“How To Develop Mindfulness During Stressful Or Uncertain Times” with Chetna Mehta

Share more loving content — share humorous videos, inspiring stories and positive news more than you share the fear-inducing, anxiety-provoking news. Whether it’s on your social media or group texts, what you put out there matters and impacts people. As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain […]

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Share more loving content — share humorous videos, inspiring stories and positive news more than you share the fear-inducing, anxiety-provoking news. Whether it’s on your social media or group texts, what you put out there matters and impacts people.

As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chetna Mehta of Mosaic Eye.

Chetna Mehta is a mixed-media artist, wellness consultant, and the creator of Mosaic Eye, a platform that cultivates creative self-realization and embodied interconnection. Chetna harnesses the power of art and advocacy to foster compassion, intentional living, and radical self-reflection. Her work is centered at the intersection of healing arts, spirituality by way of ancient mysticism and mindfulness, and psychological education.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Istarted my career in corporate human resources. My first role was to schedule 100+ interviews a week, which required a great amount of focus, detail-orientation and organization.

After three months on the job, I inherited the responsibilities of helping our executives and engineers relocate from around the country, and to be the liaison between our immigration attorneys and the company so as to get our foreign national employees’ visas set for their employment. This was a delight for me; to get to learn more about our employees and their families, to work closely with folks from India, China, Spain, Canada and many other places as the company grew. I had to be incredibly informed on policy and to educate managers regularly. I also had to fine-tune my compassionate and reassuring nature as I worked with new hires while they were in the midst of big life transitions.

I eventually grew into a manager role and took on training, mentorship and new hire orientation at headquarters. All of these responsibilities invoked in me a strong desire to expand my wisdom and skills in leadership, education and transformation.

After a life-altering experience which I can share more of later, I decided to leave my corporate job to travel and teach English in India and Colombia. This, as all of my travels have, opened my mind and heart dramatically to making peace with difference, to finding comfort with the unknown, and to thrive even in a new culture or context.

I eventually returned to school to get a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. Grad school was incredibly difficult for me as it nebulized my reasons for wanting to be a therapist to begin with: to apply my leadership, compassion, creativity, spirituality and desire for deep transformation in improving holistic wellness among my South Asian and BIPOC communities. The white supremist nature of the mental health field (culturally-inconsiderate diagnoses, largely de-humanizing to diverse and non-white populations, a lack of emphasis on creativity and spirituality in holistic mental/emotional health counseling) ultimately deterred me from pursuing licensure within the system.

Instead, I started my private practice as a mixed media artist, facilitator of healing and creative entrepreneur; offering therapeutic work one on one with clients and in community group workshops. Three years later, I’m blessed and humbled by the symbiotically-nourishing work that I do daily, informed by all my prior experiences and ready for all those to come.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

While my career started in the corporate context, it took a deep pivot after I fell asleep, literally and metaphorically, on the 280 freeway between San Francisco and San Jose at 1am on a cool September night 9 years ago. I landed in a wheelchair to spend a few forced months witnessing and deep-cleaning my body and mind from the inside out.

On paper at the time, I was an ambitious, busy and beautiful social butterfly living the dream: earning a six-figure salary, collecting stock options, saving for retirement, and dating eligible bachelors with city dwellings. My life was fast-paced, voracious and insatiable.

The day leading up to me crashing my emerald ’95 civic into the center divide, I had a fully booked agenda of hot yoga at 5am, a full day at the office, then an hour-long drive to an evening celebration for my part-time job. That night, after receiving and celebrating a promotion to a senior position on my part-time team, I began my drive home around midnight.

The blinding sterility of the hospital emergency room at 2am was cutting- cutting of the green chiffon dress i had just celebrated some success in; torn straight up the middle. The call to my parents at 6am that morning about my crash and forthcoming emergency surgery was the hardest one I’ve ever had to make.

In the months following, I was in a wheelchair, non-weight bearing on both legs, and unable to independently bathe, go to the toilet, or prepare food myself. Forced to slow down, reflect, and tune in with an ailing body and spirit, I began to see more of the support, love, and presence of my family who rallied to take care of me.

This is when I first began to meditate and study my thoughts and emotions and what it was producing in my life. I began to question our culture’s propensity for compulsive doing over being, and noticed the values that I had internalized which were not true to my heart.

Prior to this crash, I was so busy living on autopilot and acting like I was in the passenger seat of my own life. Little did I realize that I was in the driver’s seat, literally and metaphorically, holding the power to destruct my life in the blink of an eye.

After recovering and gaining my capacities to live independently again, as well as run and dance and skip — privileges I remember to not take for granted — I left my corporate job to see more of the world and pursue a service-oriented career in mental health.

