I am struck by contrast in my life at the moment.
On a day to day basis, I experience a peaceful, retreat like existence. I practice and teach sessions of meditation; mindfulness, compassion and insight. I walk the dogs by the river in this beautiful isolated valley. I work at my computer contributing to the running of the Mindfulness Association. I do the usual chores of life; cooking, cleaning, washing. Being solitary brings a sense of silence and as the weeks have gone on I become more present. I also, meet online with colleagues, friends and family, check in on the daily news (but not too much!) and watch something on telly. Currently, a BBC series of Little Dorritt, which I am attempting not to binge watch.
On the other hand, I experience an underlying fear, that erupts from time to time. A worry about family, friends, colleagues, the business, the wider world. I experience an underlying insecurity to do with having no control and not knowing what is going to happen next or how long life will be so disrupted. I experience sadness when I hear of those who have died and the grief of their loved ones, of the fear and trauma of many key workers, of those who cannot feed themselves and their families, of those who are isolated, or who are living in violent homes or who experiencing worsening mental health.
I find it difficult to reconcile the discrepancy between my day to day life experience and the reality of what is happening out in the world beyond this valley. After, hearing people share at the free online nightly practice and online morning sits that the Mindfulness Association run, I get a sense of many others experiencing something similar.
Online I connect most days with many more people than I ever do in my so called ‘normal life’. I notice that I had bought into a concept that connecting online was second rate and not such a meaningful connection. The experiences I have had connecting online in compassionate mindfulness, especially during the practice day on Easter Sunday contradicts this concept. My connections online are deeply meaningful. The online-ness of the connection is more than compensated for by the open hearted appreciation I now feel for of those in my life who’s presence I have previously taken for granted. Especially at this time, the connections feel deeper, when many of us are experiencing challenges, and we are there supporting each other, and laughing together in ways we haven’t before.
Have you also bought into the concept that connecting online is second rate? If so, check it out as it may cause you a lot of suffering.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of secular mindfulness, says we should weave our parachute before jumping out of the aeroplane. By this he means that we do our regular mindfulness meditation practice in the good times, so that it is there to support us in the difficult times. Those of us who went into this crisis with a regular compassion based mindfulness practice are the fortunate ones. My isolation is supported by the compassion and wisdom that arises from a present moment focus, based in a lineage of compassion and wisdom that goes back to the Buddha over two and a half thousand years ago. I have lost count of the number of people who have said, during online meetings, that they do not know how they could cope with what is unfolding within their lives, if they did not have their practice.
I want to share a practice, which helps me when the underlying fear drives my mind into distraction. For me this generally involves planning in the future as a way of fabricating a delusion of control. The practice is called ‘Body Like a Mountain’ and a longer version of this practice is available on our YouTube Channel here. A shorter version is available here.
To begin with we move into a posture that is grounded and alert. Then we say to ourselves the phrase ‘Body Like a Mountain’. We allow these words to drop into our minds and embody them. Then (and this is an adaptation for these difficult times) we say to ourselves ‘Heart Like the Sun’, imagining all our innate qualities of love, compassion and joy gathering in our heart and radiating like the sun. Then we tune into the feeling of the coming and going of the breath in the body and say to ourselves ‘Breath Like the Wind’. Finally, we open to the whole of our present moment experience and say to ourselves ‘Mind Like the Sky’. Then we can repeat this mantra a few more times:
Body like a mountain,
Heart like the sun,
Breath like the wind,
Mind like the sky.
My hope is that this practice will help you this week, when the fear or sadness erupt. Remember we are not trying to make what is happening go away. We are simply altering the perspective from which we relate to what is happening.
I hope to see you online sometime soon, perhaps at one of our free daily sits, or at my next online course Access to Compassion, which starts on Tuesday 12 May and continues on Tuesday evenings from 7-8.30pm for five weeks. I look forward to it.
Go well and stay safe.