A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

A Reflection on Feeling Fragile

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

When I was diagnosed with a neurological auto-immune disease the first time, I immediately wouldn’t accept that what the doctors were saying about the prognosis of the disease was my present or my near future.  And you know what?  It wasn’t.

Recently, I have faced more health challenges and the primary treating physician literally said to me last month, “You are a ticking time bomb, your body is going to crash one of these days and when it does, it will crash hard.”  Yup, that is what he said.  However, as opposed to 14 years ago when I gave the physician who pronounced something like that my middle finger and a few choice words; this time, those words really hit me.  They landed like a hard blow to my gut and then radiated up toward my chest, stealing away my breath and making me feel like I was going to pass out.

What I mean is, that I immediately believed those words to be true; not just for the present and the near future – but for all of my future. As I left the doctor’s office, everything I looked at was as if I saw it through those words.  It was as if they were a lens that over laid everything I experienced.    It took me a full week to gain the courage to pull that lens away from how I was viewing the world and to lay it in front of me, observing it as it was.  And when I did, I immediately laughed.

Think of it… those words are true for all of us…. Every single one of us in wearing a body suit that is going to “crash” one day.  It is inevitable.   As Jim Morrison says, “no one here [earth] gets out alive.”

What perplexed me however, was why did it take a full week for me to find my way back to my sense of humor in the midst of this adversity when 14 years earlier, I looked at a different physician with equally grim news and gave her the finger?

Pema Chodron explains that as we grow older and are faced with health issues, (as opposed to being younger and being faced with health issues) we feel more fragile, we see the body failing us and we know it is a part of the aging process, even if it really isn’t.  We know that at some point, the body failing is not reversible. And as we grow older, we are never really sure when that might be.   As a result, as we age, we become more rigid in our ways.  We don’t want, for instance, the lamp moved 2 inches to the right because it makes us feel safer and more secure to have the lamp right there where it has been serving us well the years prior.  We make it about the lamp but it isn’t about the lamp.  It’s about feeling fragile that we are now even more aware that this body will one day “crash” and while some of us have prognosis from doctors with estimated times of the great bodily collapse; others of us don’t.

In that week of feeling incredibly fragile, instead of being rigid about the lamp (which gets moved regularly), I became rigid about how I had to approach my work schedule – you know, the work that I love to do and that which inspires me. I thought that if I couldn’t make myself productive within a certain time frame, I surely was “crashing” and it was irreversible.  I also made those doctor’s words about my finances and as such, I couldn’t see any way to carve out of the budget for the additional money needed for alternative treatment that insurance wouldn’t cover. I became so rigid, I wouldn’t even answer a question my husband asked me upon waking in the morning, if simply looking for the information to answer the question felt like it was a diversion from my typical morning routine.

I felt so fragile, so vulnerable, so afraid all because I believed those doctor’s words as true NOW.  As a result, those words fueled a feeling of losing my fierce independence, and all the while not wanting to feel alone to figure it all out inside my head.

And then Pema Chodron’s wisdom came.  She invites us to lean into the fear and just name it “fear,” breathe into it and settle, observing it as fear taking hold of the body.   So, I practiced that.

And as I practiced, I noticed an intense yearning to fix the fear.  I wanted the fear to go away.  I wanted to find the “solution” to all that which the rigidity that fear created would not let me observe.  [All because I chose to believe some human being’s words as true for my immediate present and near future.]

And then I laughed again, realizing that likely what my fear/my rigidity is making it about today (a work schedule, finances) will change tomorrow. And it did; the next day was about cheese and toilet paper. (I’ll spare you the details.)   And at the end of that day of leaning into the fear, naming it, and breathing into it, settling and observing, I wondered, what I would make it about tomorrow.   Will I make it about the lamp being moved 2 inches? Or about where I place my walking shoes and socks?

It doesn’t seem logical… It doesn’t seem logical that when I notice feeling so fragile because of some truth I am experiencing or the experience of fear being fueled by the sharp edge of someone else’s words landing in my body… that when I notice that, I must lean into it, name it, breathing and settling into it so that I can observe it. But if I don’t, the rigidity that arises is so intense, I don’t even know where I am directing that fear.  I don’t even know that my thoughts, words, and actions which emerge from that rigidity are making me feel even more fragile.  I don’t know that I can’t discover any solutions to the underlying cause because my rigidity is freezing me into a pattern of behavior that may need to change for my own and others’ benefit.

