In today's episode, we sit down with certified mindfulness instructor Sarah Rudell Beach to discuss what mindfulness is and is not and how it may be just the thing you need in your life!
Like what you heard from Sarah? Check out her books!
--365 Mindful Meditations and Mantras for Busy Mothers--Mindful Moments for Busy Moms
--And Breathe...: Daily meditations and mantras for greater calm, balance, and joy
--Mindfulness for Children: Simple activities for parents and children to create greater focus, resilience, and joy
--Your Mindful Pregnancy: Meditations and practices for a stress-free, happy, and healthy pregnancy
Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis!
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Topics you want us to cover?
We hope you enjoy this week’s episode! If this episode resonates with you, please share it with your friends and family. If you’re really feeling gracious, you can make a donation to https://www.buymeacoffee.com/MMCpodcast. Your donations will be used to cover all of our production costs.
If we have money left over after covering our fees, we will make a donation to the Livin Foundation, which is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote a positive outlook on life, reduce the stigma associated with depression/mental illness, and ultimately prevent suicide through various activities, events, & outreach.
This episode uses the following resources:
--Anderson, Marc & M2 Foundation. Available at: http://m2foundation.org/
--Mindful Schools. Available at: https://www.mindfulschools.org/
--Rudell Beach, Sarah. Available at: https://www.brilliantmindfulness.com/ & https://www.leftbrainbuddha.com
--Williams, M. and Penman, D., 2011. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan For Finding Peace In A Frantic World. New York: Rodale.
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Coming up on The Mindful Midlife Crisis...
Sarah: I think it's more in the approach or the attitude that we're taking towards it. Certainly, I think if — whenever it's been attributed to many people, but I've heard it attributed to Martin Luther. When he was asked how long people should pray every day, he said an hour. This guy was like, "I don't have an hour." He was like, "Well, then, you need to pray for two hours." I think it's the same thing. If someone tells me they don't have five minutes in their day to pause, you need to tell them, "Really? You don't have five minutes. You have five minutes somewhere in the day." If you don't have five minutes, you have two minutes. So, I do think there is an argument for you do have the time. But if the approach to it is like, "Oh, f***, now I got to meditate," that's not going to be helpful. It should be more of 'I get to' than 'I have to.' Part of how we get there is just in trying it and practicing it.
Welcome to The Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Join your hosts, Billy and Brian, a couple of average dudes who will serve as your armchair life coaches, as we share our life experiences — both the good and the bad — in an effort to help us all better understand how we can enjoy and make the most of the life we have left to live in a more meaningful way. Take a deep breath, embrace the present, and journey with us through The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
Billy: Welcome to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host Billy. And as always, I'm joined by my good friend Brian on the Bass. How are you doing over there, Brian?
Brian: I am golden today.
Billy: Oh, golden.
Billy: That sounds fantastic.
Brian: Sparkling, even.
Billy: I love it. I love it. Fantastic. Are you golden because we have two big firsts on the episode today?
Brian: It's kind of a big deal today, this show.
Billy: Excellent. Excellent. So, earlier this week, we had our very first guest. That meant that we had to do our first remote episode.
Brian: We were not up to the challenge.
Billy: We really thought we were up to the challenge. We thought that we had it nailed. We practiced earlier in the week.
Brian: We rehearsed. It went flawlessly.
Billy: Then when we brought our guests into the Zoom chat to record and we went to record, things did not go as smoothly.
Brian: That's right about when things fell apart. But lucky for the listeners, we have a snippet of our confusion that we're going to include at the end of this episode. So, make sure you listen through this episode. At the end, we've got some good comedy for you.
Billy: Yeah, it's golden. We were really doing our very best to look like professionals in front of a professional. But we're very excited because today's episode, we are featuring Sarah Rudell Beach. And so, we would like to play that interview for you right now.
Billy: Sarah is a former high school social studies teacher who is now a Mindful Schools-certified mindfulness instructor, as well as a Mindful Schools' faculty member. She is also author of the books Mindful Moments for Busy Moms, Mindfulness for Children, And Breathe... Sarah, thank you so much for being here.
Sarah: Thanks for inviting me.
Billy: Absolutely. Our first episode, Brian and I, we shared what 10 roles we play in our lives. That's going to be like a re-occurring segment that we want to have on our show. And since you're our first guest, we would like you to share what are 10 roles that you fulfill in your daily life?
Sarah: Yes, I'm so glad you asked me this, too, in advance. So, I'm going to read my list, because it actually took me a while to figure out my list. So, I have mom, teacher, wife, dancer and dance mom — which is all one – writer, dog owner, book nerd, frequent swearer, lover of sparkly things, and a Schitt's Creek super fan.
Brian: That's a very broad list. You seem like a well-rounded person.
Billy: That is a great list. I have so many questions just on that list that I want to ask you. So, we then ask you of those 10 roles, we're going to ask you to choose three that you're most looking forward to in the second half of your life.
Sarah: Okay. So, I chose dancer and dance mom, teacher. I didn't know I would get three. So, now I am like — it's like, okay.
Billy: I'm curious about frequent swearer. Can we choose frequent swearer?
Sarah: I mean, I don't know if that's what I am looking forward to in the second half of life.
Billy: Okay. But that's the one that we wanted. That one stands out. So, what's the third one that you're looking forward to most in the second half of life?
Sarah: Gosh. I would probably go with mom.
Brian: I'm going to second that, just because I know what you're going through. If you have younger children like I do — I have 11 through 4 right now — I can't wait to be a parent when I don't have to find food laying on the floor. Looking forward to it. You know what I mean? Hearing loud strange noises in the house across the house, and then you pause a moment. You're like, is there any crying? Okay. You know what I mean?
