The Living Moment
Spring 2021, No. 25
"My life is not this steeply sloping hour in which you see me hurrying."
-Rainer Maria Rilke
("Opening” article by Diane Handlin included below)
An Invitation to Learn
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
Waterlilies -- Warwick, MA,
Learn to live with greater vitality, health and well-being through Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

Presented by the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center of New Jersey, the program offers powerful methods for reducing stress in your everyday life.

Diane Handlin, Ph.D., is one of the few instructors in New Jersey and in the world not just trained but actually Certified by the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School (founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn). She, and her husband, Jim Handlin, Ed.D., who is also Certified by the CFM, often teach together.
Dear Reader,

Now that the miracle of vaccination is leading us toward opening up, and having watched a documentary on the emerging of cicadas this summer after 17 years in hibernation,
it seems inevitable that I am, with both eagerness and hesitation, thinking about what it means to open up. I am also, perhaps like many of you, inevitably reflecting on the experience of living through the past year while asking myself, “Where are we now?” “Where am I now?” And, “Where am I hoping to go from here?”

For many years my husband, Jim, and I have shared with our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes that all change, even good change, is challenging for humans. Psychologists long ago developed a well-documented Perceived Stress Scale on which good challenges like getting married or buying a new home are rated as highly stressful as many negative events and so perhaps we all need to think creatively and compassionately about what we have been through and how it may relate to opening up. And in order to open up myself I know I have to try to address what I understood so far about the effects of the inner experience of living through this past year as it relates to the beginning stages of emerging from the shut- down world we have been living in. Those of you who read my last newsletter know that I wrote about the beloved cherry tree outside my second-floor office that was knocked down in a storm, but refused to die. When I wrote in the Fall, one of my writing companions and muses, a curious robin, often kept me company on a branch outside my window. As I am sitting here today a robin, perhaps fairly recently back from its winter travels, has just appeared as if to say—You go girl!  He seems older though, and, like me, a bit more battered than I remember. Now, a small woodpecker with a bright red cap has flitted onto a branch nearby...and I’m experiencing the chattering that is ensuing, pushing me to get going writing to you.  

During the pandemic, I was wearing slippers a lot since I was not seeing patients in person. One night, looking at one of my feet I realized a bone had shifted in one of them and that it was beginning to become quite painful.  Impulsively, I bought something called a bunion cushion online and experienced myself as beginning to become a bunion patient .... I began practicing Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape meditation daily, and miraculously, after a few weeks, something shifted--I don’t know exactly how-- Perhaps from practicing with gratitude for that which was right with my body instead of wrong, the pain lifted, and there was something deeply affirming in knowing that what I had been practicing and teaching all these years was so powerful, that physical as well as mental pain is mysterious in some way, that it doesn’t have to define me or become the central focus of my attention, and that my body, even as it ages, is a gift, still having “so much more right with it than wrong with it”(JKZ). It was a blessing and a real help in terms of maintaining hopefulness in the face of the pain in the world and in my patients’ lives. Ironically, one of my patients, a practitioner of mindfulness, who had lost his wife and lived alone during this pandemic year, began having terrible pain in the Achilles tendon in his leg around the same time. He had just recently been vaccinated and had announced to me that “the shackles were off” when he was suddenly told he would have to wear a boot (and, in his words, “hobble around in it”) for a long time in order for it to heal. He initially became very depressed, feeling his life was closing up again until he remembered Kabat-Zinn’s admonishment that we humans “all too often mistake a small part of ourselves for the whole.” He added that with the shift in his perspective, somehow his depressed mood had completely lifted, and that he even found himself remembering Thich Nhat Hahn’s (the Vietnamese Zen master’s) wonderfully wise remark that “I am enjoying my absence of toothache.”

