Recently, I facilitated an Online Mindfulness Meditation Retreat: Anxiety. Connect and Reset. The COVID 19 pandemic is asking for our attention to anxiety, grief and our general mental health. Anxiety is anchored in the human need to feel control and predictability over our actions and the environment.
Right now, things look very unpredictable, and uncertainty is the common denominator. Many people I encounter feel like the grounds they were standing on have been removed, displaced or shaken. Loss of jobs, family stores and businesses closing, isolation for some people living alone and crowded homes for others, etc. Questions about how we are hanging in there and maintaining our mental health in check are relevant topics of conversation. The online meditation retreat I offered was practical, inspiring and, most importantly, a safe space to gather as a community with others.
Pointing the flashlight inward before moving outward.
Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” Pema Chödrön
I started the online retreat by inviting people to briefly close their eyes and take a moment to remember their humanity. Paraphrasing Carl Rogers: ‘Take a moment to remember your humanity. There is no experience that you have that you cannot share with others, no fear that you cannot understand, no suffering that you cannot care about because you too are human. No matter how deep your wound, you do not need to be ashamed. We, too, are vulnerable. And because of this, you are enough. Whatever your story, you no longer need to be alone with it. This is what will allow your healing to begin.’
We are living in a time of significant transitions. The Covid19 pandemic is like a rite of passage. Since the beginning of times, these transitions have been happening in humanity, perhaps since Adam and Eve left heaven or when we settled from being nomads to being farmers, gatherers and hunters. All these times are of transition of passage through a portal to a new inner and outer landscape of being. So how can we bring mindful, compassionate and nurturing actions to what arises in times of significant inner or outer transitions? What kind of capacities can we bring forward? What can we learn about grief and loss that elevate our humanity?
Joan Halifax words resonate in me very clearly these days:
May I meet this distress with full presence
May I meet this distress with kindness
May I meet this distress with an attitude of awakening
Service to others is the best healer.
Finding meaning and purpose in serving and being kind to others is the best healer during difficult times. But, of course, things are not the same as we knew it. Grief can be an opportunity to use our pain to develop emotional endurance and be more gentle towards ourselves.
How can we turn anxiety, grief and bereavement into a portal for awakening to cooperation and compassion? First, let us dedicate our time to cultivate an attitude of calmness rather than waiting for it to be over. So we can bring in a calming presence to the anxiety and fears in us and others. Second, let us co-create a safe space to heal as a community when isolation and physical distance are prevalent.
It takes courage and connection to shift from reactivity to a more mindful and forgiving approach to times of distress. It takes open curiosity and communication to lean towards those struggling to find their ground amid so much loss and inequality.
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man 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.” Viktor E. Frankl