24 April 2020

Mindfulness Locked Down (III)

What kind of world do you want to live in? How does it compare to the one you are living in? How might you build bridges between the two? Are you doing so?

Such considerations do not lie beyond the scope of mindfulness. ‘Practice’ is, essentially, an education in sensitivity. We learn through experience how the ways in which we act affect our minds and vice versa. Gradually we incline towards what is healthy or, at least, harmless. In this way, our practice extends from the solitude of formal meditation to being an active, benign presence in the world. This is the ethical dimension of mindfulness.

Getting Grounded

One skilful way of relating to the coronavirus lockdown is to see it as a mandate to reflect deeply. You have been sent to your room and asked to consider your behaviour. So, how’s it been going? What steps have you taken to get to this point? Do you discern any patterns? Where are you taking your life next? What’s your contribution to the world-at-large going to look like?

Challenging questions, possibly. Rest assured clear answers are not necessary. What arises might be a felt sense, images, vague ideas. Allow these to clarify themselves rather than you having to work them out. Notice any resistance you may have to this enquiry. How much you might want your pre-pandemic life back is a measure of your grasping and your no-hope lawsuit with reality. The future is another matter: it is unformed and awaits your next move.

Inside Out

From a mindfulness-based perspective, skilful action arises out of awareness of the inner process: What is showing up within me? How am I affected by my current situation? What does this experience have to tell me about what truly matters?

When we are able to touch the depths of our feelings, our places of vulnerability, we find our heartfulness and compassion. Engaging the heart gives us the courage and the clarity of perspective to really open up to what is happening in the world-at-large. This is the move from ‘inner’ to ‘outer’. We can be fully in the world and fully owning our experience. We can be sensitive and receptive without projecting our fears and aversions onto others. This is the backbone of mindfulness.

Heart of the Practice

To paraphrase ancient wisdom, nothing lies outside the gaze of the compassionate mind. It is courageous to embrace the fullness of the world and screen out nothing. Sometimes all we can do is sit tenderly with the pain and sadness that arise when we behold the suffering of the world: plague, climate destabilisation, poverty, hunger, war, pollution, natural disasters, anxiety, addiction, despair. At other times, when our heartfulness is strong, we will find the commitment, even the imperative, to act. Either way, when we consciously decide not to turn away from suffering in any form, we are at our most deeply human.

Every moment, life seeks a response. And, sure enough, in every moment you are doing something. What? How conscious is it? What shapes this action? What effects does it have? All that goes on inside you will find its way into the world-at-large, somehow or other. You are a mover and shaker whether you want to be or not. You matter. The imperative of mindfulness is to pause, open up, intend, act.

In this respect, pandemic or no pandemic, lockdown or no lockdown, upheaval or no upheaval, what matters has not changed, though it might feel all the more pressing: What kind of world do you want to live in? How does it compare to the one you are living in? How might you build bridges between the two? Are you doing so?


An easy misunderstanding to fall into with mindfulness practice is to see it as purely psychological in nature. Its emphasis on embodied awa...