GUEST COLUMN: Enhancing resiliency during pandemic

GUEST COLUMN: Enhancing resiliency during pandemic

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As we live through a time of unprecedented challenges not only to our physical health but also to our mental and emotional well-being, how do we enhance our resiliency – our ability to get through or bounce back during difficult times?

This past week I was connecting via telehealth with some of our most vulnerable fellow Iowans at a nursing home in rural Iowa. Most residents were still processing the social isolation of not being able to leave their rooms, and understandably feeling lonely, uncertain, or scared.

But one woman in her 50s whom I’ve known for about a year seemed much more cheerful, though for several years she has been mostly bedridden due a physical diagnosis. As I greeted her and asked how she was doing, she answered, “I’m good! How are you?” I suddenly realized that she might have something to offer the rest of us grappling with the effect of the coronavirus and “social distancing.” I asked her how she manages to stay cheerful in the midst of social isolation and physical confinement and whether she had a message she wanted me to share with the rest of the world.

She initially had a moment of disbelief that she could teach us something, but then responded pensively: “You know, I have CDs with the sound of nature. I particularly like to listen to sounds of the ocean and rain. Then I meditate.” More people around the world have come to embrace mindfulness and meditation as key strategies when facing life’s difficulties — methods that have in recent years been confirmed by science as well as practice.

My own journey with mindfulness — living in the present moment, on purpose, non-judgmentally — started informally during my teen years, but deepened during the past 20 years with the help of prominent mentors including Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Davidson, and Father Thomas Keating.

My husband, Jon, and I shared it together as we went through training with Amit Sood, M.D., professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, also an author and TEDx speaker. We were delighted to introduce Dr. Sood to our community in November 2014 during presentations at the University of Northern Iowa and the Cedar Falls Public Library.

After I learned about the work of Otto Scharmer at MIT at an Academy of Management meeting in 2015, a small team of local people from Blue Zones (now Cedar Valley Healthy Hometown) joined me for Otto’s Presencing Institute program at MIT. We had to post a prototype online. To our surprise, several international members asked to join our local hub because they shared our vision. Eventually our local hub became the Global Community Hub, which currently has 390 members from 57 countries and connects monthly with a live Zoom meeting hosted by UNI.

When Jon was diagnosed with cancer in early 2017, Dr. Sood was again there for us at Mayo Clinic as a friend along with our local community here in the Cedar Valley, and our global community – all supporting us through the weeks of Jon’s illness, and for a long time after he passed away on April 6, 2017.

Before we even knew about COVID-19 and all the changes that would soon be happening, our Hub had planned a webinar with Dr. Sood for April 8, from 11 a.m to noon. The topic is “The Resilient Option: Mindfulness Redesigned for the 21st Century,” now with a special focus on how to respond to our present situation.

We want to open this opportunity to anyone who is interested. Several free online resources developed by Dr. Sood will also be available to participants. The webinar will be held on Zoom; it’s free, but advance registration is required to access it. Go to before April 8 to register.

We are grateful for the sponsors who have made it possible to offer this webinar to anyone in our community and beyond: the University of Northern Iowa, and in particular The Human Potential Project; The Flow Channel; Cedar Valley Healthy Hometown; Global Community Hub; u.lab 2x of MIT’s Presencing Institute. This is our gift to our local communities in order to reach and support more people during this challenging time.

Ronelle Langley, Ph.D., of Cedar Falls, is founder of Cedar Valley Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing.

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