wherever you’re at.
*The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, by Matthew McKay, PhD., Jeffrey C. Wood, Psy.D., and Jeffrey Brantley, MD. (2007) was a great reference for this article, and this exercise is based on the Wise-Mind Meditation described in this workbook.