Every time you feel overwhelmed by what you’re hearing on the news, the opinions expressed by other people, or a stifling sense of unease, take time to see what’s around you. If you’re watching TV, walk away from the television set. Go outside or go to another room. Notice the pictures on the walls. Notice the shape of the doorknob on the door. Examine each piece of furniture in the room by noticing its color, shape and style. Keep focusing on what you see. That little exercise in mindfulness can get you grounded again. Sometimes when I feel slightly depressed by the news, I walk outside and feel the ground under my shoes or reach down and run my fingers through the green grass. That helps to ground me.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Cheasebro. Margaret Cheasebro is an author, Reiki Master, and retired journalist and elementary school counselor. She has written three books relating to trees: a young adult fantasy novel, “The Healing Tree”; a non-fiction book, “Healing with Trees: Finding a Path to Wholeness”; and a children’s fiction book, “If I Were a Tree, What Would I Be?” She enjoys playing the piano and playing table tennis with friends and at state and national Senior Games.
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?
I think of my major career path as being a writer. When I was nine years old, I used to write fiction stories about our dogs and cats. I was the editor of my high school newspaper, but when I got to college, I didn’t pursue a degree in journalism. I had the totally untrue belief that no one would be interested in me enough to let me ask them questions so I could write articles about them. I didn’t have much self-confidence back then.
I pursued a career as an elementary school teacher for a few years while I saved enough money to attend graduate school to get my psychology, counseling and guidance degree. I was an elementary school counselor for 17 years, a job I really enjoyed. I remember working one day with a very intelligent first grader whose grandfather had recently died. She was troubled by his death. I did some sand tray therapy with her in which she used miniature figures to create a little world in the sand tray. Her tray was divided into two sections. One contained her house and family and normal daily activity. The other was an area without much detail. What she was creating was the huge question weighing on her mind that she didn’t know how to put into words. The space without much detail represented the unknown that her grandfather had stepped into when he died. Where had her grandfather gone? Was he okay? What was it like where he was? I suspected all these questions preoccupied her mind, but she didn’t have words to adequately express them. I let her tell me what she wanted to about her drawing. Then I sent her back to class and called her parents. Once I knew they attended a church, I recommended that together they talk with their pastor to help their daughter understand the answers to her questions from the perspective of their chosen faith. Her teacher said she was doing well after that.
Though I enjoyed my work as a counselor, my first love has always been writing. I was able to work for 14 years in various aspects of journalism, from a reporter to managing editor of weekly and daily newspapers in New Mexico. After retiring, I focused on writing feature articles for regional magazines and writing books. One of the articles that touched me most was interviewing the four Bataan Death March survivors who in 2008 were still alive in San Juan County, New Mexico, where I live. They told of stark living conditions and deprivation. Years later, if they visited with fellow Bataan Death March prisoners, they would lapse into speaking Japanese, a language the guards forced them to learn on threat of death.
I discovered Reiki after a massage therapist I went to suggested I get a Reiki treatment. The Reiki treatment was very relaxing, and I became intrigued by the technique. I eventually became a Reiki Master, which means I can teach Reiki to others. People sometimes call me a day or two after a treatment to tell me that they felt relaxed during the treatment, they had relief from physical conditions I didn’t know they had, they had dreams to help them solve problems, or they were able to sleep much better. Sometimes they gain insights into issues that have bothered them for years. It makes me feel inspired and delighted to see how effective Reiki can be.
