For most of us, these are the most uncertain times we’ve ever faced. The Coronavirus (COVID-19 to its friends) represents the biggest interruption to normal life that we’ve ever experienced. So it’s not surprising that we’re not really sure how to react.
For some, schools and offices are closing, whilst in other places they’re staying open. Toilet paper supplies nationwide are at critical levels. Weddings, travel plans, even huge sporting events like the Olympics are being disrupted or cancelled, and to top it all, the chances of dying from a killer virus have increased by around 0.4%. Nobody could blame you if your plan was to curl into the foetal position in front of Netflix and wait for the dust to settle, but I’d like to suggest another option.
Meditating your way through the apocalypse.
It might seem like a strange time to recommend mindfulness. Mindfulness isn’t going to stop you from getting sick, it won’t re-open stores or schools, and if you didn’t find time to explore mindfulness when everything was normal, there’s a good chance that now, when you’re dealing with massive changes to your routine, potential money worries, and huge lashings of uncertainty, it’s even further from the top of you to-do list.
But being mindful isn’t another job to tick off a list. It is the skill of taking ordinary (or extraordinary) things and paying attention to them, exploring them, allowing yourself to become fascinated by them. Usually the thing which practitioners pay attention to is the breath, but it could be absolutely anything. It could be the experience of eating a raisin, a smudge on the wall, the sensation of an itch on your left cheek.
You could even pay attention the feeling of uncertainty itself. How are you coping with the disruption to your routine? How is uncertainty changing the way you treat the people around you? Have you been quick to prioritise your wellbeing over that of others by stockpiling pasta and hand sanitiser, or has your concern for the people around you increased?
You see, these issues; changes to routines, money worries, uncertainty, these aren’t new problems. They aren’t absent from ordinary life. Your fears aren’t normally being blasted at you from every screen, newspaper and improperly shielded cough, so maybe your response feels heightened, but believe me, the way you deal with these stresses, is a reflection of the way you deal with all stress.
So instead of lamenting or fighting the changes in your circumstances, take the opportunity to learn through them, to try out some more changes. If work normally keeps you too busy to stay in touch with friends, try reaching out. Call somebody who’s voice you haven’t heard in a while. If you usually spend an hour driving to work in the mornings, try going for a walk during that time, just for the sake of getting some fresh air. Keep a journal about how this period of time has affected you and your priorities. Or if you’re feeling really daring; spend 5 minutes a day, quietly not-thinking, and notice the things your mind thinks of by itself.
These might be things you’d ordinarily never do, but these aren’t ordinary times. Think of them as little experiments that you’ll commit to just until things go back to normal. In this time of uncertainty, see what it feels like to embrace uncertainty. Don’t run from it, pay attention to it, explore it, allow yourself to become fascinated by it.