The outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic has rendered most of us feeling helpless, as our normal routines have come to a screeching halt. As a result, most of us are sequestered behind our closed doors. If you think about it, this is an opportune time to cultivate a new mindset that will bring us more peace of mind long after this pandemic has passed. With this in mind, I offer you ten "lessons" that can serve as a springboard to a more mindful existence.
1. Just Be. We live in an accelerated culture. Have you noticed that since you have been "stuck at home," how much you feel like you are missing out on? In our fast-paced society, we all have the tendency to jump from thing to thing without slowing down to realize what we are actually doing. Our "glorification of busy" has rendered us clueless to the bigger world around us. We get stuck in to stories of our egos, and we want what we want when we want it. Instant gratification is the name of the game, from Uber Eats to Netflix, to social media and texting. We wait for nothing.
Here's a novel idea: SLOW DOWN. It's ok to just "be." Put down your devices for a few moments. Go outside. Perhaps embark on a walk in the sunshine. Consider building in "pockets of stillness" into your schedule every day. It does wonders for your mind, and it nourishes your soul.
In her poem "Pandemic," Lynn Ungar urges us to take this mindset:
"What of you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath-
Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling. Give up for now, on trying to make the world different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down."
2. Get Stuck in the Present Moment. As a mindfulness teacher, I know that the saying "be in the moment" sounds cliche. However, it is a valid suggestion. Most of the time, we are fixated on the future. From an evolutionary perspective, our ability to predict the future and navigate around perceived threats has enabled our human species to survive. While fixating on the future has enabled us to survive, it does not insure our happiness. Think about it. Real life takes place in the present moment. The irony is that we spend most of our time in our minds obsessing about the future or ruminating in the past. This is madness, because the future is usually just fantasy, and the past is already dead.
Your key to happiness is to get stuck in the present moment. You do not have to like everything that is happening in the present moment, but make the most out of each present experience and situation, because resisting it does not make it go away. In fact, resisting it only makes it more agonizing. You have heard about the "power of surrender" before, I am sure. This is what it is all about. Surrender doesn't mean "give up." It's just the opposite. It means surrender to what is going on and make the most of it.
I am not suggesting you totally discard the past and the future. By all means, learn from the past and plan for the future by making it happen in the present.
3. Create More. Sometimes we forget that we are creators by nature. We feel better when we are creating more and consuming less. Spend your time making things. Creative expression is good for your mind and it stirs your soul. Creating things also gives us a sense of accomplishment when we have completed our task, masterpiece, or goal. When you are fully engaged in creating, it gives your mind a reprieve from the endless mental clutter that constantly swirls between your ears.
Some ideas for creating: write an article, compose a song, paint a picture, put together a puzzle, build a model airplane, design some graphic logos, engage in some computer coding, build a web site, build a blanket fort, construct a tree house, cook a meal, put together an aquarium, make a new dog house for your pet, put up a new fence, bake some deserts, construct a homemade greeting card for a loved one, etc., etc.
Though out history, humankind has created masterpieces during times of isolation. For instance, during the Great Plague of London in 1665, Sir Issac Newton was isolated at his home where he invented calculus, parts of optic theory, and allegedly while sitting in his garden, he saw an apple fall from a tree that inspired his understanding of gravity and the laws of motion. The opportunities are endless!
4. What's Important? A pandemic shutdown of this nature gives us the space and time to rethink the priorities in our lives. We get so caught up in our own personal narratives and the stories in our minds, we sometimes forget what is important.
Use the down time to take inventory of what is important to you and what is not. Reflect on all of the positives you have in your life. Have an attitude of gratitude. There are no "little things." Do not take things like good health, loved ones, family, and friends for granted.
Consider keeping a daily gratitude journal. At the end of each day, write down five things you are grateful about. Over time, you will become a "detective for good," as you will start discovering things to write in your journal. Soon this will become your default mode for thinking, as you will literally start rewiring your brain for the better, because science show us that neurons that fire together eventually wire together.
5. It's not about you. It makes me sick to see young adults in the news who are partying in bars and on beaches during their spring break saying that they are not worried about the coronavirus. This typifies the "hey, look at me" selfie culture we live in. Its sickening, to say the least. Sadly, the twitter and message board mentality of "me first" permeates our society. (And by the way, did you really need to horde all of that toliet paper?!?)