We as a species have been living through a period of enormous social and medical shared trauma with winter. Despite the advent of vaccination availability, winter was becoming particularly isolating and challenging time. Cold and dark outside, I was grateful for, but also cautious about, the electronic connection with my clients and friends, I was deeply grateful to be able to Zoom with our wonderful 8 week MBSR Winter MBSR Class which had begun in late January. And yet at the same time I could tell that the darker months had also seemed to have become particularly challenging for our MBSR students. One of the class members with an important job at a high-power pharmaceutical company expressed gratitude as well as ambivalence, about the side effects of living in the electronic world, complaining that: “Now that we’re on the screen all the time, people at work just aren’t really listening!” I, myself, had noticed that there were times when I found myself being startled to find myself standing still for a quiet moment around noon and asking myself what day it was! I also shared that I had been wondering about humor this past winter...realizing that in class I hadn’t told a familiar joke of mine which sometimes surfaced when Jim and I had had differing points of view—and which I had sometimes referred to as our having one of our “George Burns and Gracie Allen” moments.
Many articles have been written about the effects of spending entire days on Zoom. One titled, “Zoom Apnea” was written by Susan Pollak, Ed.D. who teaches a wonderful Harvard course on Mindfulness and Compassion that my husband, Jim, and I attended last winter. Noticing that she herself was barely breathing when on Zoom calls, Susan recalled that over a decade ago, researcher Linda Stone coined the term screen apnea when she discovered that a majority of people (possibly eighty percent) unconsciously hold their breath or breathe shallowly when texting or emailing. Susan adds that “screen apnea can affect our well-being and our ability to work efficiently, and shallow breathing can also trigger a nervous system, fight, flight or freeze response if we stay in this state of breathing for extended periods of time.” She suggests that it cannot only impact sleep, energy, memory and learning, but also exacerbate depression, panic and anxiety, not to mention that over the long-term it can contribute to stress-related diseases, potentially impacting the immune system and inflammation.

One of the students taking our Winter MBSR class, who had also taken the class four years ago, best expressed the challenges all of us were facing with the pandemic when she wrote to me to apply to take the 8 Week Winter course again. 

“I loved what I took away from the previous MBSR class, but I slowly fell off the mindfulness wagon in terms of my daily meditation.  I did, however, continue to use the techniques taught to me including being present in the moment, accepting the anxious thoughts and experiencing feelings as feelings and not actual dangers, and trying to feel in my body where I could sense my body’s response to anxiety. It helped me a great deal in the last few years, and I would mostly meditate using the body scan and sitting meditation. Currently, four years later, my career is going great. I love my scientific research and I just received a very prestigious grant for my medical research of which I am so proud. But, the pandemic has had a significant negative effect on me. Working virtually, it has been more challenging to ask the people who work for me for what I need. In my personal life, while I have struggled with a manageable level of health anxiety for most of my adult life, suddenly I found myself needing to be almost constantly monitoring my health for possible Covid infections. If I caught it, not only would I be sick, and possibly die, but the ones I loved more than anything in the world, my husband and children, could get sick too, and it would be my fault. In addition, many activities in my life that brought me comfort were taken away. I was isolated from my parents even though they live 2 minutes away, for fear of infecting them. I couldn’t meet with friends, or go on a trip to the mall...My daily interactions with colleagues became zoom calls, or texts which were “all business.” My children had little access to friends and family. My extended family to whom I am very close have only rarely been in my physical presence. One of my siblings and I with whom I normally got along with well have had months go by where we didn’t speak due to disagreements about how we differ on social distancing. The news on social media begins to feel unreal, like watching the capital being under attack. During this strange year, I am struggling to stay grounded. At times, my anxiety became so severe that I realized I needed to invigorate my practice.”

Also, movingly addressing the human cost of, and means of healing from having lived through the pandemic, the wonderful Krista Tippet addresses this topic in a not to be missed exchange on What’s Happening in Our Nervous Systems with Christine Runyan, Ph.d. on Krista’s podcast On Being, the audio and the transcript of which I have linked for you here. In it, Tippet movingly describes her first masked meeting with her daughter after a long time apart as the two discuss the psychological cost of having lived isolated from both touch and facial expressions during the past year. Dr. Runyan, a psychologist and MBSR instructor on the staff of UMass Medical School, as well as Co-founder of the Tend Health program, shares her own creative understandings of how to heal.