I’ve continued to study my body with psychological training, intuitive movement, and somatic therapy. I remember too that this precious body is telling me something with every step taken, and that it’s up to me to listen and take care of it with attentiveness and devotion.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

As there’s always more work to do, making the space regularly for celebration is incredibly important. Whether it be adding someone new to the team, learning a tough lesson that sets us on a better path forward, collaborating with a new long-term client, the beginning of Autumn, shoot, even the full moon; there should be room to celebrate various big and small things, in big and small ways. Sometimes, celebration could look like taking 10 minutes at the end of the day to acknowledge the wins of the day over some chocolate, bringing in someone to facilitate a workshop for play and team connection, or having a white board with the title “things worth celebrating” for team members to add to weekly. When we celebrate small and big things often, we acknowledge the value of the work we’re doing, and we deter from being on autopilot going from thing to thing to thing without the joy and gratitude we need to sustain us.

In my corporate job at an organization with a stellar culture, I learned the power of candid feedback; making time and space regularly to clearly communicate what’s working exceptionally well, and what needs improvement, without personalizing any of it. I’ve carried this with me and have embedded it in my personal work ethic as well as the business I run. It’s important for us to continually be learning how to share feedback in a tactful and compassionate way, clear and concise nonetheless, and to stay humble and discerning to receive constructive feedback. This can be incredibly rewarding in our efficiency, innovation and evolution personally and organizationally.

Lastly, ritual in the workplace is significant to infuse day-to-day activity with purpose and meaning. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of deadlines, meetings, emails, etc. Ritual helps us ground into something, however routine, with intention. Leveraging ritual personally at work is pivotal in grounding oneself in conscious awareness so as to not just be moving from one thing to another without honoring what is happening. When we practice ritual with others, we facilitate connection and shared purpose. Ritual could look like starting each team meeting with a guided meditation, sharing gratitudes, someone volunteering a joke, or a playful round of charades. Ritual, in the times we’re in where Zoom fatigue is REAL, could start with playing a song and giving folks in the meeting time to stretch, sway or move their bodies, or asking folks to light a candle or incense, get some tea, or whatever they’d like to intentionally transition into the present gathering from wherever they’re coming from.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, hands down. This book uses symbolic storytelling, mythology from various parts of the world, and archetypal wisdom to illuminate a part of us, especially us femmes and women: the wild woman archetype .

I revisit this text over and over again, especially during this time of pandemic and unrest, to remember my primal intuition, my power and interconnection with nature, all which are often forgotten in a colonized and developed society. It inspires me to get on all fours and roar like a lioness to let out all the pent up energy; I often feel rather light and settled whenever I do.

I learn so many lessons each time that inform my personal and professional life, particularly from two chapters in the book: “Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh” and “Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life.” The chapter titles give a good sense of the poetic and natural delight of Dr. Estés’s writing!

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

The state of being mindful is holding within my attention both my breath and body, as well as what’s going on around me, while releasing my judgments of it all. I’m grateful for the various teachers I’ve been exposed to regarding mindfulness; one teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness in a way that I appreciate and want to highlight here, “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”

Mindfulness is an active, not passive, process. It’s listening to someone’s words and emotive expressions while also keeping in mind the dignity of my breath and posture; it’s noticing my judgments of what’s happening in front of me or even within me and letting them pass like clouds in the sky. Mindfulness is, in and of itself, a meditation as we walk through life- not holding on to any one thought or opinion too tightly as we flow through the river of the day.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Given how active the process of mindfulness is (paying attention to our breath and body, what’s happening around us AND noticing and releasing judgments of all of it), a mindfulness practice hones our focus. It slows our heart rate down as we ground in the moment at hand, it requires us to forgo any superfluous stimulation like looking at our phones while in a conversation or multitasking in a way that leaves us feeling like we still haven’t really done anything (know that feeling?).

In honing our focus, mindfulness allows us to juice out all that we can from the present moment, with our own attention in the moment. The best way I can explain this is with the creative process. In making a piece of art in any medium (cooking, drawing, painting, writing, dancing, etc.), mindfulness helps us honor the mystical unfolding of creative energy, without us being overwhelmingly-preoccupied with the final “product” or how it may be received. With mindfulness, we may likely witness those fears or doubts throughout the process, though we can practice releasing our judgments of ourselves and what we’re making without taking our thoughts too seriously.

