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Mindful Resilience: Navigating the Labyrinth of Change in Times of Challenge by Pamela Cotton, Mindful Resilience Press, 2010, 148 pp.

It is a pleasure to tell you about Mindful Resilience, since it is a book you might not have heard of before. Pamela Cotton is a member of my congregation, and this book represents a coming together of her professional skills as a therapist, her spiritual life in contemplative practices, and her personal journey through a tumultuous time of change and loss in her life. Mindful Resilience offers concrete strategies, personal storytelling and Spirit wisdom for anyone seeking to be present and open to growing through life’s most difficult challenges.

Mindful Resilience is grounded in the belief that our ability to remain resilient in tough situations is connected to and improved by the practice of giving sustained, “non-judgmental attention”  and presence to the situation. Pamela tells the story of her own journey through a major move to a new and unfamiliar location; the death of her father; her mother’s diagnosis of ALS and subsequent need for care, and eventually her mother’s death. She describes the techniques of mindfulness that she practiced during this time, and how they enabled her to relish the beauty of these holy moments, in spite of their pain and her own natural resistance to the events that were unfolding. It was my privilege to serve as Pamela’s pastor during much of the journey she describes in the book. I can testify to that she practiced what she preaches, and that those practices kept her present to the moment and gave her strength to not only endure but grow and even find joy in the midst of the struggle.

As a pastor, I connected most deeply with her descriptions of being present to the moment. We clergy journey alongside people in some of the most difficult moments of their lives—the death of a spouse or child, a medical crisis, a divorce, a job loss, family violence and more. Sometimes, we can help in concrete and meaningful ways. Most of the time, however, all we have to offer is our presence and a few words of prayer or scripture. Pastoral care literature has long taught us that clergy can help in crisis situations by serving as a “non-anxious presence” available to those involved, remaining calm and open and attentive as those around us are in crisis. This is both impossibly difficult and the easiest thing to do. It is impossible to be present and not to also feel the intensity of pain and grief in a situation. It is easy to differentiate and remain calm, because it is not your pain or your crisis or your family.

Mindful Resilience suggests that even those in the middle of the crisis themselves can practice the same non-anxious presence by learning to be present to the situation, to their emotions in it, and to the possibilities of the power of the Spirit within them. That mindfulness practice enables everyone to be more resilient in crisis, more open to life-affirming change, more able to support family members and more attuned to the workings of the Spirit. Using the metaphor of traveling a labyrinth, each chapter of the book recounts Pamela’s own story, and introduces a new turn on the path of mindfulness, such as Mindful Presence, Mindful Commitment-to Transformation, Mindful Embracing, Mindful Embodiment, and Mindful Awareness-to-Balance. She strikes just the right balance between allowing the concept of mindfulness to remain mystical and teaching concrete techniques about how to practice it.

I think this book could be helpful to anyone who feels overwhelmed by life, crisis, change or emotion. After all, this book is about resilience.  I would also recommend it for caregivers (professional and non-professional) seeking to help those in crisis. The techniques of mindfulness she describes can help sort through the chaos. Being mindfully present to the emotions and the events helps overcome the feeling of  being out of control, of being a victim of your life rather than centered in it. Practicing Mindful Resilience opens us to the Spirit within our lives, no matter how tumultuous, and builds our resilience.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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