A Practical Approach To Being Grateful And Mindful During Difficult Times

As a self-described skeptic with an aversion to chakras and crystals, Julianna Raye is proof that mindfulness can be useful to many from business leaders to college interns to musicians like her. In fact, a life dedicated to teaching mindfulness was far from her own expected path.

Julianna first found mindfulness after moving to L.A. as an aspiring singer-songwriter. She secured a record contract, but in such a competitive industry, her musical career didn’t take off as she had hoped. That’s when Julianna fell deeper into a depression that had already been affecting her for years.

Desperate to find a way out, Julianna took a therapist’s suggestion to meditate. She was hesitant but figured it was worth a try. Little did she know that it was the first step towards a brighter, more fulfilling future.

Today, Julianna is the founder, president, and head trainer at Unified Mindfulness (UM)—a secular, science-based, and approachable mindfulness system designed for people of all levels and backgrounds. The UM System is currently used by institutions including Harvard and Carnegie Mellon for research on meditation.

She’s a wealth of wisdom on why becoming more in tune with ourselves can vastly improve the richness of our lives. Julianna’s insights are practical and research-backed while also heartfelt and vulnerable.

Demystifying Meditation

Julianna admits that her passion for mindfulness wasn’t instantaneous. She did consider meditation to be a nice tool to calm her mind, but Julianna’s depression still was ever-present.

“I was honestly in a lot of pain,” says Julianna. “But two years in, some interesting things started to happen.” She was introduced to Shinzen Young, a meditation teacher who based his mindful meditation teachings on science while still speaking to the core of our humanity. His words resonated with Julianna’s more skeptical yet open-minded nature.

Intrigued, Julianna signed up for one of his retreats. It proved transformative. Julianna realized that she had the answers to her own happiness all along. She just had to search deeper into herself—her own resource for self-discovery.

“We have access to this resource with great depth and consistency,” says Julianna. “The resource reveals the richness of experience that we’ve been overlooking and underestimating.” Once she saw how her negative habits fogged up a more positive and fulfilling view of life—and that these habits could be changed—Julianna knew she had uncovered something very special.

By chipping away at the past self, the real Julianna began to be revealed. For one, she realized how resilient she was. “This mind-body is far more resilient than I’ve been giving it credit for,” she thought. “I haven’t even begun to tap the potential.”

Becoming Better at Leading and Living

As she began exercising better mindful habits and gaining new insights, Julianna uncovered a new approach to life. But as a lifelong journey, she knew the search would never be complete. “That’s the whole journey for the rest of your life. You tap into [mindfulness], and it’s a matter of chipping away at whatever gets in the way.”

With a new perspective, Julianna paid closer attention to things that she had previously let pass by. Her distraction-levels diminished. Her relationships became stronger than ever. Her appreciation for existence changed forever.

“[Life] gets richer,” she says “A pleasant experience becomes more fulfilling. An unpleasant experience becomes more manageable. This is just a practical resource for anyone and everyone. I would hope that everybody would like to enrich their experience of life.”

It’s that desire to share the power of mindfulness that led her to launch Unified Mindfulness alongside Shinzen Young. Julianna also wanted to further demystify the practice and make it accessible to those with preconceived notions of the practice—just like the ones she once held.Today, Julianna is a master at teaching mindfulness and meditation in a smart, approachable way. She excels at teaching concepts like basic mindfulness meditation principles, the science behind meditation, the practice’s many benefits, and more in ways that anyone can grasp.

With methods aimed to increase concentration, clarity, and equanimity (what UM calls the “three essential skills)” Julianna and her team’s mindful lessons are perfect for business leaders, or anyone looking to live with more happiness, ease, and success.

It also shows up when life becomes harder than we ever could imagine.

Mindfulness and Grief

Mindfulness is a great skill for anyone who wants to create a better impact in business, and in our everyday lives. However, it also shows up when times get tough—and this proved especially true when Julianna was grieving the death of her parents.

Mindfulness didn’t make the pain of their passing vanish, but her practice built her an internal support system. It even helped Julianna find genuine gratitude during an unbelievably trying time.

“We were very close, and it was excruciating. I was knocked flat by the pain,” says Julianna when talking about her mother battling, and then ultimately passing away, from cancer. With a history of depression, she could have easily slipped back into the dark. Instead, she tapped into mindfulness.

“I had this resource at my disposal that came to my rescue,” she says. “I didn’t need to try to numb myself. It didn’t plunge me into depression, which it could easily have done in another part of my life.”

Instead, she took this difficult experience as an opportunity for growth. “I kept growing by living through what she was living through,” Julianna says. “I was able to be there for her.” Rather than physically or mentally running away from the pain, she was fully present and lived with it. “I could actually experience the richness of that gratitude that she was calling me to recognize and appreciate.”

Now, she was able to deeply connect with her mother when it mattered most—and they both were grateful.

“She would repeat, ‘We’re so lucky,’” remembers Julianna. “At the end of her life, she was contacting her own immense gratitude for the bounty of her life and bounty of love. That was the theme that I carried with me after her passing.”

More recently, she faced the passing of her father from COVID-19. He contracted the virus in New Jersey while Julianna was across the country in L.A. With so many uncertainties around the pandemic, she didn’t know if she’d be able to be at his side even as his condition deteriorated.

Again, Julianna’s former self easily have slid into severe panic, anxiety, and depression. Instead, she paused and focused her attention on being there for her father, her family, and herself. “My practice was alongside me all the way,” she says. “I was focusing on how I could lovingly be with him without physical presence.”

While in California, they connected via the phone and video chat. Finally, she was able to fly to the East Coast and be with him during his final days. Just like she did with her mother, Julianna and her father used that time to be present, connect, and share gratitude for the love they shared.

Ultimately, choosing mindfulness during hard times isn’t about covering up or ignoring your pain and grief. Instead, it’s about learning to accept and be there with your emotions, without judgment. Then, you can mindfully route your energy towards something more positive, meaningful, and long-lasting.

“We can get caught up in that [pain], in which way we are suffering,” says Julianna. “Or, we can redirect our focus so that we can tap into our reserves of love and connection.” And in such an uncertain world, love and connection are two life values we all should embrace more often.

Originally posted on Forbes.com

The conversation with Julianna Raye continues on the Leading with Genuine Care podcast! Learn about her mindfulness journey, incredible advice on integrating mindful practices into your daily life, her struggles with mental illness, and more!

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Dr. Dilhani Uswatte