Mindfulness brings us back to the present and what’s in front of us, i.e. the juxtaposition of colors, ingredients, textures, sounds, etc., and what the smallest next step might be. Rather than allowing our worries and assumptions of the elusive future take us away, we can stay with where we are in the moment at hand, slowly but surely, manifesting a fuller creative process.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Selective sensory stimulation — we are constantly taking in stimulation through our 5 physical senses and even our vast energetic senses. We feed our serenity and our anxiety through our various senses with stimulation that nourishes or depletes it. What we listen to, see, taste, even smell and touch (and the “vibes” we pick up from around us) affect our level and capacity for peace, creativity, compassion and emotional-regulation. Being selective and mindful with what we take in impacts our ability to be here now, in loving support of ourselves and others.
  2. Compassionate self-touch — affectionate touch holds the power of soothing and healing. When we’re in a time of isolation, unable to hug and touch and be with the people we care about regularly, our bodies feel it. We can bring compassion and kindness to ourselves at any time, day or night, with a mindful caress, hold or stroke. Mindful touch, even with ourselves, releases oxytocin in our bodies, washing us biochemically with more propensity to trust, relax, connect and rest. When my thoughts are racing, stress is overwhelming or I’m trying to fall asleep, I gently stroke my hair. When period cramps wake me up at night or I want to feel more connected to the spirit of my breath, I bring my palms to my belly and feel it rise with each inhale. When my inner child is scared or lonely, I cup my face with love. When I’m bored or cold or just sitting on the train, I caress my arms slowly and notice the soft sensations. And when I feel tension in my chest or want to cultivate deeper gratitude, I bring two hands to my heart and hold it with attention.
  3. Sight of how the good shows up — cultivating connection, ease and peace is about recognizing how it all already shows up in our lives. We can expand our perspective daily by taking the time to recognize the small things that are connecting, easeful and peaceful all around us: in the way we do take care of ourselves, in the people closest to us, in the color of the leaves outside, in the crispness of the wind, in the humor of dark situations, in the meal we ate recently, in the way our neighbor’s children play. The more we see it, the more it grows.
  4. Breath is bae — we all already have a lover that is life-giving, soothing, strengthening, clarifying, grounding, with us when we come into the world and with us when we leave it. Breath is #1 Bae for as long as we live, to have and to hold from this day and every day, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. Recognizing and remembering this, honors the love of our lives.
  5. Craft and create often — Brené Brown said, “”unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow, shame.” In the time that we’re in now, we need to be outlet ting the excess energy in us as we’re potentially more cooped up and stimulated than ever. In whatever medium we are drawn to: moving our bodies, spoken word, doodling, singing, etc. we have to let it out and express ourselves. Keeping it all pent up inside only exacerbates our pain.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Come back to your breath — your settled body will physically and energetically help others settle in their bodies
  2. Feel your feet on the ground — your grounded body will physically and energetically help others to ground in theirs
  3. Let them have their feelings — don’t try to fix their feelings, they are entitled to their experience. Invite them (and yourself) to use the feelings wheel to name the present feelings. Psychologist, Daniel Siegal, said, “name it to tame it”; when we acknowledge and recognize the nuances of our emotional experiences, we may likely feel more understood and soothed
  4. Give advice only when it’s explicitly asked — otherwise, practice active listening. Sometimes, what we need most in times of stress is just a kind and present body. If it wouldn’t be a burden to them, ask genuinely and curiously, “how may I support you?”
  5. Share more loving content — share humorous videos, inspiring stories and positive news more than you share the fear-inducing, anxiety-provoking news. Whether it’s on your social media or group texts, what you put out there matters and impacts people.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Firstly, we can learn a great deal from our own breath; bringing our attention to our breath in any moment can reveal a lot about what our bodies are wanting to tell us. Spend more time with your breath and how it’s flowing in various times of the day. This is an embodied approach to learning more about how to be more mindful in our everyday lives.

Additionally, the work of Kristin Neff and Chris Germer in Mindful Self-Compassion and the work of Tara Brach in Radical Compassion and her R.A.I.N practice are incredibly helpful.I also offer a 3-month Abundant Creativity program, which shares thoughtful space and decolonizing education regarding art-making, while inviting us to creatively release excess energy that might add to our anxiety or scarcity mentality.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Without inner revolution, outer action is repetitive.” — J. Krishnamurti. My experiences in my life thus far have taught me, time and again, that if my inner landscape is not tended to, anything outside of me like a stable and wealthy job, beautiful friendships, rewarding promotions, or actions for cultural and societal change, will not land in a way that is sustained and transformational through time.

The world we live in reflects our collective inner landscape; the violence and chaos that surround us correlate strongly with the violence and chaos we try to numb, deny or project from within us. If we lead with rage and resentment in our actions, it’s very hard to not produce more rage and resentment. While these feelings are so valid and necessary, we have to continually tend to them within ourselves and even in community, as opposed to relying on these feelings to fire us up in a movement for change toward very different feelings like love, peace and justice.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement has already begun to imbue, in each of us and our society, a deeply embodied belief that we are inherently creative. This requires approaches and curriculums in learning environments that honor young people’s natural gifts of curiosity, movement and creativity. It requires us to create, make and manifest in ways that feel cathartic and healing to us, without allowing the narrow values of capitalism and colonial mentality to inhibit or silence us; meaning, we have to personally and culturally burn the notions and practices of hyper-capitalization of the arts, perfectionism and “the right way”. It also requires us to intentionally cultivate space for play, even as grown folks with jobs and bills and responsibilities; play can be liberating of the anxieties and fears that keep us from being present, grateful and serene in our lives.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

www.mosaiceyeunfolding.com and instagram @mosaiceye

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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