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NOW Atlantic: Smart thinking for a changing world
It’s only been a week or so that we’ve been doing social distancing and isolation since we returned from Mexico and I’m starting to go stir crazy already. Now it looks like we’ll be at this for a while to flatten the curve, so they say. In past columns you’ve written about mindfulness practices that help to deal with issues, what suggestions might you offer in this case, which some people are saying may take months? Eek!
I hear your concerns, even with 35 years of mindfulness training, I too can go to catastrophic thinking and fear. When I see my mind headed in that direction, I ask myself, what can I do constructive today that can distance me from fear-based thoughts and bring me closer to more helpful thoughts?
The most obvious place might be your desk, where you can start filing those random pieces of clutter that have been cluttering your mind for so long. Studies show that the more organization you have around you, the calmer your mind tends to be. If you’re stuck in your home, you might as well tackle the mounds of clutter to free up mental space within you.
With time to kill, now is also a great time to pursue those things you always wanted to do but never had time for, like learning a new language, or a new instrument or a career skill that will advance your standing.
We don’t know what the future holds, but we do have this moment. As Jenny always reminds us, the mind will always lean toward catastrophe before any other solution-based thought. If there was ever a time to practice present moment awareness and positive thinking, it’s now.
Most of us are in a panic because of this imposed isolation, but I have met many people who have paid thousands of dollars to be in retreat, away from the madness of the world (my wife being one of them). You could leverage this time to develop or fortify a mindfulness practice, which will strengthen your inner resolve in the face such challenging times.
We all need to sensor what we’re watching and reading in light of our mental wellbeing. I have chosen to read The Good Neighbor, a biography about Fred Rogers. Fred’s mother used to tell him that in times of tragedy, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. There so many caring people in the world.” May this remind us all that we are not alone and there are helpers everywhere. And sometimes the best way to feel better ourselves is to be helpful to others in whatever way we can. Reaching out to others and inquiring about their wellbeing can go a long way for everyone.
My father who survived the depression and fought in some of the worst battles in the Second World War, often recited these well-known words: “this too shall pass.” Hold the vision for life resuming post-COVID-19, with businesses flourishing and people reconnecting, perhaps in a whole new way.
It’s so interesting how differently people are responding to this situation. While some are having a terrible time with the social isolation, others are reveling in the quiet time. No matter what personality type you are, this is an excellent opportunity for to gain greater understanding of yourself and the factors that help you to feel more balanced. One of the most important factors that fosters balance is structure, so if you have a household full, take some time to create a daily schedule together. The following is a general guideline based on the ancient medical model of Ayurveda:
- exercise or meditation upon waking
- morning ‘work’ hours when the mind is fresh
- lunch time, preferably together if you’re with family
- afternoon outdoor activity followed by some down time
- a light supper
- a quiet evening hobby
- bed by 10 p.m.
As Blair said above, time is going to pass and this crisis will be over, sooner or later. While we may not be able to control our external environment, we can surely control how we conduct ourselves in these moments. As ViKtor Frankl said after surviving Nazi concentration camps: “everything can be taken from a man (or woman) but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
That being said, I invite you to ask yourself “how do I want to feel about myself, looking back on this experience and how I dealt with it?” This question helps to access the most conscious, wise aspect of yourself, which can help you to draw a picture of your best self.
For me, I’m spending this time being productive in my work, creative with my children and helpful within our community (we’re pairing creativity with helpful by making candles for everyone on our street). I’m also being diligent about my rest and managing my inner workaholic who deals with stressful times by doing.
Actually, now is the perfect time to be a human ‘being’ and to stoke our immunity with healing practices such as yoga, meditation, forgiveness and gratitude for all that we do have.
One thing I know for sure, this crisis is going to pass and all the worry, stress and tension in the world isn’t going to help anything. So, we might as well move through this in a way that boosts our spirits and models health to our children; with a calm mind, a relaxed body and a depth to our breathing.