Sarah: I do.
Brian: I'm also looking forward to that with you.
Sarah: Yes, my kids are both into double digits now. And that is lovely.
Billy: Brian just magically pulled out a plastic bag that was lying on the floor. These are things you just find.
Brian: Why didn't somebody throw this plastic bag away? It's empty. It's clearly empty. Anyway —
Billy: Will you tell us a little bit about being a dancer and a dance mom?
Sarah: Yes, both my kids are competitive dancers. When my daughter started dancing in kindergarten, or she actually started before that at the studio that we were at, they had a mom’s class. I was like, that sounds awesome. So, I joined the mom's dance. It's not just moms, but it's mostly moms. Yeah, it's awesome. So, I danced in that group. I have another performance line that I dance in. So, that's just super fun. It's just a fun outlet.
In many ways, dance is like a mindfulness practice for me. Because we do tap dance, which is something I never did as a kid. I was a gymnast so I have some talent, but never tap. It requires so much precision and concentration. And so, it's like a good practice. Just focus on that and only that. Because I can't be thinking about the steps of doing a buffalo and worrying about tomorrow's to-do list. I just can't hold both of those.
Billy: Since we're friends on Facebook, I see you promote a lot of times during the holiday season.
Billy: Where do you perform for during that time?
Sarah: One of my dance groups, we like to think of ourselves as Minnesota's answer to the Rockettes because we are a holiday high kick line. In non-COVID years, we performed at senior homes, and hospitals, and malls, and various venues throughout the Twin Cities to bring Christmas joy and dance. I get to dress up like a Rockette. It's super sparkly. Hence, the lover of sparkly things. I get the rhinestone things. So, it's all great.
Brian: You've already given me something I've never had before, which is I've never known anyone that's actually been in a kick line. I mean, they're super cool. But it's nice to meet somebody that's actually in a kick line that you don't just see on TV.
If you ever get that, you see something on TV and you're like, "Do people really do that? I don't know if anybody I know really does that." Well, it's good validation that kick lines — real people do kick lines. Cool.
Sarah: Yeah, a bunch of middle-aged moms in a kick line. It's awesome.
Brian: That’s amazing.
Billy: Then you talked about being a dance mom, too. So, can you talk a little bit more about that?
Sarah: Yeah, it's so fun that it's something that both of my kids and I do. So, we're always at the studio. Again, this year different. I also teach dance at the studio as well, or assist in dance classes. So, that's fun. It's kind of our second home. Yeah, it's just super fun to have that to share with my kids.
Brian: It's also very interesting that you picked it up later in life. It sounds like you didn't grow up dancing. Most dancers do that. Once you start when you're a child, you just stay in it. I know this because my sister owns a chain of dance studios in Wisconsin, so I'm very familiar with the whole dancing.
But she came up because my cousin danced. My cousin had danced since she was small. My aunt danced. So, it was something that was very much passed down in our family. So, why do you think you just decided it was for you and decided to start that?
Sarah: Well, as I said, I was a gymnast — which is very dancer, at least back in the '80s. When I was a gymnast, it was dancing. Now it's very like, oh my gosh, it's crazy things that they have to do now. When I was in college, I was in a dance group, just informal. I didn't study dance in college, but an informal dance group. Then really, I didn't do much of it at all until I had my daughter and then saw that they had mom's classes. I thought it was genius.
Billy: My niece dances for the College of St. Ben. She's been dancing since she was three or four years old. So, I actually like going to the recitals and stuff like that. They're in trouble. I don't want to sit around and watch other people's kids dance. But I will go on watch my niece dance. Even when I'm there, when other kids or other people's kids are dancing, it's really impressive what they're able to do. So, I applaud you, and I applaud your children for being dancers. It's a fun activity.
Sarah: It is, yeah.
Billy: So then, you put down teacher. So, tell us a little bit more. Because you have a traditional public school's teaching background, but then you're also a mindfulness educator teacher as well. So, tell us a little bit more about that.
Sarah: Yeah, so I was a classroom teacher for 17 years, and then I came to my mindfulness practice while I was in the classroom. Then just as I was learning more about mindfulness, I started training and learning to be a mindfulness instructor. I was like, "Oh, my gosh. People need to know this." I could see how stressed out my kids were, and how stressed out kids were — meaning, students — and how stressed out my colleagues were. It was like, I know this thing that's really helpful. Other people don't know this. Again, this was like six or seven years ago.
So, yes, I made the transition to mindfulness teaching. It's been a really fun career shift to move into a different way of teaching. I always consider myself a teacher. Even though I'm not in the classroom every day, but I'm doing a lot of work, especially now teaching teachers mindfulness, and helping teachers cope with the stress of teaching, and then teaching teachers to share mindfulness with their students.
Billy: I've done mindfulness conferences and stuff like that, and led sessions with educators as well. One thing that I actually stole from you is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. To me, I think that's so important for, not even just teachers to recognize, but for all of us to recognize that if we're constantly giving, giving, giving, and there's nothing there to fill our cup up — I'm reading the love languages — so how do we feel our love bucket up? That sort of thing. We need to take time to just mentally refresh. In order to do that, it's important to take some time to simply just breathe. We take that for granted. It's so automatic that we don't sit with our breath.
Sarah: Right. It's Mark Williams and Danny Penman who I think wrote this book. I know I've talked to you about it.
Billy: Yeah, right. We're actually giving one away to one of our listeners just because I have two copies. Yeah, I have two copies. So, we're doing a little giveaway. If anybody posts our whatever little logo on Instagram, we're going to pick somebody's name and give them one of the books. Thank you for bringing that up just magically.
