This week I am worrying about the impact of the coronavirus. My annual trip to India in April is not going ahead due to the teachings being cancelled because of the coronavirus. Also, Rob has cancelled his trip to the UK and so won’t be with us at our 10th anniversary celebrations in May, which may also have to be cancelled because of the coronavirus. Then there are the other MA courses to consider, especially as many people come from abroad to some of our teaching skills courses and the Masters degree in Mindfulness.
Then I am worrying about my trip to London to speak at the Mindful Living Show at the end of this week. Will anyone attend the show, with a rash of cases in London? Will it be cancelled or postponed? I read with interest their health and safety statement involving making hand sanitiser available and wiping microphones. It is more the London tube and the train journey I am worried about – enclosed with a mass of potentially virus ridden people who don’t practice mindfulness!
Am I being sensible or over-reacting? We cancelled our Manchester MAHQ trip today, but one factor in this decision was that only three of us were going to be there anyway.
As always in my ridiculous mind, I am not so much fretting about the outcome, but at the uncertainty about not knowing what the outcome will be. Will I be going to London or not? Will courses be cancelled, postponed or offered online or not? My mind cannot stand the groundlessness of not knowing and I observe it desperately scrabbling for some certainty. I remind myself of the impermanence of all situations and the myriad causes and conditions that give rise to them – much beyond my control. I remind myself that the feeling of control is a delusion and ‘who’ is in control anyway? Nevertheless, I observe my mind treading the path of the future again, and again, and again.
At Choden’s suggestion I looked at some talks on YouTube by Dr. Jo Dispenza and this has been interesting. His message chimes very well with our undercurrent and observer model of mind. Our habitual patterns (which we have repeated over and over again in the past) are ingrained and embodied within our brains and nervous systems – who we have been in the past is embodied within us and is controlling who we are now. I have found if very helpful to have this so bluntly explicated, as it is motivating present me to ‘stand up’ a bit more strongly than usual to the past habitual version of me. The present me is outraged at the prospect of being controlled by past me. This dynamic is giving more impetus for present me to observe the habits of past me and to refrain from following the habits. Instead, the advice from Dr Dispenza is to envision the future me I would like to become and aspire to act in accordance with the habits of this future me. This is a lot about our teaching and practice of intention and motivation.
So, the future me that I aspire to be will be delighted to surf the waves of impermanence and uncertainty and wallow in the opportunities this might bring. Even as I write this I feel relieved!
I aspire to be compassionate. In the service of this I have been listening to some teachings entitled ‘Awakening Compassion: Meditation Practices for Difficult Times’ (how apt!) by Pema Chodron on the practice of tonglen – something we teach in our Mindfulness level 2: Responding with compassion course. I think these teaching are quite old – but the ‘difficult times’ seem to roll on. In my practice this morning, it dawned on me, that in all my self-centred fretting about coronavirus I hadn’t spared a thought for the suffering of those who had died or were seriously ill, or quarantined, or the suffering of their families and loved ones.
Then I experienced a double whammy. The first was disappointment in myself for not having some concern for those who were suffering from the effects of coronavirus. The second was much worse, a contradiction of my concept of my sense of self as a compassionate person. So I practiced tonglen and breathed in my pain, the pain of others in a similar position and then the pain of all and breathed out whatever antidotes were needed for me, for the others and then for all. This helped. I recognised that I was taking myself far too seriously and could lighten up about my sense of self. I also recognised that I could take a bigger perspective in the decisions I had to make about how to proceed – not only taking into account my own interest, but figuring out what serves everyone’s best interests. But also not to think about them too much – but allow the decisions to make themselves.
Great lesson – in case you find yourself in a similar position!