Coronavirus Outbreak Is The Best Time To Practise Mindfulness
Meditation has been a non-negotiable part of my day for the past four years. But somehow, I feel like my focus has been deteriorating recently.
My inability to observe my breath frustrated me. Meanwhile, I signed up for a mindfulness teacher training. The feelings of being a fraud started flooding me again:
You, a mindfulness teacher? How come? You can’t even sustain deep focus throughout a 30-minute meditation!
While the thoughts about my practice we stirring in my head, the coronavirus arrived. Over the past few days, it’s shown me one thing very clearly:
Now is better time than ever to practice mindfulness.
A lot of Buddhist lessons suddenly materialize in the world. What we’re observing is a clear illustration of the mechanics of the world and our minds. If you only look, you can now grasp it easily.
Here’s a handful of ancient wisdoms that are now jumping at us during this weird, surreal time.
Thoughts Are Just Events In The Mind
One of the things I’ve been failing to experience in my meditation recently is the detachment from my thoughts.
After initial moments of presence, I would go into unconscious periods of mind-wandering. This discontented and angered me. I thought I was past the stage of being completely lost in thought.
One difficulty that you may have with observing your thoughts is that there are so many of them. The mind, when roaming free, makes endless connections. The result is jumping from one topic to another in a blink of an eye.
That’s why it’s sometimes called the “monkey-mind.”
One moment, you may be thinking about what’s for dinner. Then, all of a sudden, there’s a traumatic memory of breaking up with your first love playing in your head on repeat.
This is where the virus situation makes it easier for me. When I sat down to meditate in the past few days, all my thoughts orbited around this one topic. Yes, there’s anxiety. Yes, there’s uncertainty. But it becomes easier to grasp that these feelings are born from what my mind does — much more than from my direct experience of reality.
I’m healthy, I have a stocked fridge and I work from home. There’s nothing dramatic happening in my life. It’s my mind’s projections that cause anxiety.
With it comes an important distinction: thoughts are not the same as reality. My projection isn’t synonymous with what’s happening in the world right now.
In theory, I know it. But the obsessive coronavirus thoughts allow me to grasp this experientially.
I close my eyes, and there’s the world’s most dangerous catastrophe playing out. I open my eyes and I see the sun, a steaming cup of tea and the safe space of my bedroom.
Nothing Is Permanent In This World
“My privileged circumstances so far allowed me to think it’s all up to me. I can do, achieve, create, or succeed in anything I focus on if only I do the work. I was lucky enough to have a mindset that says I’m in control of my fate.
The events of the last days give me a taste of what it’s like when I’m not in control of where I am and how I spend my days. Of what it’s like to not have a choice due to outside circumstances.”
This is a reminder for those of us who take the abundance of food, clothing or internet connection for granted. Those of us who are deep in the self-improvement narrative that has us believe we’re in control of our lives. Those of us who believe that all the success and good fortune we experience is due to our effort.
The virus reminds us that this isn’t the complete picture at all.
There are circumstances that you can’t control. You create your reality, yes. But only up until a certain point.
When the virus spreads, we see that much of the control we thought we had was an illusion. It was only possible to maintain because… well, there was no virus. But now, all of a sudden, we need a different narrative. The reality we took for granted may be ceasing to exist in front of our eyes.
This is not to add to the panic. I don’t how the world will look like in the future. It may change for the worse. But it may also change for the better.
In any case, we’re being reminded that the world is in constant flux. We tend to think that some parts of it are permanent. In reality, they’re fragile and prone to change — not just because of the virus, but always.
Focusing On The Present Is More Helpful Than Planning The Future
You probably had some plans for the coming weeks or months. Maybe you booked a flight to see a friend. Maybe you were looking forward to a concert.
Heck, maybe your only plan was to just keep working and providing for your family.
But now, even the latter is uncertain. What will happen to your work, your plans, your ambitions when all countries are being shut down?
It’s uncomfortable to say, but I guess it needs to be said: nobody in the world can answer this. You and I don’t know if our plans stand a chance — or if we have to abandon them.
Because we’re used to preparing for things in advance, we’re now confused about how to live.
Just a month ago, I moved from Poland to Scotland. I had plans and hopes for my new life here. But as soon as I felt somewhat settled and started making friends, the virus took the hit. So I don’t know how my new life here will unfold.
Such uncertainty can be troubling. But we can also look at it from a different angle.
Even before the virus, were you ever 100% sure about future plans?
Here again, the coronavirus only magnifies the truth that existed anyway. We can make plans for the future. But can we be sure how things will turn out in the end? How many times have you set expectations just to see them crumbling, for better or worse?
The best thing to do now is not to plan too much. As many of us are stuck in our homes, we’re forced to focus on the present much more than on the past or future.
Taking care of ourselves and others now is the best we can do to take care of later.
I feel that the virus reminds us of the old wisdoms that we heard over and over. On the one hand, we know them by heart. On the other, we need to be reminded.
Let go of control, distance yourself from your thoughts and be present. Those mindfulness mantras aren’t just sexy Instagram quotes anymore. They are the best signposts to live by in times of uncertainty.
That uncertainty is written into life anyway. It’s not like you’ve never dealt with it before. You have. And so, deep down, you’re equipped to overcome this difficult situation.
The virus just makes some things more obvious. It encourages us to honour those truths as a society. It encourages us to be mindful. Not as a 30-minute daily practice — but as a way of life.