Sarah: Yes, you all better be sharing that logo because that is a good book. They talk about something I use so often when I'm teaching mindfulness especially to adults, which is this difference between doing and being mode, and how so much of our day is doing mode and just this doing, doing, doing. Being feels like indulgent. It feels lazy. It feels — it's so funny. We always talk about how we're so stressed and how we hate being stressed. Then when we're not stressed, we feel like we're doing it wrong. It's like, well, how I'm supposed to feel?
I think you hit on it. We need those moments of just stepping back and just being. I was leading actually a session just over Zoom today for high school students. We did about a 10-minute practice. Even one of the kids was like, "That was great." I just spent 10 minutes not doing anything. It was kind of this mind-blowing moment.
Because how often do we just take 10 minutes to stop and close our eyes, and do nothing but remain awake? We rarely do that. It's just a refresh. One of the kids said. She just felt — I think she used that word 'felt refreshed.' Oh yeah, I can go and do the rest of the things I need to do now because I just had this little reset.
Billy: Well, that’s impressive for teenagers to go for 10 minutes. That's a long time. That 10 minutes is an eternity for teenagers.
Sarah: Right, and it's 10 minutes I was guiding them through most of the practice, not a lot of silence during that time. 10 minutes of silence is like, that was too much for me when I started practicing.
Brian: I think we talked about it last week that if you're just starting out, that it's good to do the guided meditations. Because they really do bring you back to what your intention and what your focus is. We were recommending Calm, Stop, Breathe and Think. But they changed their name to something else. There's a lot of things that you can YouTube.
Sarah: My life now.
Billy: Yeah, and then Headspace, as well. I feel like Headspace is doing something with a promotion with teachers, I believe.
Sarah: They are. I believe all teachers. I think Calm is, too. You can get it for free now during COVID. I think Headspace is doing something on Netflix, right?
Billy: They are. I'm going to bring that up a little bit later. Haven't you watched any of the episodes yet?
Sarah: I haven't. No. I watch Schitt's Creek.
Billy: Okay. Oh, you want to watch Schitt's Creek. Actually, you'll enjoy this, too. There's the Headspace, little 20-minute videos that they have that just talk about what mindfulness is. Then they actually lead you through a mindfulness meditation. I actually listened. I did the first episode last night, and I was eating. Then when they got to the meditation, I'm like, "I'm just going to stop eating for a minute and sit here." When I got done, it was just refreshing. I'm like, "Oh, man. That felt good." But then, for the frequent swearer in you, there's also the History of Swear Words.
Sarah: Yes, I've seen that one, too. I know I need to start creating my cue.
Billy: Your watch list?
Billy: Then you said for your third one, you talked about being a mom that you're looking forward as you move forward into the second half being a mom. Can you talk a little bit about what's it like being a mom now? What do you imagine it will be like being a mom in 10 years from now?
Sarah: Oh, my gosh. I just had a moment there. Because my kids will be out of the house in 10 years, which is mind blowing.
Billy: Was that a good moment or a bad moment?
Sarah: It's one of those moments of like — it's so cliche — the days are long, and the years are short. But it's so true. It's exciting. It's so funny. Before I had kids, I always thought I wanted a baby. Then once they were like one or two, it would be like eew, you have opinions. You express yourself. You move and you're not this cute little thing anymore. I thought I would just not like having teenagers and all of that.
It's been totally the opposite. I would never want to go back to the infancy days. It was such a hard time for me. I talked about this in the books, too. I struggled with postpartum depression. It was just such a hard adjustment for me.
Now seeing my kids become people with opinions and really cool thoughts and talking about everything that's going on in politics with them or watching the political debates. When I was a social studies teacher, I'm a total political junkie. It's so fun to see them become people and really cool people that you want to hang out with. So, I think I'm just excited to see what they'll do. It's so exciting. My daughter who's 14 talks a lot what she wants to do when she grows up and volunteer things she wants to do to get ready for the things she wants to do.
It's so exciting to where we are in our life. Life is a do over. There's always changes we can make. But to be at that age and it's all out in front of you, it's really exciting to watch with the little people that you made.
Billy: Your kids are pretty savvy, pretty witty.
Sarah: Well yeah, I mean—
Billy: I mean, they're your children.
Sarah: Exactly. Why wouldn't they be?
Billy: We talked last week. You mentioned an article, I think, in the Star Tribune.
Billy: You're telling your son that you were famous, and his response.
Sarah: Yeah, so, the Star Tribune reviewed or referenced my book on Mindfulness for Children a couple months ago. So, I showed it to my son. I'm on the variety section, below the fold, but on the first page of the variety section. I was like, "I am famous." He's like, "Mom, you are locally famous."
Brian: You know what, though? If you get famous in the United States, then you're not a world-famous mom.
Sarah: Right, yes. So, they keep you humble.
Billy: Well, our goal with this podcast is for us to blow up and become famous. Then in turn, you will become famous. Or if you become famous before us, we'll ride your coattails.
Sarah: Great. So, it's me, Billy, and Brian. Because they're giving away a book I like.
Billy: Exactly. Brian and I asked each other. Elaborate a little bit more on this one here. So, I'm debating between frequent swearer or Schitt's Creek super fan. Because I'll be honest, I've never watched Schitt's Creek. I know everybody says it's amazing, but I just haven't watched it yet.
Sarah: Yeah. Well, now I'm going to talk about that. I was super late to the game on that one, too. I think we just started watching it. So, I'm like a new Superman, but I think I'm going to be a super fan for life. It is just such a beautiful show — just the message around inclusivity and love. I saw an interview with Dan Levy, who was one of the writers. He just said, "What happens if a rich family loses everything? Well, all you have left is love." To write this story in this town where they're quirky and goofy, but everyone's accepted, to write a queer love story where there's no homophobia is such a refreshing take.
