Take this breath: mindfulness and public health

I’ve heard from several people that my story, A Sated Wind, was helpful to them. That is the point of sharing, so I am delighted. This morning, the following poem came to me, which can be read as related to that story, though can be read in other ways as well. So, I am sharing it in the same spirit as I shared A Sated Wind.

Take this breath as if it were the last
Seasons, cycled
Storms, ceased
Begin again

The backstory and where it leads may surprise you.

Yesterday, it occurred to me during a seated (what I would call my “formal”) meditation session to breathe as if each breath were my last — to really commit to that possibility, to believe it. How would I spend my final breath?

If that doesn’t focus one’s mind, what does? I found it helped me reach … well I don’t know what or where. I just went. If you’re a meditator, give it a try.

When I wake each morning I spend ten minutes or sometimes tens of minutes in a lying, meditative state. This is less “formal” — as in less planned — but meditation can take many forms (e.g., swimming, jogging, walking, doing dishes can all be meditative). At this time my mind is dreamy and pliable. Like gifts, things of significance come to me, almost every day. Today, in that state, is when this poem emerged.

What has any of this, whether this poem or A Sated Wind, got to do with TIE, a blog about health care, health policy, health services research, etc.? First of all, there’s always been a trickle of content that’s just about life. I make no apology for what I post on a blog I co-edit. But there’s more.

This poem, and the story, stems from a mindfulness/meditation practice, which for me is both attention to the present and a vulnerable letting go into a creative, playful, personally relevant (not work!) mind-space. In that spirit, I will share that it’s beginning to dawn on me that there may be some role for mindfulness not just in personal health (that’s clear) but in public health. This may not be a novel thought, I imagine. In fact, I hope it is not.

I think most readers of this blog likely recognize a toxicity in our culture, institutions, environment, habits and, in general, relationships. Most things seem too fast, too harsh, too impersonal, too uncaring, too disconnected, too thoughtless.

A personal practice of mindfulness can, of course, assist with all that. But that’s like treating a single patient with pollution-induced asthma with medication when the problem is the pollution. Is there a public health approach to mindfulness? I don’t know. Perhaps others are thinking about this already. I’d like to find out, perhaps help where I can, to the extent my life and energy permit.

Please reach out if you see the path you think I’m seeking. It’s certainly of relevance to this blog.

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