Week 7: How to live mindfully in stressful times?
The past weeks have confronted us with a tsunami of mental health challenges. The tightened measurements in most European countries reinforced feelings of loneliness and anxiety. A recent study (2020) by the happiness research institute showed a decline in life satisfaction in most countries around the globe due to the impact of the pandemic. On top of that, the US-elections that left feel many US Americans (and world citizens) breathless. During the last week of the election, I checked the phone every morning to get updated on the latest poll results. Reading the forecasts with the hope for empathy to return to US politics, for the sake of my US friends, and to protect democracy as a whole. In hindsight, I found myself more stressed and pressured than normal. I was forced to adjust my meditation and mindfulness practice to reach stillness and emptiness in this hectic period. Let me share some of the techniques and attitudes that helped me to get through this period.
Being okay with uncertainty
“When we understand the truth of uncertainty and relax, we become free.” -Jack Kornfield
“A global crisis like this COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of how insecure we are”, says meditator and podcaster Luke B. It confronts us with the fact that we are vulnerable creatures. The pandemic shows us that a little virus can cause panic, chaos, and confusion on a global scale. We realize that we cannot solve this puzzle so easily. The pandemic is a complex phenomenon juggling between health, economy, and psychology. Like in so many other challenges such as climate change, social inequalities, and racism, to name a few. We better get used to the fact that life is uncertain. Or even better, let’s embrace it. Learn to approach uncertainty with a curious and open mind. A good start is to pause for a minute and reflect on the following questions:
- What’s happening in my body and mind when uncertainty arises?
- Where is the feeling of uncertainty present in my body?
- Where else is insecurity present in my current life?
- Can I think of an alternative response to the feeling of insecurity?
Consciously focus on the positive aspects of difficult moments. This is a skill in meditation known as reframing. With mindfulness, we can notice positive and negative things at the same time and decide which ones to focus on.
Think of this example: Two friends are walking on the same street. Both carry a torch as it is pitch black outside. One focuses on the left side of the street and the other friend on the right side. The friend who directs the light of his torch to the right side asks his friend, “wow, do you see these luxurious villas, the swimming pools? It looks so beautiful, right?” The friend who puts his attention to the left side responds: “What are you talking about? I only see dump, and it smells horrible here.” The essence of the story is that both sides of the street exist, but we have the power to choose which one to focus on. The perspective we choose will shape our experience.
**In a previous blog post (link) I mentioned our negativity bias, in which I explained that we tend to look at the dump instead of the bright side. Be aware of this and start challenging your negative automatic thinking pattern.
Mindfulness for the sake of the whole
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh shared a story, “when the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked, all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat stayed calm and steady, it was enough. They showed the way for everyone to survive.”
This quote kept me thinking – staying calm is not just for myself it is also for others. As I am deeply caring about the wellbeing of others, this thought is a powerful trigger for me. If I am stabilizing the boat, others can survive too. What a wonderful thought! And when I look at the major challenges, I can also see a trend of people working more together. They help each other out, listen more actively and carefully to each other’s concerns. Initiatives call for random acts of kindness such as helping elderly people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. A crisis can bring more unity and collaboration than before. It is a matter of courage, bravery, authenticity, and joint forces that create a peaceful and more human world. A world in which democracy, respect, and critical thought are guiding principles.
Luke B (2020). Coronavirus Anxiety: 4 Meditation Tools to Help You Stay Sane Amidst the Chaos.https://medium.com/age-of-awareness/coronavirus-anxiety-4-meditation-tools-to-help-you-stay-sane-amidst-the-chaos-619a6f464f7b. Accessed 08.11.2020.
S.K. Greenland (2016). 7 Mindful Strategies to Ease Election Anxiety. https://www.mindful.org/mindful-strategies-to-ease-election-anxiety/. Accessed 08.11.2020.
J. Suttie & J. A. Smith (2020). 8 Questions That Can Help Ease Election Anxiety. https://www.mindful.org/8-questions-that-can-help-ease-election-anxiety/. Accessed 08.11.2020.
Happiness Research Institute (2020). Wellbeing in the age of COVID-19. https://www.happinessresearchinstitute.com/. Accessed 13.11.2020.