It led to some really cool conversations with my kids. I know there are debates. Should parents let their kids watch it? I would say yes. With me, as their mom, they've heard the F bomb many times. That was not an issue. It just led to some neat conversations about relationships and who you love, and the whole spectrum of sexuality and everything. It's just such a — I just can't say enough. So, you need to watch it.
Billy: You're not the only person to tell me that. That show gets a ringing endorsement from everybody that I talked to. Brian, you watch that one?
Brian: If for nothing else, no, I've seen episodes. Because my wife is also a super fan. So, of course, it's on all the time. So, I've absorbed by osmosis. I'm usually doing other things because I don't have the luxury of watching television, because I have so much stuff going on. But yeah, Eugene Levy is a genius. He's always been a genius. Everything he's ever done has been genius. So, for that fact alone, it's worth watching. It's brilliant.
Billy: Well, we're going to go to break right now. Then when we come back, Sarah is going to tell us what mindfulness is and what the benefits are, and answer any other generic question that we might have about mindfulness, and any advanced questions that we might have about mindfulness. Because as she wrote in her notes, I know this shit. Thank you for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis.
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And now, let's take a minute to be present with our breath. If you're listening somewhere safe and quiet, close your eyes and slowly inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Let's do that one more time. Inhale for 4, 3, 2, 1. Hold for 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Slowly exhale for 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Go ahead and open your eyes. You feel better? We certainly hope so. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with certified mindfulness instructor, Sarah Rudell Beach. Thank you once again for being here. So, let's just start off with this question. Tell us a little bit more about what mindfulness is. But then, will you also talk about what mindfulness is not?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. So, mindfulness is paying attention. It could really just be as simple as that. It's paying attention, which is simple but not easy. I do a lot of work in school. I shared this with a group of fourth graders, like mindfulness is paying attention. The fourth graders just said, "That is so hard." Yes, it is. I find it reassuring. Mindfulness goes back thousands of years in various religious, philosophical and secular traditions. I find it reassuring that 2,500 years ago, people were like, "OMG, there's so much to pay attention to, and so much going on. I just need to sit and breathe." So, it's not just a crisis of our age.
It's paying attention, but with kindness and curiosity. So, there's this real kindness towards experience. So, it's paying attention. Whatever arises, we just tend to that with kindness. If what we notice, we pay attention, and we noticed all these really weird thoughts, or we noticed uncomfortable emotions, or we noticed judgments and biases, we noticed it with kindness. Oh, yeah, I'm a human. I judge things. That's what the brain does. So, I can hold that with kindness. I'm a human, and I get angry. So, I can hold that with kindness.
So, there's a real kindness to the paying attention and a real curiosity, the sense that I don't know what's going to happen. I think I know what's going to happen, because my brain is also a predicting machine. But I really don't know what's going to happen. So, can I be open?
We talked about sometimes the beginner's mind in mindfulness, this idea that we can see something almost the way a child would. In many ways, children are very naturally mindful. I imagine, Brian, with your youngest, you just see that. They're just fascinated by everything. As adults, we're just like been there, done that. But getting back a bit of that curiosity and just that ability to wonder about the world.
Brian: I've got a great story you just brought to mind. I was doing the laundry when my oldest was about five years old. I'm putting the laundry detergent into the bin. He said, "What's that stuff?" I said, "Well, it's just laundry detergent." He said, "Well, what does it do?" I said that makes your clothes smell good. It helps loosen dirt, that kind of stuff. He goes, "Wow. That's powerful stuff." Exactly as you're talking about that one. I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh, she's right," and I've been taking it for granted. So, I no longer do.
Sarah: Yeah, we live in an amazing world. There's so much messed up in the world. I remember my son when we had to replace the toilet seat. That was one of those. Instead of slamming down just gently — he was probably six or seven — he must have put that thing down 800 times. He's like, "This is the coolest thing." There are just some really ingenious things we've created as humans. Just being able to see those.
We have what's called this negativity bias, where we're much more likely to attend to the negative because that's what keeps us safe. We've inherited this from our ancestors who freaked out about things. They passed on those freak-out genes to us. So, we have to work a little harder to counteract that negativity bias and really see those good things. It's a lot easier for those good things to slip by.
Billy: I like that you also talked about that even when you're practicing mindfulness, you might be experiencing discomfort, or you might be experiencing an array of emotions which could range from, "Gosh, I'm so happy you know, because today I got to see my friend," or it could range from anger and hostility. But you're recognizing it and saying, "How do I come at this from kindness?" That sort of thing.
That goes back to that question about, what do people get wrong about mindfulness? What are misconceptions that people have about mindfulness? Because I wonder if there are people out there who think — I have people who will tell me all the time that I'm doing it wrong. I'll tell them, "If you're doing it, you're doing it right."
Sarah: Exactly. So, this idea that it's supposed to feel a certain way. I don't blame people because you look at any — I mean, just Google stock photos of people meditating. It is just the weirdest shit you'll ever see. There are hackers exploding out of people's heads. They're doing awkward poses on jagged rocks. A lot of times it might feel very relaxing, and very nourishing, and very soothing. I like to say that being calm is often a nice side effect of mindfulness, but that's not the point. We don't practice mindfulness. It says the 11-year-old coming in, because I just swore.
Brian: Oh, yeah, you're fine.
Billy: Actually, we might leave that in.
Sarah: Okay. Anyway, I always like to say I'm a very swearing mindfulness teacher.
Billy: I'll tell you that I remember taking the class with you. You dropped an F bomb. One, it was in school.