While most of us are probably not in a high risk group of catching the coronavirus, we all have a moral responsibility to take precautions to help protect the more vulnerable in society: the sick, the elderly, and the compromised. It's not a political issue. It's common decency.
Doing for others is a win-win. When you lend assistance and help others, it benefits them, but it also enriches your life. You feel good about your kind deed. In addition, it takes your mind off of yourself, which is a welcome relief.
6. We are all connected. We all have more in common than we realize. Often we get so myopic in our own little worlds (minds), we lose sight of this. There is an old saying that goes, "You aren't stuck in traffic. You ARE the traffic."
During this pandemic shutdown, most of us are isolated. We realize that we miss our daily human interactions with each other. As Rick Springfield sang in the 80's, "We all need the human touch." Research studies show that individuals with lots of friends and deep social networks usually live longer and happier lives.
While "touching" right now during this pandemic is not optimal for maintaining good health, it is still important to reach out to one another via our electronic devices. As humans, we are hardwired for human connection. However, virtual connection is better than no connection at all right now. Work to keep your relationships vibrant. We are all interdependent on one another. As Ram Dass said, 'We are all just walking each other home."
7. The Power of Contemplation. Contemplation is a lost art in our modern world. Do you ever notice that you are often afraid to sit alone with your thoughts and emotions? What is the first thing we do when faced with the prospect of being bored? Typically, we will grab our smart phones.
We will rather fill our minds with social media/internet garbage than sit and ponder life or deal with the complexities of our minds. Here's a little secret for you: let yourself be bored from time to time. This opens open space in our minds, and out of this space can come real imagination, joy, and wonder.
Other contemplative pursuits, other than just letting yourself be bored, you might want to try are: meditation, stream of consciousness journaling, prayer, and yoga.
8. Silence is Golden. Typically, what is the first thing we do when we jump into our car? If you are like me, you switch on the radio. I do the same kind of thing when I get home for work. I turn on some music or the television, even if I am in the other room. I crave a little bit of noise. Recently, I have made a concerted effort to turn down the noise more often.
Silence is not only good for peace of mind, but research shows that immersing ourselves in silence regularly builds up the part of the brain called hippocampus, which is basically responsible for learning.
Make silence your friend. You will see that it gives you space to streamline your thoughts a little bit. The more you immerse yourself into silence, the more you will come to like it. As the Depeche Mode song goes, "Enjoy the silence."
9. The Earth is Sick. While we are stuck at home, we should give some thought to our collective home, the Earth.
We have abused our planet for centuries. Whether you believe in climate change or not isn't the point. There are simple things we can do to help repair some of the damage we have inflicted.
Is this cornoavirus pandemic, as some have suggested, Mother Earth hitting a "reset button" to slow things down, because we humans are the actual "virus"? That's an interesting question to ponder. While I am not so sure about that, I am am sure there are a few things we can do to hep our planet out: encourage each other to recycle, pick up after ourselves, and try to eat a bit less meat. We only have one home. Let's take care of her better.
10. Pleasure Seeking is a Distraction. We often try to escape reality by seeking out pleasures. Don't get me wrong. I'm all about the F WORD- FUN!.... I am talking about over-indulging.
Binge watching 16 straight hours of Netflix, eating three cartons on chunky monkey ice cream, and gambling away $1,600 playing online poker may sound like a hoot, but there is a problem here. Instead of seeking pleasure, try to find meaningfulness in everything you do.
No interaction, experience, or encounter is insignificant or too small to matter. Life is short. Find joy in everything you embark upon. Have you ever seen a baby seemingly discover his toes for the first time, or a little puppy sniffing and eyeballing everything she encounters in the backyard? Life is full of wonder. Somewhere along the way, we become more hardened, and we lose that sense of joy and wonder. We try to recover it by binging on what we think are modern-day pleasurable pursuits. This is where we fail ourselves. We need to strip it all back, and look for the meaningfulness in the seemingly "little things." This is life.
Greg Graber, the author of Slow Your Roll- Mindfulness for Fast Times, teaches mindfulness to schools, top sports teams, and various organizations around the world. Graber, the current Head of Middle School at Lausanne Collegiate School, will begin his tenure as the school's Director of SEL & Mindfulness in June. His website is www.greggraber.com.