The Healing Moment

Susan Bauer-Wu helps us ease the physical, mental, and emotional stress of illness with a simple mindfulness practice.

Susan Bauer-Wu
27 June 2012
Photo by David Gabriel Fischer

Serious illness and other health problems challenge us in many ways, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Physically, we may experience pain or other discomforts, and everyday activities may take more time and effort. Mentally, our thinking may be fuzzy and we may struggle to come to terms with our medical condition. Emotionally, we may feel anxious about things beyond our control, fearful of the unknown, or sad that we cannot function in the way we used to.

When faced by the stress of illness, it is helpful to recognize that the quality of your moment-by-moment attention can have a profound effect on how you feel and the quality of your life. Cultivating mindfulness is foundational to fostering greater ease and joy in the face of difficult circumstances.

Ground Yourself in Present-Moment Experience

Whenever you are overcome by strong emotions, discomforts, or a sense that your life is spiraling out of control, you can ground yourself in present-moment experience with this practice:

  • Bring awareness to the sensations of breathing.
  • Attend to other senses such as hearing, seeing, or tasting.
  • Simply notice the nuanced qualities of your experience.
  • Open to now with gentleness and acceptance, without judging or resisting.

Tune In and Befriend Your Body

When facing a serious illness, it’s common to feel betrayed by your body and to either tune out or overreact to internal bodily sensations. Tuning in to your body is an entry into accepting and befriending your body as it is, with its frailties and imperfections. It can help you to discern important body cues requiring wise responses and to realize that unpleasant physical symptoms actually change from moment to moment. Tuning in is also an opportunity to recognize that all of you is not broken and that you are much more than a medical diagnosis.

  • Do a mini body scan. With curiosity, notice the qualities of your internal sensations as you shift awareness to different parts of your body.
  • Bring awareness to the parts of your body that are comfortable and working well.
  • Listen to your body and thoughtfully respond to what it needs.

Recognize and Let Go of Stories

The mind naturally conjures up stories or narratives around what is happening in the body or what may happen in the future. An unpleasant sensation like a body ache can turn into a complicated story that creates or perpetuates fears and worries, not grounded in fact or what is known for sure in the present moment. When living with illness, these stories are often angst-filled and contribute to unnecessary added suffering.

  • Catch yourself when your mind automatically creates unhelpful stories.
  • Learn to recognize, observe, and not identify with your thoughts to lessen their power over you.

Connect with Simple Pleasures

Wake up to the small things in life. They are accessible to you at any time and can relax the mind and body and nourish the soul. These simple pleasures are boundless, changing, and personal. You and only you know what stirs you in wonderful ways that make you feel alive and your heart sing.

  • Rest in awareness and notice the simple pleasures available to you.
  • Consider what you can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.
  • Reflect on connections with nature, family and friends, and animal companions.
  • For each simple pleasure that you connect with, pause, smile, and be grateful for that moment of unfiltered goodness.
Susan Bauer-Wu

Susan Bauer-Wu

Susan Bauer-Wu is an organizational leader, clinical scientist, and mindfulness teacher, who since 2015 has served as the President of the Mind & Life Institute, an organization co-founded by the Dalai Lama to bring science and contemplative wisdom together to better understand the mind and create positive change in the world. At Mind & Life, she has championed “human-earth connection” as a priority focus area. Early in her career she was an oncology and hospice nurse and then received a PhD specializing in psychoneuroimmunology, and has since held leadership and academic roles in nonprofits, universities, and health care. Susan is the author of A Future We Can Love and Leaves Falling Gently.