• Mindfulness Practice for the Current Times

    April 17, 2020 | News | Robyn
  • I sit here contemplating what I can possibly submit to this BLOG that might offer something that hasn’t already been suggested in many different places already navigating these COVID-19 Coronavirus times. I would like to share with you how I am staying present to what is here, and what I am experiencing with the intentionality and practice of mindfulness.

    I have had a regular (mostly) daily meditation practice since September 2012 and have been teaching weekly mindfulness classes for 4+ years in Gig Harbor and Port Orchard, WA. I am a Certified Mindfulness Instructor through Mindfulness Northwest.

    I work in Healthcare Information Technology and at the beginning of December, started a new job with a large healthcare organization where the first COVID-19 patient was diagnosed and treated in the United States. So, my organization was involved very early in this crisis and I became aware of the severity, intensity and possibilities that this virus could bring.

    Initially, up until about the second week of March, I felt calm, grounded, centered and was wondering if I was under-reacting or if others were over-reacting; I wasn’t sure. But, when companies started ordering people home and the # of cases and deaths were on the increase – I began to watch more news and engage in more social media. And, when I started doing that – I noticed anxiety arising in my mind and body and seemed to be sticking around.

    So, I began to limit my exposure to news and social media. In other words, my mindfulness practice of intentionally paying attention (non-judgmentally) to what was happening within and around me – in the present moment, provided me the awareness of what was contributing to additional suffering I was already experiencing due to concern about my fellow human beings. So, when I noticed it – I was able to CHOOSE to do something about it (instead of the usual reactivity of being triggered with fear, anxiety, panic, apathy, lethargy or anger, which often leads to self-destructive habits and lashing out, looking for someone to blame, etc.).

    On March 12th, I was laid off my job – due to the project I was working on put on hold due to the pandemic. My husband started telecommuting around this time and the weather had turned to being cold, wet and gray. I had so much to process, mentally and emotionally. But, haven’t we all?

    Now, I had all this time on my hands, crappy weather, trying to learn how to be in my home with my husband being there all the time (who is very routine oriented and I am not), feeling worried about the possibility of ever finding a job in this job market and the thoughts began to spin up stories. I felt like I needed a compass to get me pointed in a direction that would lead to feeling more grounded, centered and present. I felt distracted and seriously lacking inertia. I had lost my ground. When experiencing a sense of groundlessness – all we want is something to hold onto but the news was changing so fast and so was our world. Each day brings new things we are asked not to do. Our options were becoming limited and I began to feel a bit claustrophobic.

    I continued to meditate daily and it helped some (it ALWAYS does). But, I had begun to berate myself for not handling things in a healthier manner – after all I am a Meditation Instructor – I should know how to deal with these emotions better! And the list of “shoulds” began to grow. Can we all make an agreement? I won’t “should” on you and please don’t “should” on others. We are experiencing so many different emotions and they change constantly and we are all handling this the best we can.

    I began to attend daily online guided meditations and teachings with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (the founder of the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course, along with people from all over the globe. Within one hour on that first day of practicing with others and sensing into this connectivity and common humanity with so many people around the world – my body and thoughts began to settle.

    Each day has brought more of a sense of underlying groundedness and calm. And, what I realized is that the reason I was not handling things as well as I felt I should have is because NONE OF US ARE! None of us have been through a pandemic before and we are learning as we go and having to adjust with the daily changes in this suddenly new reality we find ourselves in. So, I began to let go of my expectations of how I “should” be doing/being/handling and tune towards paying attention to how things are right now. I check in with myself many times a day to see how my mind is, how my body is, how my heart is and I allow for whatever is here – to just be here and I make room for whatever that is.

    So, if I am having a hard time – with getting motivated to begin a task or project, I notice it and then I extend some kindness and compassion for myself because I am able to recognize that I’m having a hard time getting going. And, then I pause and ask myself “what do I need right now?” And, I wait for the answer to come. And, then I respond to that. So, practicing self-compassion is certainly a big help towards extended compassion for others and how they are coping and navigating this pandemic.

    I have increased the number of times that I meditate and the length of my meditations each day and it helps me to stay present and pay attention to things that are helping and things that are harmful and then I get to choose how I will move forward from there.

    With that, here are a few things that I have found to help me each day:

    • Shower first thing in the morning and get dressed
    • Meditate every day – even if it is only for 10 minutes (use Apps like Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer)
    • Go outside
    • Move your body
    • Limit your exposure to news – get the facts and then shut it off
    • Add some structure to your week and days. Have a schedule for the week as well. Make weekends somewhat different, even if that means something simple like making a more elaborate breakfast or something more involved like embarking on a project (i.e., painting a room). This combination of structure and variation keeps people settled but stimulated – both important for emotional well-being.
    • Be aware of who in your circle might be particularly vulnerable during this time and check on them by phone
    • Use principles of mindfulness to shift your mental stance from negative feelings about the situation to an attitude of curiosity. Take on the mindset of an anthropologist or journalist observing a social experiment. Keep a journal (written, drawings or video) of your experience during quarantine – what you are doing and how you are feeling day-by-day. Taking on this viewpoint will give you a little distance, which can reduce distress, as well as keep you open to the positive or simply interesting things that may happen during this very unusual experience
    • Spread Out: Create some space between those you are living with. Otherwise, we run the risk of crowding each other and creating irritation. Normally you’re together some of the time, but separated at other times. Mimic this at home by intentionally planning “together time” (meals, watching movies) and “separate time” in separate rooms, if possible (working, reading, learning).
    • Use social media wisely. Before you hop on to a social media site, pause and ask yourself what is your intention here; what are you hoping to give or receive with this engagement? Social media can be your friend when isolated, but resist scrolling through Facebook, Instagram or Twitter endlessly; that won’t really feed your need for connection. Actually, it has been shown in some studies to actually make people feel left out or “less than.” Instead, use social media to meaningfully connect.  Here is a link to John Kraskinski’s “Some Good News” channel on YouTube; it is fun and positive: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOe_y6KKvS3PdIfb9q9pGug

    Most importantly, pay attention to how you are feeling and give yourself grace, kindness and compassion for whatever is arising in you. There is no need to do otherwise. There is no point in making yourself feel bad or in feeling guilty about anything. This is a time to pause, reflect, contemplate and notice what is here – with your heart, your senses, your mind and your body. And, validate yourself for showing up and hanging in there.

    I am offering twice weekly live meditations (Sundays at 11:30 AM and Wednesdays at 6:30 PM). See my Class Schedule page or contact me for additional information.

    ~ Peace,
    Robyn Beckman