Though I enjoy Reiki, my main work continues to be writing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I can’t think of one story that stands out. I have had the privilege of interviewing a former astronaut, a successful Navajo clothing designer who started out training as a psychologist, a playwright who was also an actor, and many, many local people who are extraordinarily talented — business owners, artists, a pilot who fight fires, Blue Star Mothers whose husbands or children are deployed with the military, bow hunters, volunteer fire fighters, a rodeo clown, a long-time realtor who later helped me sell my house and buy a new one, and more people than I can remember. I do recall that when I was interviewing former astronaut James Irwin by phone, in the middle of the conversation it dawned on me that I was interviewing someone pretty famous, and I almost lost my train of thought.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
As an author, I work alone in the office in my house, so I don’t deal with employees or with an office environment. What is important for me is that I surround myself with enough things in my office that, during a short break, I can look at them and remember something that makes me smile or warms my heart. There’s a huge colorful sunflower made of blue, green and yellow cloth that hangs on my wall. A Navajo bilingual teacher gave it to me after I helped her correct some of her grammar in research papers she was writing for a post graduate degree. She was a good friend, and I smile when I see that sunflower and remember how she spent a day taking me around to trading posts on the Navajo Nation just for fun. There’s a picture of my son as a four-year-old smiling into the camera. He’s 34 now and a successful civil engineer. On top of a tall cupboard, there are stuffed lion and pelican puppets that remind me of years when I used to help my elementary counseling students write puppet plays. They would perform them to share in stories with other students about how they had learned to cope with challenging times in their lives. If I look at those things just for a moment, it helps to relieve eye strain, and it gives my mind a brief break from whatever I’m writing about. It’s important for me to take a break every now and then to walk around my back yard and stretch my legs.
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?
One of the most helpful books I’ve read is “The Astonishing Power of Emotions” by Esther and Jerry Hicks. They talk about focusing our thoughts on things that make us feel good rather than on things that drag us down. It’s kind of like a river. When you are thinking upbeat, happy thoughts, it’s like floating downstream. It doesn’t take much effort. But when you’re thinking thoughts that weigh you down and make you feel upset, it’s like trying to paddle upstream. You don’t make much headway. It’s been a great reminder to me to go with the downstream thoughts. Life is easier to handle that way. I use that technique often to keep my mind focused on more pleasant downstream thoughts.
A book I just finished reading is “Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on the Navajo Nation” by Michael Powell, a successful New York Times journalist. In it, he describes his experience over many months immersed in the experiences of the Chinle High School boys’ basketball team on the Navajo Nation in Chinle, Arizona. He not only captures the landscape but the culture that makes it hard for many Navajos to stand out, to find greater success than others in their family and community. Those who do go on to find success have to learn to overcome the idea that it’s not okay to stand out. I taught elementary school in nearby Many Farms, Arizona for four years, so it reminded me of the culture and the people and of the stark beauty of the land I loved exploring for four years. Powell captures the thrill of winning basketball games, the crush of losing them, the enthusiastic crowds, the parents who loudly accused the coach of playing favorites, and the attempts by team members to understand why they couldn’t always stay focused during the game. Powell spent long bus rides with the team, going to games in towns far away, carrying on conversations with players and coaches and really getting to know them. It’s a wonderful book for anyone who likes basketball and the Navajo culture. The intense loyalty with which parents and fans support their teams, traveling sometimes hundreds of miles to watch a game, is something to witness. Powell’s description of the players and their individual life challenges reminded me of my time working and living on the Navajo Nation. The book also reminds me that I need to examine the values and beliefs of my own family and ancestors. Which are strengthening me? Which are confining me? How can I step beyond the confining values and beliefs to blossom into what is the healthiest and most fulfilling person for me to be?
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?
To me, being mindful is being able to stay in the present moment. Meditation, exercise, or walks through the neighborhood can all help get you into a mindful moment. Meditation is a way of training your mind to focus on the breath or on a healing image that brings you to a moment of awareness beyond your physical body. Exercise helps you focus on a particular set of movements, which can help you let go of thoughts that keep popping up in your mind uninvited. Walks through the neighborhood let you notice what’s around you. See that beautiful tree, appreciate those bright colored flowers, spot the cat sliding through the grass. They all help you stay focused in the moment so that intruding thoughts stay away.
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?
I was asked to teach a workshop a few years ago about mindfulness at a state New Mexico Press Women conference. Sprinkled through my talk were some exercises they could do to create a sense of calmness, stretch muscles and help to move energy more effectively through the body. I didn’t think about how that much could affect the listeners until someone who went to a different presentation said she wished she had gone to mine because everyone came out of the room looking so relaxed. Becoming mindful helps our bodies relax, helps shift our mental thoughts to a more peaceful place and helps to keep our emotions on a more even keel. Our emotions can take us for a rollercoaster ride of anxiety, worry, anger, frustration, or fear unless we train ourselves to be more focused on just one moment in time.
