Program Helps Survivor 'Reinvent' Comfort Zone

Brenda Mitchell

Brenda Mitchell couldn’t be more pleased with the mindfulness meditation training she’s been pursuing since January. Now that the initial eight-week session is more than half over, she is looking back with satisfaction, and forward with eagerness. 

The program is being offered by the University of California at San Diego, in collaboration with Survivors Empowered and mindfulness meditation expert Shelly Tygielski.

Brenda appreciates the camaraderie among the students, all of whom have been directly affected by gun violence. "Each one of us brings something different, but we bring the same thing as well – the one commonality." Despite the painful bond, they laugh together and draw strength from the “diversity in the commonality,” which includes both men and women of different ages and backgrounds, Mitchell says.

The program has "helped me not take the easy way out, move outside my comfort zone, and reinvent my comfort zone,” Brenda said. "While moving from point A to point B, I realize B is OK.” Brenda is planning to participate in the full two-year curriculum. She is grateful for what she’s already learned. "It has taught me to transcend myself, and flow in the moment I'm in." 

And this particular moment has had many challenges. Brenda mentioned specifically COVID, white supremacy, the breach of the Capitol and February 14, which marked the killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and Northern Illinois University. The group came together to process it all. 

About the insurrection at the Capitol, she says people felt very betrayed, with innocence lost, but she has hopes for the new administration. The program is moving into meditation and body scans. "We're retooling ourselves, because there is SO much out there. How do we move past the chaos, the negative, that could return us to a traumatic state? How do we return to the present moment?" 

Being in the present moment is key. She laughs when she relates how Sandy Philips, whom she considers a very calming presence, was in stitches when Brenda tried to stay in the present moment via Zoom despite her barking dog Zayda (wearing a post-surgery cone), a daunting staircase and the need for pet and person to avoid falling.

There is seriousness, too. She remembers a framing device for any conflict: Ask “How do you approach it, address it, de-escalate it?” 

The program’s tools are being enlisted to achieve goals that are interpersonal and potentially broader.  "Our pain becomes our purpose, to allow our voices to be heard. Our voices solicit change and demand attention,” Brenda says .”I am in a good space.”

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