Sarah: Well, after school.
Billy: It's after hours.
Sarah: After school just for teachers.
Billy: Yes, after school. Just for teachers, not with students around. You were telling the story. You're so authentic. I think, to me, that is a real appeal of listening to you talk about what mindfulness is. Take for example, Mark Anderson, who we went on to the M2 retreat with. He just seems like one of those kindest men. I don't know Mark that well, but I don't imagine it. He swears. Even a thought like that comes out of him. Maybe it does.
I look at him, and like I'll never — he is a Buddhist monk to the nth degree. But I'm like, "Well, Sarah is a teacher. I'm a teacher." There's a connection there, because there's such a relatability because you will drop an F bomb whenever you damn well, please. So, I can connect with that.
Sarah: Yeah, well, I think that's another misconception to this idea that if you're mindful, you are a certain way and that you sound like an NPR host, and that you carry yourself in a certain way that you never get angry. You're just even-keeled the whole time. You are still human.
It's interesting. With COVID and everything, we're doing all of our retreats online which means we're doing retreat at home. Normally, you go to a place for retreat. All your meals are made for you. You're away from everything, and you give up your phone. It's completely isolated. That can be a beautiful practice, but it's also very unrealistic.
There's one — I can't remember the author who said this, because it was only a teacher who quoted it to me. He's like, "You don't go to Tibet for a retreat. The best place for a retreat is like suburban Ohio. Just go hang out somewhere random in the world. That's where we should be on a retreat." So, this really is a practice of being with our full human experience.
So, if you're sitting down and you practice, and you notice that you're agitated and frustrated or stressed, that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. It just means you're agitated and frustrated and stressed. Then you notice that. Okay. How am I going to meet this? Am I resourced enough to handle this? If I am, great. I can sit with it. If not, then I notice my breath, or I'm going to go somewhere else, or do something else that's resourcing.
I think that's another big misconception — that it's something separate from our life, or that it's going to completely change who we are. In many ways, it just changes how we relate to what happens, how we relate to experience.
Billy: I like that you talked about having the resources available to navigate whatever that emotion is. Because a couple episodes ago, Brian and I talked about how toxic masculinity and emotional illiteracy has a significant impact on men's emotional well-being. This came from the Samaritan study that we talked about. They talked about how this emotional literacy and this toxic masculinity had been identified as a possible catalyst for the high suicide rates in men between the ages of 40 and 60.
I imagine when you do a retreat, that the demographic leans towards female. I'm curious if they're — I imagine if men are there, they're open to it. I'm curious. What differences do you see between how men and women respond to mindfulness and meditation?
Sarah: I don't know if I can speak from my personal experience. Generally, like you said, a guy who shows up on a mindfulness retreat is pretty committed, and knows what they're getting into.
There was a study a couple years ago from Brown University. The headline was terrible. Never trust the headlines around mindfulness research. It was like “Mindfulness Doesn't Work for Men." It's like, what? What they actually found was it did work. But there were some significant gender differences between the men and women in the study. These were college students, too. What they found especially — so, negative effect, which is the psychological word for a bad mood. Basically, they use that as a measurement of subjective well-being or happiness.
Generally, they found that after the mindfulness intervention, women felt better and men felt worse. Men actually had, or did show improvements in terms of observing experience in these other elements of mindfulness. So, what the researchers concluded was that mindfulness involves getting close to emotion, looking at emotion and not pushing emotion away.
I think a big part of toxic masculinity is this rejection of emotion or this idea that emotions and masculinity don't really go together, which is ridiculous. So, for men who may have been more conditioned to not work with emotions, this opening up to emotional experience really led to a decrease in happiness. There was a lot of sadness, a lot of anger, a lot of just stuff that hadn't been worked through.
At the end of this mindfulness intervention, he felt a lot worse, whereas the other women felt better. Because perhaps, likely due to just social conditioning, we're more in a place to be able to process that emotion. So, I think there is a something to that. But, again, I think it's more just the cultural conditioning than it is anything problematic or difficult about mindfulness for men.
It's interesting. In non-Western cultures, meditation is not really — most Buddhists in Asia don't meditate. It's more of like a monk practice. The monks are mostly men. It's more of a male practice. Whereas here, in many ways, mindfulness has very much been gendered female, or certainly—
Anyway, in the West, mindfulness is something that's been I think gendered more female, because it emphasizes looking inward and these qualities of compassion, heartfulness, and things that we tend to think of as more stereotypically female.
Billy: How do you — I don't want to see recruit. How do you encourage people to then dip their toe into mindfulness? I remember seeing an interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn, who we actually got to see at the University of Minnesota. You got to actually meet Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Sarah: I did. I got a selfie with JKZ. We are like besties.
Billy: What did he say to you? You guys had a quick interaction, correct?
Sarah: Yeah, well, I brought my book, or it was my copy of his book. It was dog-eared, post-it notes everywhere. He was like, "What?" I was like, "I'm a mindfulness nerd." He's like, "I am, too." So, we had little mindfulness chat. It was really sweet. Anyway, go on. Yes, you were talking about?
Billy: So, he had something. He said something to the effect of, if you're viewing mindfulness as one more thing you have to do throughout the day, don't do it. So, I'm wondering. When you are talking to people about or encouraging them to practice mindfulness, do you come from that lens? Like, "Listen, if you feel like you're adding another thing onto your plate, then you shouldn't practice mindfulness." Are you saying maybe if you practice it, then you would be able to sort out what the clutter is throughout your day? I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to that. I'm just kind of curious.