And now, as we enter into this time of opening up, we are bound to face new challenges every step of the way. Up until this point, a frequent choice has largely been living either masked or unmasked while virtual. Most of us learned early on that even smiling with one’s eyes when one is in person isn’t a skill that is possible for everyone. Either way, there has been a human cost. Even among those of us who are vaccinated and have been told we can go to more places now, many are still uncertain about when, even outdoors, it is safe to take off our masks. What exactly is a safe distance? One of my patients reminded me recently that we had initially even been taught that touching inanimate objects could be dangerous, leaving her afraid to touch paper that came in from the mailbox. Regarding touch, I also can’t help thinking that the surge in ownership of pandemic puppies is a reflection of, for those of us for whom it has been re-assuring, the craving for touch which has been all too absent from too many lives. 

Once again, we had to approach leading our traditional Silent Retreat Day, part of the 8 week-MBSR Course curriculum virtually. This year’s gathering after so much time in isolation was particularly meaningful, and happily, however paradoxical it might sound, tangibly decreased the experiences of isolation which most of us had experienced. Whoever would have thought that after a year of so many externally imposed restrictions and physical stillness that being led through a day of quiet, restorative experiences in which each participant could rest in the nature of their own miraculous being without having to produce, fix or solve anything, could be so restorative. (A favorite way I have often had of referring to the Silent Retreat is actually as an Inner Spa.)

An upside of being “virtual,” is that we could be with our alumni from all over the world, including a psychologist from Germany who has attended our two most recent virtual retreats and spoke about how much her mindfulness practice helped her get through the isolation experienced as Germany tried to get the delivery of vaccines moving. Another participant, who had taken our class a number of times before his move to California, commented on how the universality of the healing wishes expressed in the Lovingkindness meditation was more moving than ever for him. Another alumna, a scientist who took the class four years ago, and was taking it again, spoke about what a relief it was to know that during the Silent Retreat Day we would all be practicing “Custody of the Eyes,” pushing away from the screen and coaxing our gazes downward as we led participants through the day (as we practiced meditation, gentle yoga, a mindful light meal and mindful walking). Her enthusiasm helped me recall the comments and bearing of a close friend of mine who had been through a painful divorce and went to India to live on an Ashram. When I saw her a year later upon her return, her demeanor was completely changed. Renewed and almost radiant, she told me that when she first arrived in India she was frightened of getting deeply in touch with her loneliness which she believed was connected to her own emptiness, but after six months of meditating with her teacher, she had discovered that she wasn’t empty at all. For anyone who might imagine that a Silent Retreat shared by a group practicing mindfulness together online might stir up feelings of loneliness or emptiness, the exact opposite seemed to be true.

As part of the Lovingkindness meditation during the Silent Retreat Day which proved particularly powerful given the backdrop of the pandemic and the universal need for kindness as well as self-compassion, I read a piece called, The Power of 7 Billion, seven billion being the number of human beings living on the planet when the pandemic had begun to spread, and all of whom are exposed to its reality. When we began to exchange at the end of the Retreat, a psychologist who had taken our class 10 years ago spoke about how wonderful it was to be silent through all the practices we led and how much she needed it. By “silent” I couldn't help projecting that she was implying “intentionally away from our screens, and yet together." And as I write this I’m wondering about the expression “virtual retreat.” My experience was that when we were inwardly together, our connection was anything but “virtual.” I experienced it as transcending time, space and the electronic world.