So, when I notice feeling fragile, this is step one in the work I know I must do so that I can flourish in the reality of this present moment and see all the possibilities for flourishing in the future.

In closing, from my heart, I wish for you freedom from physical and emotional suffering, regardless of whether the source of that pain is from something you chose, something you didn’t choose, or some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) person’s words,




Strategies to Decrease Frustration when Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace



Strategies to Decrease Frustration when

Working with Low Levels of Awareness in the Workplace

By Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.

Recently, I have had the honor of listening to a number of masters-level and doctorate-level students who are experiencing high levels of frustration in working with what I would like to call low levels of awarenessin the workplace. So, what does that mean?  Borrowing from the wisdom archive of “it takes one to know one.”  I can easily identify low levels of awarenessin the workplace because for most of my life, that is the place in which I have operated.  What do I mean?

Beginning with a definition from Merriam Webster, awareness is “the quality or state of being aware : knowledge and understanding that something is happening or exists promoting a heightened awareness of the problemseemed to have only a slight awareness of what was going on, an acute awareness of subtle differences.”  Extracted from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/awareness on 11-15-18.).  And now noticing the frustration of having a word defined by using the word, perhaps it is useful to examine the synonyms of awareness and they are ”attention,  cognizance,  consciousness,  ear,  eye,  heed, knowledge,  mindfulness,  note,  notice,  observance, observation.”  If the use of these synonyms is still not helpful, I like to operationally define awareness as simply noticing what you are noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness.  So, as opposed to the kind of intensity that researchers bring to their research, this is more of an effortless effort of noting what is being observed and inquiring into what else is there.  And then engaging in this – noting what you are noticing – in a manner that goes beyond the first impression where judgment ensues and inquiry shuts down.  ‘Ya know what I mean?

According to the National Academies of Science (2017) and the Institute of Educational Sciences (2016), we can intentionally educate our students to become more open, mindful, and conscious.  I have interpreted this to mean that we can move ourselves from low levels of awareness to high levels of awareness but ONLY if we want to do so.  I want to do so because I have become so sad knowing all of the harm my choices have created when they emerge from low levels of awareness. As such, I have found myself enrolling in training program after training program for the last 13 years all in a passionate effort to move myself from operating consistently in low levels of awareness to a higher level of awareness.  In essence, I have sought to change the way I see the world.  I seek to move from a self-preservation, quick to judge, survival modality that informs decisions that can harm self and others to an open, vulnerable, curious, gentle, and kind way of being in the world that then leads to wiser and more skillful choices.

Yes, I notice I have a long way to go in moving to a high level of awareness – to a more consistent and frequent way of noting what I am noticing with open curiosity and gentle kindness that informs wise and skillful choice; the training (and continued training) have been immensely helpful. And what I have also noticed is that the students and colleagues I serve are my best teachers – of course they are. And here is what they demonstrated in their being with my low levels of awareness behavior that was particularly valuable for my moving forward in this awareness training.  In other words, rather than their moving to meet my low level of awareness and judging me (which would trigger survival behaviors such as avoidance or fighting), they remained at their high levels of awareness and engaged in inquiry that places the responsibility for doing something differently directly on my shoulders, as opposed to their needing to fix what my low level of awareness behavior was creating.

SO, when you notice low levels of awareness, consider practicing this…

  • What I heard you say is…
  • What I heard you feel is…
  • What creative solution is possible from the statement you just made?
  • What would that choice that you are considering create for [fill in the blank for the person or people your high level of awareness notices may be harmed from the choice they are about to make]?

There are many more questions and practices to engage in if you would like to do so… but these, as I can attest, have been useful in moving me forward.  Thank you students, colleagues, and my trusted teachers and mentors.

In joy,


Testing your Vision for 2019

January 4, 2019

Testing your Vision for 2019

Welcome to a new year… we are four or so days into it (depending on what part of the world you find yourself in as you read this) and I am trusting that you have found some time to ponder what you would like to be, do, or create in your 2019.  If so, I trust that what you hope to be, do, and create aligns well with the Life Mastery Institute’s*list of criteria to test your dreams.  Basically, does what you want to be, do, or create in your life align well with:

