Madame C’s Lesson on Mindful Appreciation

The Wallace Stegner Center Environmental Dispute Resolution (EDR) Program recognizes that the coronavirus has created a wide range of challenges. We also think it has created an opportunity to reflect on how we operate as individuals and as a society and to be more intentional in our lives. To inspire reflection and intentionality, we are asking our EDR Blog readers: What is the coronavirus (which we have taken to referring to as Madame C) teaching you? If you are willing to share your reflections with other EDR Blog readers, please fill out this Google Form or send your thoughts to Angela Turnbow (angela.turnbow@law.utah.edu) by August 15, 2020. Reflections can be anywhere from a few sentences to 800 words. We will share submitted reflections individually or in batches via the EDR Blog to help foster a community of learning.

For more information and some prompts to reflect on, see our EDR Blog post What Lessons are you Learning from Madame C?

By Angela Turnbow for EDRBlog.org

I sat at my newly-made-up-work-from-home office thinking “Why toilet paper?” and suddenly songs from Urinetown The Musical burst into my head. It seemed appropriate given the sudden and limited supply of the product. (Yes, that really is the name of the musical. It won three Tonys in 2002.) Then two days later on March 18, I was shaken awake by the rumblings of Utah’s 5.7 magnitude earthquake and Carole King sounded in my ear with “I feel the earth move under my feet” as the numerous aftershocks followed and I wished for only one disaster at a time. By the end of that first week of quarantine, I wanted to be done with telecommuting and broke out with “I want to break free / I want to break free” at the end of the work day.

Several weeks have passed since and my playlist has grown as Madame C has provided more than enough challenges for us all, ranging anywhere from the social and economic issues to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. One might say that the hits just keep on coming (pun intended). It’s amazing how many of Queen’s greatest hits can relate to Madame C.

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But it takes more than a fantastic playlist to cope with the coronavirus. I’ve spent a lot of time by myself lately and even as an introvert, there are still days with depression and wanting some sort of human and personal interaction. Technology, such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Chat, etc. have helped immensely to connect family, friends, and work colleagues to keep those feelings of isolation at bay and keep communication flowing. Some people have even gone so far as to get themselves a quarantine pet! Many have tackled those household projects and other long-sought-after goals to keep active during these uncertain times.

As I’ve collaborated with myself and “listen[ed] empathetically for [my] underlying needs” (from William Ury’s Getting to Yes with Yourself), it’s been important to focus on the present and appreciate what is before me. So many people are unemployed and struggle to make ends meet; uncertainty abounds and who knows where Madame C will take us next month given the nature of hits we’ve had so far. The anxiety—the fear—amplify those feelings of hopelessness and despair. Yet, it is possible to appreciate the good things in life by focusing on a new or alternative perspective in the present. I’m not talking about gratitude or being thankful (although that is important), I’m talking about the other definitions for ‘appreciate’: 1) to value or regard highly; place a high estimate on; and 2) to be fully conscious of; be aware of; detect.

It’s easy enough to say “I appreciate this or that,” but sometimes our expressions of gratitude or appreciation can be said mindlessly. So how can we take appreciation to a deeper and more genuine level?

Dr. Ellen Langer, a social psychologist, presented at Talks at Harvard College last year where she discusses the differences between mindfulness versus mindlessness and argues that the consequences for being in either state are enormous. She described mindlessness as an individual “acting like an automaton where the past is overdetermining the present; an individual is oblivious to how behavior changes based on perspective or context, and that behaviors tend to be rule-and routine-governed.” On the other hand, mindfulness is “the simple process of noticing new things, which make an individual present, sensitive to context and perspective; it’s the essence of engagement and therefore energy begetting, and it’s fun.” She then shares a few studies measuring the results of mindfulness and mindlessness and concludes that when individuals allow things to vary—to appreciate uncertainty—new possibilities open up, which lead individuals to be more mindful, improving “[their] health, [their] happiness, and [their] vitality.”

Dr. Langer’s ideas on mindfulness can be put into practice simply with: “Pause. Take a breath. What do you see?” And on a particularly stress-filled and anxiety-ridden day, I saw blue sky with a few tufts of clouds. Snow-capped mountains, rocky ridges, green slopes—the familiar brown and jagged edges of the Wasatch Mountain Range spanning north and south, heightened by sunlight. A new perspective, getting me out of my head and in the present moment to appreciate the amazing view before me.

Madame C’s Learning Curriculum is unlikely to go away any time soon, but it is still possible to make happy memories for yourself and with the people you care about. Who knows, there may even be a song to go along with it.

 

 

Angela Turnbow is a Program Manager at the S.J. Quinney College of Law. She provides support for the Masters of Legal Studies program, Utah Law Review, and the EDR Blog.