As a result of the Retreat Day the relationship of inner silence to loving kindness, compassion, and self-compassion, became particularly significant for the remainder of the 8 Week Course. One of the students in the class whose father had died on one coast while she was living on the other during the shutdown wrote the following beautiful note to us shortly after the ending of the course: 
"I’ve given thought to what the most essential gift, among the many I took away from our time together - it was the Gift of Silence that I have decided was the most essential. Inviting silence into my life has never been something I’ve willingly done. I associate silence with either anger or isolation. My experience with silence previously was a profoundly lonely one. This past year has held extended periods of silence unlike any I would have thought I’d be able to withstand before. Like the anger, the unfamiliar degree of silence I’ve experienced in my life threatened at times to consume me and felt like an enemy to be defended against. 
However, faced as I was with no other option, I had to allow all that silence into my life. Silence was not a welcome guest though. Rather it was a thing to be endured much like the cold reality of my father’s continued absence from our lives. But, slowly, almost without my even noticing the silence in the very early mornings when I would get up to meditate, silence became almost a presence, one that seems, sometimes, to be waiting for me to show up.
And then there is also the quantity as well as the quality of the silence that we collectively and individually, invited in as part of our journey, which helped me to finally uncover the stillness that lives at the heart of silence. And within the stillness, I found solace. I am only rarely able to access that place of great stillness. But, just knowing it exists allows me to move toward it with purpose—and hope."
Now, dear reader, looking hopefully toward a new morning at least for our country as this letter to you comes to a close, and even though night has almost completely fallen, and usually the birds are by now bedding down for the night, my friend robin has suddenly re-appeared on the first-floor roof top outside the window where I am typing this final tender line to you, as if to say good night to me, and to you. And as I pause to watch him, I notice that he seems to be gathering some old damp leaves from the gutter...and as I watch a little longer, I suddenly realize that he is a she, and is gathering bedding for a nest to bring a new life into the world this Spring, hopefully in the sheltering arms of the aforementioned cherry tree. And so, it seems appropriate to end this letter to you with a poem about the glimmering potential of each and every new morning for you, for us, and for our precious world:

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
Monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

~ William Stafford ~
Diane Handlin, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

NJ Lic. #3306
Diane Handlin, PhD
Diane Handlin, Ph.D.
Founder and
Executive Director
Jim Handlin, Ed.D.
Educational Consultant
Below you will find a selection of poems and resources. Note that, when viewed on a mobile phone, the "Worthy of Note" section likely follows the selected poems -- so keep scrolling!
Selected past issues of The Living Moment
As our gallant Dave Kapferer, unflinchingly brings this newsletter to fruition, I want to honor you dear reader, in this moment, as you face the possibility of unmasking, and as you may be allowing yourself and those dear to you to recognize and experience the full reality of all that you have been living through. One of the tenets of MBSR is that all change, even good change, can be stressful for human beings. And so this morning, as this newsletter comes to a close, besides honoring all the health professionals and others who have shown small and large kindnesses to others(like our dear MBSR alumni, and friend, Anthony Sardella who called us the moment the shut-down occurred to see what we needed and has been there for us forever since), I want to thank Dave, my husband, Jim, and our son, Triston, from the bottom of my heart for all they have done to help make it possible for me to reach you, especially during this time, as well as my childhood friend, Sandy Renna, whose lovely photo graces the opening of  this newsletter.  I also want to pause to thank all of my cherished, lifelong friends and relatives who have put up with my being pulled away from them during this last year, and especially, most recently, when my energy was flagging, my dear friend, Susan Dineen, to whom near the very end of the writing of my article when I was facing self-doubt, I sent the final draft, and whose loving and encouraging response and expert editorial suggestions, helped me look at what I’d written with fresh eyes, and carry it through to the end, so I could send everything over to Dave, artist and friend supreme, who brings everything to fruition so beautifully for all of you.
"As to the value of the course, I would note that the group workshop designed to work through Jon Kabat-Zinn's curriculum is very effective. The workshop / course added a great deal of depth and opened my mind to a different way of looking at things and fostered exploration. When mindfullly present, time seems to expand for me. I relax, freed from thinking about the next place I have to be or the next thing I have to do ... I have discovered that if I hold off, I usually do not act along the lines of my first reaction. I've realized that I almost always have time not to act immediately. I've also rediscovered my happy me, what I remember from soooo long ago ..., and that is really wonderful."      - Jane Dobson, Corporate attorney
IMPORTANT NOTICE: Although Dr. Handlin is a licensed psychologist and has a separate psychology practice, please note that this is an educational course and not psychotherapy. In addition, information contained in this document is informational and not to be construed as medical advice. If you suspect you have medical issues, please pursue appropriate treatment. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is a separate educational course for those interested in developing mind-body connections. MBSR is a non-psychological service offered apart from Dr. Handlin's psychology practice and is not meant to substitute for personal or professional psychological advice which must be received from a licensed mental health professional.

NJ Lic. #3306
Acknowledgement for Photography:
Sandy Renna at
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Center of New Jersey™
Tel: 732-549-9100,