Sarah: Right. Yeah, I think it's more in the approach or the attitude that we're taking towards it. Certainly, I think if whenever — I think it's been attributed to many people, but I've heard it attributed to Martin Luther, 16th-century monk Martin Luther. When he was asked how long people should pray every day, he said an hour. This guy was like, "I don't have an hour." He was like, "Well, then, you need to pray for two hours."
I think it's the same thing. If someone tells me they don't have five minutes in their day to pause, you need to tell them, "Really? You don't have five minutes. You have five minutes somewhere in the day." If you don't five minutes, you have two minutes. So, I do think there is an argument for, you do have the time. But if the approach to it is like, "Oh, f***, now I got to meditate," that's not going to be helpful. It should be more of 'I get to' than 'I have to.' Part of how we get there is just in trying it and practicing it.
The way I like to think of mindfulness — now, a lot of it's really informed by Somatic Experiencing. I'm not sure if you're familiar with Peter Levine and the Somatic Experiencing work through body-based therapy, used especially to help trauma survivors. It focuses a lot on this idea of nervous system regulation. He talks a lot about being resourced. Am I resourced enough to handle something?
There's so much evidence, that just the way we're holding our body, the way we're breathing, and maybe just being able to shut down some of the sensory channels like take out the visual stimuli, take out the auditory stimuli, that it leads to a greater sense of nervous system regulation. One thing that mindfulness is doing is helping us get to a new set point of regulation in the system.
So many of us are living really in this constant fight or flight state, and we don't even really realize it. We are not meant to live the life that we are living. I remember when I was a new mom, and I was also teaching anthropology. I would show these documentaries of women who had children, and they were not worried about tummy time and mommy-and-me class. We're just not meant to raise our babies alone in the suburbs. We are meant to be social relational creatures. We are not meant to be working as hard as we do, and to be as overstimulated as we are.
But our nervous system doesn't know that. I mean, all these changes have been just a blip in the scale of human evolution. So, we really almost need to retrain our nervous system to have this set point for regulation. So, I think sometimes that approach — you can get this very woo-woo find your inner child piece. I am not woo-woo mindfulness teacher. Show me the research. How is this grounded in the nervous system? I do think that that tends to appeal in general to male audiences more than some of the more flowery language that you sometimes see around mindfulness.
So, I share that not as like a selling point. For me, that's really where I think a lot of the juicy research is in mindfulness right now. A lot of these are trauma therapies and others. So, that's a really, really long answer to your question.
Billy: No, it's a great answer to that question.
Brian: Let me ask you this. As to practice — I'm asking this question of both of you now — do you view it like I do? I have to do certain things to take care of my body. I exercise. I eat right. I sleep enough, and I try to work in a little meditation. That's just the side of things for me that feeds and gives me energy. It's another thing. It's not like something cosmic or flowery at all. It says, or taking a shower. That's how you take care of your body. Do you guys agree with that?
Billy: If it's important to you, you'll make time to do it. If working out is important to you, you'll do it. If food prep is important to you, you'll do it. If practicing mindfulness is important to you, you'll do it.
I just started out by doing five minutes a day, something like three times a week. That was even during the summer when I wasn't even teaching, and I had way more time. I was just like, "I'm going to start off here just to see what this is like, and see if I like it." Then I did. Then I started building up to 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon and then 10 minutes before I went to bed. I think if it's important to you, you'll make time for it.
Sarah: Yeah, so, there was a study. This is just literally like two or three days ago. I saw this study. I have a Google Alert set for mindfulness research. So, this kept popping up. The headline was the most obvious headline ever. It's like, “Mindfulness Works but Not for Everyone”. I'm like, "Well, oh, my God. Put any noun in that sentence, and it is true." Yeah, duh? What I was saying, for some people, exercise is just as effective as mindfulness.
I love teaching mindfulness and sharing mindfulness with people. But if someone hears what I say about mindfulness, and then doesn't practice, that's okay. There are different ways we can take care of ourselves. Some people might journal. That's a really helpful way for them to process emotion. There are other ways we can develop self-awareness.
Exercising, certainly, is something that also helps to regulate the nervous system. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were able to discharge a lot of their nervous system's energy because they were a lot more active than we are. So, there are a lot of other things that can have that same impact.
When I teach with students, we often use the approach like this is a series of experiments. Try this. See it. Don't take my word for it. Go home and try it. Try breathing a few times a day. Try doing this and see what happens.
Billy: This whole podcast, our joke is that we're armchair life coaches. We are in no way, shape, or form experts. We're just talking about what's worked for us. If you hear something you like, go ahead and try it. And if what you're hearing about mindfulness resonates with you, then you have resources. We have real-life experts like Sarah, who you can access as a resource.
Brian: We are experts at cracking wise.
Billy: We are. We do a really — but we're not experts in recording remotely.
Sarah: You can't be jack of all trades.
Billy: Oh my gosh. Your kids are starving, because we couldn't figure this out.
Sarah: That's okay. My husband ordered Applebee's. They're probably way happier than anything. I would have made quinoa or something. It's all good.
Billy: Alright. Well, to your children, you're welcome. I guess, speaking of children, you're doing a lot of work with school-aged children. I'm wondering not only with school-aged children, but even with the adults that you're working with through. Are you working with adults through Mindful Schools?
Billy: Okay. Just in, I guess, the day and age in which we live where we're back into 1300s, where we have a plague and people storming the castle, what are you hearing from them as they come into your sessions about what's the stress or why are they there?
Sarah: So, we talk about this idea of nervous system regulation. There's like multiple systems. There's your individual nervous system. Then collectively, we have social systems that are also highly dis-regulated. So, in many ways, mindfulness is this practice where, okay, let me resource myself so that I can work to make effective change in the world where it needs to happen. If I am just a big stress ball with not a lot of self-awareness, and I don't have good self-care tools, I'm just going to be raging, and I'm burning out. When I can resource myself, I can then act in a way that creates effective change.