  1. what you would loveto be, do, or create in the world – the kind of love that really warms your heart space in a way that you notice that warmth resonating in the heart space;
  2. what brings you alive– you know that champagne bubbly kind of feeling inside your veins where you just can’t wait to wake up and “get on it” kind of aliveness;
  3. a requirement to grow– to learn or discover something within and outside of yourself that is more than what you already know or are confident in;
  4. your core values– those personal, cultural, spiritual, familial, professional, ethical values that when you even think about compromising them or justify in your head compromising them, you throw up or at least get really queasy. So, is what you want to be, do, or create in 2019 in alignment with your core values?
  5. honoring your own human dignity and the human dignity of others*– sometimes, acting on a vision for a better way of living life means what you want to be, do, or create in the world might hurt another person’s feelings or be counter to their vision for your life. What we are speaking of here is a requisite that your vision is informed by a non-violent wisdom – the wisdom that states clearly and unequivocally that we are all human beings worthy of being treated with the highest level of dignity even when we vehemently disagree.  So, while I may abhor another human being’s behavior, my disgust of their behavior does not constitute justification for me to bring that other human being harm. Similarly, if another human being’s behavior is causing me harm, honoring my own human dignity means I can envision living in greater dignity than perhaps my current circumstance is revealing and therefore, I will make a new choice.  This also doesn’t mean absolving the harmful human behavior that led to the downfall of human dignity – either yours or another’s.  Finally, it also doesn’t mean that harmful behavior isn’t sanctioned; it means human dignity is not harmed in the process of sanctioning.  As you can see, this one will require more of our attention as we seek to restore injustices in the world, so we will be focusing on this much more in future blogs.  For now, consider what is possible for you with regard to this criterion as you test your vision for 2019.  Finally,
  6. trusting the life force that is breathing you* – you know that whole notion of sometimes “you just gotta trust what you can’t see”?Well, that is what we are talking about here.  While there is a lot of science that allows us to study and witness the life forces within every human being (respiration, digestion, circulation, neurology, etc.) that allow them to thrive and make choices to create, be and do, there is also a lot we just can’t see.   Most of us wake up each morning and just trust these various life forces to work so we can actually wake up (which has a lot of life force properties we can’t see going on) and function (whatever that means to you).  We don’t see it all working, we just trust it.  Choosing what you are going to be, do, or create in 2019 requires you to trust in what you cannot always see.  If it doesn’t, you chose an easy to attain goal and this world needs more from you so choose again.

In closing, if you haven’t yet decided what you want to be, do, or create in 2019… perhaps starting with these questions may be useful.  If you have decided, we invite you to test that vision against these Life Mastery Institute Criteria* and give yourself permission to adjust your vision for 2019 or choose again.

Wishing you a loving, alive, fully growing in alignment with your core values and in support of human dignity for all while trusting in what you cannot see kind of 2019!


*Note that criteria 5 and 6 are not the exact criteria from Life Mastery Institute but modified criteria based on my life experience with human beings while trying to assure organizational members meet productivity requirements.




Happy New Year’s Eve Eve


December 30, 2018

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve.  It’s a time when we are to get excited about resolutions for the new year – it’s a time to nurture hope, fuel dreams, and resonate with all the possibilities that are to come.  This typically positive dreaming time of year is important medicine for the soul.  Holding hope that things can be better than they are, dreaming of a future where you feel more empowered, more alive, healthier, where the world feels safer, where equality is evident, where peace is possible… this kind of hoping, this kind of dreaming… well, it’s almost like it’s a prerequisite for optimal living.

To top it off, the Christmas season can prime the sensation of hope with its focus on love and generosity.   And whether you have a lot to give or a little, whether your heart has been broken or is overflowing, or whether you just received a life-threatening diagnosis, the Christmas season seems to absorb it all … it’s like a sponge for all the pain and suffering.  It’s as if the lights and the music and the smiles lighten the pain and you find yourself in a place that still allows you to prepare for something different to come in the new year.

Unless of course, Christmas season is a season that worsens the pain (like during the time following the divorce of my former husband and right smack within the heightened onset of my transverse myelitis).  When stuff like that happens, you can’t wait for it – Christmas season that is – to be over.

But what if your heart breaks afterChristmas? What if you lost something or someone you love afterChristmas?  What if you get your life-threatening diagnosis afterChristmas? What if Christmas magic (or even the wishing for “it to be over”) didn’t work for you after all?  Is there enough magic left over from Christmas day to sustain you into holding hope for a more positive future on New Year’s Eve?  Is there enough holiday love and generosity left to bring a positive new year’s resolution into your awareness?