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. Each day before you leave the house, mentally see a golden sphere of light, joy and unconditional love around you. You are safe in the middle of that sphere, completely surrounded by light, joy and unconditional love. You become mindful of this protective sphere around you every time you think about it. This can be especially important if you are easily affected by other people’s emotions. One day I was in the checkout line at a store where the cashier must have been new to the job. He was doing things slowly and trying to remember all the details he was learning. His anxiety affected me. Once I got outside, I felt a little dizzy and immediately realized what had happened. I had picked up his emotions, shouldering them as though they were my own. I used the palm of my left hand to make a counterclockwise circle around my heart energy center to open it up. Out came emotions that made me a little tearful. I focused on sending the light of love into my heart energy center. When everything I’d picked up from that worried cashier left, I used my right palm to make a clockwise motion around my heart, closing the center and sealing inside love and light. The dizziness was gone after I successfully shed that emotion that didn’t belong to me. Anytime you feel physically, mentally or emotionally overwhelmed, unlike your normal self, check your heart energy center to see if you’ve picked up something that doesn’t belong to you. Try to remember to put yourself in a golden sphere of light, joy and unconditional love every morning so that you protect yourself from other people’s stuff.
2. Every time you feel overwhelmed by what you’re hearing on the news, the opinions expressed by other people, or a stifling sense of unease, take time to see what’s around you. If you’re watching TV, walk away from the television set. Go outside or go to another room. Notice the pictures on the walls. Notice the shape of the doorknob on the door. Examine each piece of furniture in the room by noticing its color, shape and style. Keep focusing on what you see. That little exercise in mindfulness can get you grounded again. Sometimes when I feel slightly depressed by the news, I walk outside and feel the ground under my shoes or reach down and run my fingers through the green grass. That helps to ground me.
3. When you take a walk outside, notice the trees around you. Appreciate their shape and color. Be thankful for how beautiful they look. If you don’t feel too embarrassed, tell the trees how pretty they look and how much you appreciate them. The more you do that, the more you will be caught up in the mindfulness of the moment and the less you will be drawn into the emotions that can be triggered by these uncertain times. If you do that often enough, sometimes you may notice one particular tree, almost as though it is trying to call your attention to it. Focus on the tree, tell it how beautiful it is, ask if it has something to tell you or needs something from you. Then listen until you hear the answer. Trees often want to be acknowledged and appreciated, or they may want you to pray for them in whatever way you are comfortable doing that. Paying attention to a tree that seems to be calling for your attention is a great way to focus on that tree’s needs and to forget about what you saw on the news.
4. Take a moment to ground yourself. Imagine white or golden light flowing through the top of your head, down your torso, arms and hands, through your legs, into your feet and then deep into the earth. Imagine that you are deeply anchored into the earth. Then allow that white or golden light to flow from deep in the earth, into your feet, up through your legs, your torso, hands, arms, neck and head until it flows out the top of your head and into the sky where it finds a strong anchor. The more you practice this short exercise, the faster you can do it. Practice it anywhere, and it will help you ground into the mindfulness of that moment. I’ve noticed that trees sometimes ask for this exercise, and when I do it with them I feel so focused on the process that other concerns fade away.
5. Go into your yard and begin pulling weeds. When you pull up one weed, look at it carefully. Notice the stem, the leaves, the shape the weed makes, how it has its own beauty. Keep pulling weeds and noticing the shape until you find yourself able to focus on just that moment without any unwanted thoughts intruding. Sometimes when I’m working in my garden, I get so involved in pulling weeds that I forget everything else. Pulling the weed, dropping it into a bucket and moving on down the row can put me into a mindful state pretty quickly.
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. Take time to pay a visit to someone who feels anxious. Often, what they need more than anything is to have someone listen to them. Just lend a listening ear.
2. If you know an anxious person likes ice cream, drive them to an ice cream parlor and buy them an ice cream cone. Once my mother-in-law was very upset by something that someone had said to her, I found her in an agitated state when I visited her. Once she was at the ice cream parlor, she calmed down a great deal and was in a much better mood.
