“Unleashing Happiness” by Karen Lee Stevens
We are thrilled to introduce our new monthly blog by Founder and new Director of Wellness Programs, Karen Lee Stevens. Learn what inspired Karen to pursue Mindfulness and share her insights as she explores regular topics and experiences through the lens of mental health, wellness and the human-animal bond.
DISCOVERING MINDFULNESS- BLOG POST #1
SEPTEMBER 5, 2023
by KAREN LEE STEVENS
Not that long ago, I was running two businesses, caring for an elderly loved one and trying — quite unsuccessfully, I might add — to have some semblance of a social life. To say I was burnt out would be an understatement.
When I came down with a bout of bronchitis that was determined to stick around, I knew something had to change. My ER doctor friend, James, suggested I try Mindfulness, a form of meditation that encourages one to “pay attention to what’s happening in the present moment, with curiosity and non-judgement, and notice your thoughts, feelings, surroundings, and sensations in your body.”
I was intrigued, so I decided to give it a whirl. In the beginning, I listened to guided meditations on apps like HeadSpace, Breethe, and CALM. Later, my friend, Pamela, introduced me to 10% Happier, a podcast and book by the same name created by Dan Harris, the now retired journalist for ABC News, who endured a panic attack on live television in front of millions of viewers. If meditation worked for someone as stressed out as Dan, I figured it could also work for me. Every morning, I’d press play on my iPhone, close my eyes and let the narrator’s voice wash over me.
If I’m being completely honest, some days my meditations were fantastic — enlightening even — and other days, an email message or distressed phone call could send me tumbling all the way back to the starting line. As one of my teachers would often say, “Meditation is simple, but it’s not easy.”
As I dove more deeply into the world of Mindfulness, I started noticing little changes in my overall well-being and outlook on life. Snarky texts lost their sting and aggressive drivers no longer ruffled my feathers. Friends even starting giving me gifts like crystals and t-shirts that boldly stated “Heavily Meditated.”
I felt like I was onto something and it felt expansive.
I began to wonder if I could adapt our popular ARF! read-to-a-dog program, which gives shy and reluctant readers a safe and welcoming place to practice their reading skills. This time, however, I envisioned children practicing Mindfulness with a sweet therapy dog sitting calmly nearby.
One of our smart and dedicated volunteers, Cat Smith, and I began training to become Mindfulness Instructors through Mindful Schools and MindUP for Life, the brainchild of actress Goldie Hawn. Today, Cat and I teach Mindfulness to children in elementary and middle schools and give them the tools they need to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, while increasing focus and resilience. Our therapy dogs are right there beside them, adding a sense of calm and happiness to the classroom.
The classes aren’t just for children; their teachers also participate to de-stress during their busy workday and to model the desired behavior in their students.
The children affectionately call Mindfulness their “superpower.” Week by week, they eagerly embrace the lessons and breathing exercises as well as the peaceful moments with our therapy dogs. As instructors, we witness positive changes after just a few short weeks. As for me, my journey from burnout to balanced is a gentle reminder that the power to change resides within each one of us, nudging us to spend more time in the precious present moment. It’s in this place of stillness that Mindfulness — our superpower — begins to light up our lives… one breath, one gentle tail wag at a time.
Stay tuned for Karen’s next Blog Post in October!
Questions, comments? Contact her at Karen@TherapyDogsSB.org