I think, in some ways, there's this notion that — I can even see in some schools where there's this sense of like, "Oh my gosh, the teachers are so stressed out. Because you're giving them eight different versions of a schedule, and they have to switch to this and then they have to do this, you can't just throw mindfulness at them as like, "Okay. Sorry, we threw all the shit at you. But here's mindfulness. You're fine."
Mindfulness is not a substitute for meaningful systemic change in education, or more broadly in the culture. If there's a lot of shit that's going wrong, that needs to be fixed. But if we are not resourced, and if we can't see clearly what's happening, if we're still seeing through our judgments and all of our filters and stories, our action is probably just going to inflict more harm.
I think, in many ways, these interventions for teachers, it's really as small as they can seem. They really are resourcing us to be agents of effective change in our classrooms. First, in our own nervous system, and then our classroom system, and then the school system, and then larger systems. It's so hard because all of those — I think of this image that I saw. It was a political cartoon. It was showing all the burdens that educators are carrying, this person. Then it showed an educator of color, and then adding on systemic racism and oppressive white supremacy and all of that.
It's like, yeah, we're carrying all these burdens. So, we need to have these interventions at multiple levels. I don't know if that was quite — I don't know if i really actually answered your question, or I just kind of answered my own version of your question.
Billy: Your answer was really good. Whatever we originally asked and where you went was really fantastic. One thing that I always say with mindfulness is that, it's not going to solve all the world's problems. It's just going to make the world's problems a little bit easier to manage. That sounds like what you were saying right there, that there are widespread systemic issues that mindfulness isn't going to resolve that. Like how you said, you can't just throw a little mindfulness at it and think that it's going to be okay.
Sarah: Yeah, and that's why I think ultimately people think it didn't work. Oh, I'm not happy now. Well, if you're not being adequately paid, and you don't have good health care — I'm not going to turn your show into a political podcast — there are other things that impact it, too.
But, again, it just comes down to — I know I've shared this story with you too, Billy, when I was a new mom, which is when I first came to mindfulness, helping me deal with postpartum depression. It was like yeah, there were all sorts of systemic things contributing to my misery. We needed longer maternity policies. My husband should have been able to take more time to be home with me. All sorts of systemic things that, yes, I should be advocating for and marching.
But I just needed to make it to five o'clock and not lose my shit before my husband came home. That's where mindfulness helps. I suppose we need both. I'm not going to be an effective advocate; I'm not going to be an effective white ally. If I can't heal my own stuff on my own terms and take care of myself, then any action I take is just going to perpetuate harm.
Brian: Like anything. You guys are the experts, not me. But mindfulness is a way of seeing your emotions a little more clearly. You take a moment to appreciate what it is you're going through. Exactly. It's just another little tool in the toolbox to help deal with the emotions, not necessarily the larger problems.
Billy: I think of it where without mindfulness, it's like a school of fish that are swimming very quickly. With mindfulness, it's a musky in a lake that is just lazily going. You can look at it and be like, "Oh, that is a musky." That's just one way, I guess, to oversimplify it.
One last question here for you, Sarah, so that you can get and enjoy your Applebee's. What did you get from Applebee's mind you?
Sarah: I don't even know. We just have it delivered for free.
Billy: Surprise. Applebee's are the—
Sarah: It'll either be a cheeseburger or chicken fingers.
Billy: Baby back ribs. I can't remember if there's — No, that's Chili's. Never mind. That's Chili's.
Brian: Her husband's a good guy because he already knows what together.
Sarah: He does, yeah. I mean, DoorDash has been lovely during this pandemic. So, I'm sure you just had the saved order.
Billy: So, we'll get you out on this here. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now with regards to mindfulness?
Sarah: So, it's been interesting to be somewhat in the ground floor. Maybe I'm like on the first floor. I don't know if it was really ground floor. Maybe first floor. This mindfulness and education movement, I've been doing this work about six or seven years now. What's been really neat is to see this movement that started with individual teachers who just randomly learned mindfulness. We're sharing it with students, and now it's starting to become a thing. So, now we see teachers you that have curricula, and they're able to teach a program. Now we're starting to see mindfulness at the school-wide or even district-wide level.
These ways, I would really like to be involved in ways that we can reimagine what education is. I think, in many ways, COVID is forcing us to do that. I think some of these online learning components might still be there. I think we're asking like, how much time in the seat do students need? What kind of things do we need to be teaching them? What kind of mental and emotional resources do we need to be providing students? How do we make this emotional awareness? This ability to regulate the nervous system and regulate attention, how do we make this part of education? I really hope that my next 10 years are doing that work.
Billy: Wonderful. One of the tenets of mindfulness is gratitude. I want to extend my gratitude to you on a couple different levels. First of all, I came to mindfulness through my therapist — a man named Ben Dixon. When I started, when I came back to school, you were leading a session for teachers. I don't know if you remember this or not, but I remember seeing you leading that class. I'm like, "Who the hell is this? Mindfulness is my thing. Wait a minute. Who is this imposter? Who is leading this mindfulness class?"
So, I remember sending you an email like, "Could you please tell me your credentials about what mindfulness is?" Then just a wonderful email back. I was like, okay. Because this is a big building where we are, so we don't necessarily know all the staff members. I'm like, "Who the hell is Sarah Rudell Beach?" But anyway, I went to your mindfulness class. Though I already dipped my toe in the water, it is your class that led me to Mindful Schools, which it's funny how the world works.
