Fear. It means something different to each person, but collectively we can all agree that fear can be something that drives us to succeed (fearing failure), causes us to take care of ourselves (fear of poor health), and can even promote experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be pursued (fear of missing out, affectionately known by the acronym FOMO). This isn’t the kind of fear I had this past Sunday sitting in the pew in my church. The moment of fear that I had was certainly unlike anything I had ever experienced on any other ordinary Sunday morning.
My family and I sat in the same pew we usually sit in, my children, husband, and dad on one side, church members on the other, and me. It was cold, as it typically is early in the service, but I felt a deeper chill than just the overzealous efforts to keep the auditorium cool during a Texas summer. For the first time in my life, I looked around the room and somewhat uneasily behind me, wondering what would happen if there were ever an active shooter situation in our church. My mind wandered from the lesson to what it must be like for survivors of shootings. I thought about the world my children inherit, its faults, political division, and mounting safety concerns.
As a resident physician specializing in the field of psychiatry, I’ve seen countless patients with trauma history, but never have we in modern history been exposed to the sheer horror that unfolds on the almost instantaneous newsfeed from across the world day in and day out on our devices. The heartbreaking killings of the school children and teachers in Uvalde, TX, truly left me heartbroken for our world. Heartbroken for the families who lost their children. Heartbroken for my patients who have experienced trauma. Heartbroken for my own children to grow up in such a world as this. What have we given them? Political stalemates and entrenched views in archaic ideologues are helpful to no one. It does not help the patient sitting in front of me who had a panic attack after reliving their pain of trauma after watching the news, mass shootings almost a daily occurrence here in our once seemingly “safe” nation. We stand in the shadows of the past with an uncertain future.
Mindfulness-based meditations in the midst of fear may not be the first thing that we think of, but perhaps it should be. I can’t change politics, I cannot erase someone’s trauma, but I can help to teach and guide someone to fully experience the moment in which they are currently living, in the fullest way possible, and feel safe in that exact moment in time. So, what happens next? We all wade into the uncertain tide. Only time will tell what changes and lessons learned we as a nation take away from tragedy and how it will shape the human experience. So, for the space in between this moment and the next, practice mindfully living, taking in the sights and sounds, what you are touching, the coolness of your breath as you breathe in, and the warmer breath you feel as you breathe out. Be aware of your thoughts and your feelings, but recognize they don’t last forever, even fear.
By the end of service, I was paying attention again to the lesson, though I really couldn’t tell you much of what the preacher had said before, as we rose to sing at the end, I felt more at peace than I had at the beginning, a little warmer in the room, and a little more aware of my surroundings than I perhaps would have been otherwise. It ended like a typical Sunday morning does for me, but somehow, it was different. I think, down deep, we all are just a little bit different. Even amidst the pain, sorrow, and suffering in our world, there is still beauty. There is still hope.
K. Maravet Baig-Ward is a psychiatry resident and can be reached on Twitter @drmaravet.
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