21 April 2020

Mindfulness Locked Down (II)

When life has been thrown into flux and confusion by the coronavirus pandemic, mindfulness practice pares down to skilful interventions on yours or another’s behalf to meet basic needs. At such times, the fragility of life is starkly revealed while our animal instinct to run for the hills is thwarted by a lockdown. It can feel overwhelming. Taking care of the seconds and minutes is enough. Otherwise, as Albert Camus notes in The Plague (1947), “stupidity has a knack of getting its way.”

In less critical moments, might we lift our heads to take a broader view of events, inner and outer, and consider how best to respond to the plight of the world? When things pause, as large parts of human society have, they are easier to focus on. This is the gateway to mindfulness writ large. Remember that ‘practice’ is not a purely personal endeavour nor mere strategic navigation of changing conditions for self-serving ends. It is about more than just you (if this is unclear, start here).

Enlightening Times

Crises scratch the surface of human existence and reveal what otherwise might be difficult to see.
This pandemic is no exception in affording a clearer-than-usual glimpse into the world we inhabit. It is interconnected in every which way we look at it.

These days we are obliged to confront our dependence on each other for survival, from the food we eat to the healthcare we need. We are less inclined to devalue the people who put their own safety on the line to provide life-sustaining services for others – not just frontline health workers but cleaners, care workers, shop workers and many others. Through acts of kindness and consideration, we discover a solidarity with our neighbours that turns out to have been there, untapped, the whole time. Priorities tend to shift when we discern who and what is essential.

Joining the Dots

Our non-separation from animals and nature is glaring. This coronavirus was likely transmitted from animals as a result of human encroachment into areas of the eco-system we used to leave be. Such invasions not only expose human vulnerabilities but can be catastrophic for other species. Now is a good time to remember that we too are animals.

Observe how this unprecedented human pause impacts our environment. The natural world – at the mercy of human exploitation and greed for so long – finds a rare chance to reclaim some territory. Meanwhile, pollution levels plummet and rivers teem with new life. What do fresher air, bluer skies, clearer waters and thriving fellow creatures have to tell us about how our species treats that which it depends on?

Remember This Moment

Mindfulness writ large is unflinching in its gaze and compassionate in impulse. Practice is inherently relational. Nothing need fall outside its remit. Now is the time, if you have the resources, to open up to the momentous change happening around you and to prepare to take your heartfulness into the world (once you’re allowed out again, that is).

This is an essential dimension of practice. To assist you, it might be useful to recollect that life is no more fragile or any less certain than it ever was. What’s changed is that our collective propensity for denial has been smashed by the wrecking ball of reality. We have always lived in a world interpenetrated by sickness and death. We never were in control. But the scale of suffering is eternally up for grabs and this is where your mindfulness and compassion are so needed.

There is nothing like a virus to remind us that we breathe the same air, that borders are insubstantial, and that something as simple as washing one’s hands can be an act of community service. There is nothing like a pandemic to illustrate how our lives are intertwined, not-so-solid and prone to extermination. On the planetary level, the worst that could happen now is we fail to read the signs or listen to the alarm bells and go back to sleep.

The Power of Practice

Recently I met up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We had planned to walk and talk on the seafront but a high wind ma...