I dunno. Maybe that’s why there are half-price holiday candy sales and so many people giving away leftover candy, cookies and other excess items.  Maybe those people are unconsciously trying to create some space for the people whose pain and suffering wasn’t absorbed by Christmas magic; at least not long enough for them to feel a flicker of hope to fuel at least one new year’s resolution or intention for a brighter tomorrow.

So, if you already have your new year’s resolutions or your intentions to live life in a particular way in 2019 – good on you(that is if those resolutions and intentions are in alignment with your higher levels of awareness and if they cause you and no one else harm).

If you are in the camp that is struggling with setting your 2019 intentions, just as I am, then join me in a mindful self-compassion practice created by Drs Kristin Neff and Chris Gerber (2018).

First, simply acknowledge the pain and suffering you are experiencing.  Yes, name it. For example, right now, I am calling mine WtF?  And if WtF?is a lot of stuff…. Pull it apart, like, look at all these kids dying… can’t we stop this for heaven’s sake…WtF?  I can’t believe she wasn’t promoted to full professor; her work is so powerful and important… WtF? What do you mean this disease isn’t treatable…WtF? How on earth do I get these board members to realize that just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it won’t create social injustice for those to follow…WtF? 

SO, after you acknowledge the pain and suffering and name it, then stop for a moment and just breathe deeply (whatever that means to you).  Then, remind yourself that you are not alone in this pain and suffering… for example, others are feeling the grief that they can’t stop a particular group of kids from dying; others are angry that this particular amazing scholar wasn’t promoted to professor, others are in shock that this life-threatening diagnosis has no treatment, and others (obviously not these particular board members) would be frustrated that they can’t see the policy they are creating is allegedly promoting social injustice.

Then offer yourself some soothing words of kindness that also validates the pain.  Validating the pain doesn’t mean that you agree with the underlying cause that created it.  It’s more like what you would say to a best friend who is experiencing what you are experiencing.  For me, I am choosing something like this, Yes, this sucks; I feel for you.  Who wouldn’t be feeling that way if they experienced that or witnessed that? I so wish I could fix this for you right now but I can’t.  And I’m feeling so upset that I can’t fix this.  So, how about I sit here and be here with you in this; would that be alright?  I’ll also be here with you through this, as long as you need me – I’m here for you, OK?

Yeah – it may sound silly… I used to think it was goofy… that was until I tried it on.  And now, I practice it a LOT!

And then one of my favorite things to do next is this… count my blessings…

Hey, I saw those eyes roll. Seriously, try it on just for a second… yes, you can count big blessings (aka what you feel grateful for) like friends and family, the amazing partner who loves you just as you are, fresh drinking water, electricity, and the ability to breathe, hear, and see (in all the ways that breathing, seeing, and hearing can occur).

HOWEVER, what I am really talking about here is this:

Let’s count the little blessings we take for granted every day such as a loving touch, the sensation of sun on the skin, a paper clip, a facial tissue, the waft of a welcomed fragrance that took just a fraction of a moment to recognize, a fraction of a moment invested in noticing what there is to notice, a genuine smile, a welcome song that randomly comes to mind and the amusement it brings as you realize you can hear inside of you what no one else is hearing.

The list can go on and on, yes?  I invite you to allow this list to go on and on until your attention drifts to something else… and perhaps that something else is a new year’s resolution.  Or perhaps your attention is now on an intention to invest in a new way of being and doing such as practicing self-compassion.  Perhaps that something else is a small flicker of hope that there is some beauty in the midst of intense pain and suffering, even if it is a fraction of a moment when you are slightly amused by the pattern in the sidewalk cracks or the dirt path before you or the letters, WtF.

Regardless, know you are not alone in either the joy of planning your new year’s resolutions or the post-Christmas season heavy heart that simply wants to be acknowledged with loving kindness.  And so here is something else we can now add to our list of blessings… Dr. Kristin Neff and more of her self-compassion exercises; check them out at https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#exercises

And if your heart is still super heavy and you need affirmation that you are not alone in this pain and suffering, we invite you to call this number (or perhaps a number you already have) so they can offer you support you deserve (1-800-273-8255).

In closing this entry, it isn’t easy to carry the burdens of your very real pain and suffering all by yourself… it isn’t.   And one of those little blessings is that we don’t have too… you don’t have to…remembering that can be another little blessing noticed in just this little fraction of a moment.

In loving kindness,


Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D.