|Being mindful helps de-stress everyday life
by Dawn Brazell
Ramita Bonadonna well remembers her first clinical day in nursing
school. Her assignment was to walk down the hall and just go talk to a
“I was walking down the hall in my little white uniform, and a man
opens the door to his room and he’d had– what I know now–was a radical
neck dissection. He was severely disfigured from a surgical procedure.
He met my eye, and I met his. He said, ‘Come here. Tell me what this
Scared to death, Bonadonna used her new “reflective listening” skills
and said, “You want to know what your surgical site looks like? and he
said ‘Yes…I don’t have a mirror.’” She asked him if he wanted a mirror.
When he nodded that he was ready to face the sight, she went to find
one. She brought it back and sat with him while he looked at his face
“I didn’t have to tell him how frightening he looked to me. All I did
was reflect what he was feeling,” she said of using her communication
training from Nursing 101. “I knew then that listening to patients was
what I wanted to do as a nurse.”
Conveying compassion is a calling for all health professions, whether
they hold the job of psychiatric consultant as Bonadonna, Ph.D., does
or not. Bonadonna said she has no doubt her practice of mindfulness
meditation has made her a better health professional and dramatically
improved the quality of her life.
It’s why she and Chris Larson, a senior Zen student from Asheville,
N.C., will be hosting a one-day workshop Jan. 29 called “Zen in
Everyday Life” at James Island County Park from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
featuring how to develop mindfulness to reduce stress and improve the
quality of life. The session will include tips on developing a practice
and guided imagery exercises.
Bonadonna said her practice has evolved over many years. She got
interested in mindfulness training in the ‘70s when she began exploring
therapeutic touch, an energy-based intervention developed by Delores
Krieger, Ph.D., R.N. “I could see the difference my state of
consciousness made in my interactions with patients —not only for doing
therapeutic touch, but for engaging and connecting and facilitating the
The more she practiced, the more her quality of life improved. She
taught mindfulness-based stress reduction courses at Hollings Cancer
Center in the mid-90s and got rewarding feedback from patients about
how much it helped.
“I started to realize what a huge difference these practices can make
in people’s lives—whether they were healthy or ill—whatever is going
on. If you do these practices, they make a difference.”
Bonadonna said it can feel awkward at first learning how to incorporate
more stillness and solitude into the day. There’s motivation to do it,
though, when she sees how those moments of solitude translate to how
she handles the rest of her life, whether professionally or personally.
As a psychiatric consultant, she’s seen her meditation practice add
depth to her nursing practice. Before she goes in to meet with a
patient, she takes time to internally “clear the decks” and let go of
“As I’m knocking on the door I’m about to I enter, I recognize that I
have no clue. I may have some facts, but I really don’t know what’s
going on on the other side of this door or who this person is. I let go
of my preconceived ideas and I recognize that I’m here to meet this
person. It’s not like I’m going in as a white-coated professional with
an agenda. I put that aside. I look to see what is this person’s
experience. I bring genuine curiosity about who this person is.”
She’s able to do that, in part, because her practice has helped her
face her own fears so she’s better able to be with someone else as they
look at theirs. She had a patient recently who had gotten news that he
had inoperable cancer. She met with him and asked if he wanted to talk.
He told her no, unless she wanted to talk about dying from cancer.
“I told him, “That’s absolutely a conversation I’m willing to have.”
It took him and his wife by surprise, and it opened the door to a
healing conversation. “Talking helps with some of the fear. The more
willing I am to face my own fears and pain, the better I’m able to help
someone else while they deal with theirs.”
Bonadonna said that research on the practice of mindfulness has shown
it can positively affect a wide range of chronic physical and
psychological conditions ranging from depression and post traumatic
stress disorder to pain and cancer. It’s her hope that more people in
the health professions will learn to use its power, for themselves as
well as for their patients.
“It’s why we got into the profession in the first place. It was to heal
and to help people—to make a difference in people’s lives. Yet it’s our
own internal busyness and our own critical self-image that often gets
in the way.”
Her practice has shifted the focus from “fixing” people to helping them
help themselves—learning to trust in other people’s adequacy to take
care of themselves as well as her own ability to identify and meet her
“I’m a much happier person. I appreciate what I have. I’m not as driven
toward seeking the future or regretting the past. I’m better able to
experience the present moment. The more I practice, the more I see how
miraculous it is.”
6 tips to a happier
Find a practice
that you can do every day that brings you peace.
“That could be meditation, prayer, song, baking—but find something you
can do routinely every day that brings you peace. It’s important to
step outside of the routine, fast-paced world and learn to focus and
Learn to break
the habit of self-criticism.
“We are such good people, and yet we live with this constant harangue
of ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not doing enough, why did you do
that,’ which is a constant commentary that is torturing us. To be able
to shift attention away from that to a sense of peace can make a huge
difference. It takes practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just
knowing that this is a possibility is a big step in the right
mindfulness practice is as easy as you make it.
Expect to eliminate some activities from your schedule to make room,
but know developing a mindfulness practice is not complicated. It can
be as easy as picking up a book, an audiotape, going to a conference or
picking up a sport. It varies based on the individual. She loves
getting “Practice Everywhere” tweets (livingcompassion.org), so
mindfulness becomes integrated into her whole day.
Bonadonna does yoga five days a week and practices a 30-minute silent
meditation daily, but some people just adopt everyday mindfulness
moments, such as when they’re washing their hands or tying their shoes,
she said. The key is to put yourself in the moment and open all the
with monkey mind.
The beauty of mindfulness training is that it allows a person to
develop a different relationship with what’s known by
practitioners as “monkey mind” or the state where the mind jumps from
subject to subject.
“Recognize that this is just what the brain does—this is just what the
mind does. If I can pay enough attention to it so I
recognize the patterns—there are only a few patterns--it’s like an
endless loop. It’s not very creative. It’s clever, but it doesn’t come
up with a lot of new stuff.”
She said it’s easier to let it go when the patterns can be recognized.
It does take a willingness to commit to the practice of paying
“It’s being willing to make your own well-being a top priority.
Everything else falls into place behind that. We’re worth the effort.
People know more intimately than anyone else on the planet what they
need to do to take care of themselves.”
to grow. Practicing mindfulness enhances gratitude. “I’m much
more grateful for what I do have. That self-critical voice can never
get enough. To find that there is a real choice I can make and to make
the choice to be present rather than listen to the internal critic,
frees me up to enjoy what I have.”
power of solitude. When we spend time in solitude and
introspection, we get a sense of what’s true about who we really are,
she said. “We’re so overstimulated. It comes down to self knowledge.
Are you willing to find out who you really are?”
Dr. Bonadonna and her cat, Meeka, enjoy a quiet meditation moment.
Dr. Bonadonna finds it helpful to have a special place to meditate.
She’s created a nook in her living room.
Friday, Jan. 14,