Now you work for Mindful Schools. You encouraged us to take the Mindful Educators Essentials course, or to me the Mindful Essentials Course. Then I went and did the Mindful Educator course where I could teach my class. Then through that, like you, I wanted to share mindfulness with the world. You put that passion in me, or you are one of the people who put that passion within me. So, I just wanted to say thank you for doing that, because mindfulness has really been a big part of my life.
That's why I wanted to start this podcast. I wanted to share that with as many people as I can. So, thank you for that, and thank you for being a guest. We really hope — we love having you on here today. We would love if you come back and visit us again in the very near future.
Sarah: My children would probably like it, too, because they might get Applebee's again. I want to say thank you, too. I mean, that was really touching. So, thank you. I do remember when I made the decision to leave the school and pursue this work, there was this — you were starting to do some mindfulness sessions. So, there was a sense of, it's not like I'm leaving now and they're not getting mindfulness there. Someone was continuing to do the work. So, that was really exciting to see that. So, thank you. Thanks for inviting me.
Billy: We actually sat down. Because when you were decided to go and do your certification and start your own mindfulness business — that people can check out, by the way, at www.brilliantmindfulness.com. Sarah has online courses there and other courses that you can check out, and other resources that you can check out www.brilliantmindfulness.com.
I was showing you my five-year plan. What's funny is, I actually put in there 2016-2017 school year August, 2017, turn 40 experience midlife crisis. So, I was hoping that I, myself, was going to be a certified mindfulness instructor. Then I actually shifted jobs. I shifted roles. I went from a teacher into this dean position. That was a different path that I've gone down. But I'm very happy that we've reunited here through this podcast. I'm so proud of you for the work that you're doing. It's such an important work. Thank you so much, Sarah.
Sarah: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.
Billy: You bet. Enjoy your Applebee's.
Thanks for listening to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. We will do our best to put out new content every Wednesday to help get you over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact us, or if you have suggestions about what you'd like us to discuss, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Instagram @mindful_midlife_crisis. Check out the show notes for links to the articles and resources we referenced throughout the show. Oh, and don't forget to show yourself some love every now and then, too. And now, back to the show.
Billy: Welcome back to The Mindful Midlife Crisis. Isn't Sarah amazing?
Brian: Yeah, as advertised, she was — I just can't believe all the different things she does. The depth of her personality is astonishing. I mean, who's in a kick line, and studies mindfulness, and is a teacher? I mean, all the dance. She's involved in dance. I mean, that's crazy.
Billy: Yeah, she joked about you can't be a jack of all trades. But she is definitely a Jill of all trades.
Brian: She is.
Billy: She's amazing. So, what did you learn today from her?
Brian: That mindfulness maybe is not a fix all, but a part of the solution. Actually, mindfulness and listening to this show are two good steps forward, but it's not going to be everything.
Billy: Yeah, I was really impressed with her answer about how mindfulness is not a substitute for meaningful systemic change. She talked about we have nervous systems, and we have social systems. Though one may be regulated, the other may not. So, mindfulness allows us to be in a headspace to be an agent of change, where change needs to happen. But that doesn't mean social systems can't deregulate us, that we need to have interventions at multiple levels.
It made me reconsider what I said in the episode or in the interview with her when I said, "Mindfulness doesn't solve all the world's problems, it just makes the world's problems a little easier to manage." Now I feel I need to add on, "It makes the world's problems easier to manage, so that we can affect systemic and social change."
Brian: If I had to just use one word that describes Sarah Rudell Beach, I think it would be dynamic.
Billy: Oh, that's a great word.
Brian: She is a dynamic person.
Billy: And a dynamic personality, just to talk to — I liked how she talked about where she's more of — she's not like foo-foo mindfulness. She's direct and speaks to the data mindfulness.
Brian: She's bringing it down to earth. She's a real person and not — again, we discussed it in the episode. A lot of people can get this picture that mindfulness is some new age, cosmic thing, healing. It's not at all that way. It's a very practical thing that you can bring into your life. You don't have to believe in mysticism to use mindfulness.
Billy: I love that you used that word practical. That's a great, perfect word to describe what mindfulness can be for us, if we choose to use it.
Brian: It's a tool.
Billy: Yeah, and if you're thinking, "Well, mindfulness isn't for me," listen, that's alright too. But if you are thinking mindfulness is good for you and you're thinking that you want to learn more from Sarah, she has all sorts of resources that she talked about.
Again, you can find her books on Amazon. Mindful Moments for Busy Moms, Mindfulness for Children, and her book And Breathe are all available on Amazon. Again, you can check out her courses, which are available at www.brilliantmindfulness.com. Again, what's so amazing at the circle of life where she started out with Mindful Schools as a student of that, she is now the master.
Once again, thank you so much, Sarah Rudell Beach for enlightening us with your knowledge on mindfulness. We greatly appreciate that. For Brian and Sarah, this is Billy. We want to thank you for being part of this conversation. May you feel happy, healthy, and loved. Take care friends.
Billy: Man, I wonder why that didn't work out.
Brian: I don't know. The only thing we've changed is on my end. But Sarah should be set up like mine. You know what I mean?
Billy: Right. Yeah, I don't get it either.
Brian: We tried it. It worked. It was a snap. We were top five and digitally and stuff.
Billy: It was really fantastic.
Sarah: I believe you.
Billy: That is important. For some reason or another, that is important. Because if we ask you for a reference at some point, we don't want you to be like, "No, no, no. Don't work with those two idiots."
Sarah: Those two can't even work with the f***ing computer.
Brian: Hey, we're gorgeous and we're talented.
Billy: That's why we do the podcast. That's why we did the podcast.
Brian: That's why we're on the podcast. We're not the smart guys.
Sarah: Super judgy and non-mindful.
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