3. Buy a potted plant and take it to a person who is feeling anxious. Sometimes when people have a plant to look after, it takes their mind off of what makes them feel anxious. I took a potted plant to a friend of mine who felt sad and anxious over something that had happened in her life. The fact that someone would take the time to bring her such a gift meant a great deal to her and shifted her mind’s focus away from negative thoughts.
4. If you think the person is able to focus enough, bring them a book to read. It might relate to an experience of someone who successfully went through an event similar to what is making them anxious. Or it might be a delightful children’s book or a book filled with humorous essays or intriguing pictures. Anything that will help them to take their mind off what makes them anxious will give them a needed break.
5. Sometimes having a pet to take care of can help a person who feels anxious. A friend of mine didn’t want to get a dog but at the same time felt drawn to going to the animal shelter to find one. We talked about the pros and cons, and she decided to find a dog at the shelter who needed her. The expression on her face completely changed after she got that dog. She looked so happy and frequently smiled, whereas before she looked sad and worried. If you think an anxious person you know would be a good dog or cat owner, offer to take them to the animal shelter for a visit. Let the person decide how to proceed from there.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Jon Kabat Zinn, a mindfulness expert who works at a clinic at the University of Massachusetts
Medical Center, is a wonderful resource for learning more about mindfulness. “Mindfulness,” he says, “is a particular way of paying attention in a non-judgmental way. It is a moment-to-moment awareness.” Any CD series, book, or magazine articles by or about him would be a wonderful resource.
Dr. Wayne Dyer was an internationally renowned author and speaker in the field of self-development and a trained psychologist. He wrote a memoir, “I Can See Clearly Now”, in which he examined many events in his life, some painful, some that made him furious, others that lent graceful guideposts to his life. As he confronted one memory, the father who deserted him as a child, and searched for his father, he discovered healing and insights that added deep meaning to his life. That book might help to inspire us to look at the pain and gifts in our lives so that we find in them the nuggets of gold hidden there. Dyer uses a quote from Reshad Field at the beginning of his book that is insightful. “If we stop for a moment, it is possible to perceive a pattern in our lives; the motivators that have influenced us become more obvious. We are able to see life unfolding from both ends at once, coming into the present moment. But until we have got to a certain point of realization, this is not possible, because everything is still seen as a series of apparent causes and effects.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I like a quote from Wayne Dyer. “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
It has become a common quote, but it has uncommonly good results when people decide to look at things differently.
I experienced the truth of that quote this year (2020) in early March as I looked at flowers just starting to green up in a small flower bed by my side door. I wished I had a grape hyacinth to plant there. Many years ago when we lived in the country about 12 miles away, my husband had planted a whole row of grape hyacinths in a flowerbed that bordered our driveway. Every spring those were the first flowers that sprouted. My husband died six years ago, and I was really missing him. Maybe if I had a grape hyacinth, I wouldn’t miss him quite so much. Instead of pining over not having a grape hyacinth, I decided I would enjoy the flower bed as it was. The rose bush in the middle of the flower bed was just beginning to blossom and looked so pretty. I’d be okay without a grape hyacinth. About a month later I was working in my garden, which borders the back yard of my neighbors, a young couple with three children. The father was working in his back yard when he saw me and carried over a clump of dirt with green stems sprouting from it. “I don’t know what this flower is,” he said. “They grow all over here, and I keep moving them around. Would you like one?” “Sure,” I replied. I figured if I didn’t like it, I could dig it up later. I took the clump of dirt from him and planted it in my side yard not far from that blossoming rose bush. I watched it every day, and it wasn’t long before the flower began to grow purple blossoms. One looked like a column of purple. The other blossom reminded me of a clump of grapes. Grapes! It was a grape hyacinth! My neighbor, who had no idea what the plant was, had given me the flower I’d been longing for.
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. 🙂
I don’t think this is a new idea, but I would encourage people to every day do one kind thing or say something kind to someone without any thought of getting something in return. Those kind acts could change someone’s life in a way we might never imagine. I might call it One Kind Deed a Day.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
There are several ways on Facebook, Twitter and on my two websites. The addresses are:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!