These are times that are creating great and widespread anxiety, to be sure. Many people report experiencing nightmares. Few of us can remain fully unscathed as we’re forced to change our routines and cut ourselves off from the people and places that have offered comfortable reassurance.
And being alone with our thoughts does not, as Anne Lamott cleverly suggests, always provide us with the best company. We can be hard on ourselves by ruminating on our plights and getting stuck in a cycle of worries.
For me, mindfulness meditation has a very calming effect, and I’ll share with you below one particular resource I find helpful—whether or not you are a meditator, and even if you’re a “fidgety skeptic.”
I also love these wise words from the renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield, which underscore so much about being human:
“If you can sit quietly after difficult news,
If in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm,
If you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;
If you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;
If you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;
If you can always find contentment just where you are…
…..You are probably a dog.”
It’s a tough time for the two-leggeds, as Internet sensation Pluto the Dog refers to us. (She seems to be having the time of her life; so far there’s been no interruption in her treat supply chain…) And if you haven’t seen her and need an instant lift, I encourage you to look for her repeat performances on YouTube.
Fortunately, there’s also a treasure trove of free material on the Internet to help us get through this terribly difficult time.
I don’t want to oversimplify this issue. Andrew Solomon, a professor of medical clinical psychology at Columbia University who has written about his struggles with serious mental illness, observed in The New York Times that nearly everyone he knows “has been thrust in varying degrees into grief, panic, hopelessness, and paralyzing fear. If you say, ‘I’m so terrified I can barely sleep,’ people may reply, ‘What sensible person isn’t?”
If you’re feeling the way Sullivan describes, you may need professional help. Even if you’re just seeking some reinforcement, I won’t pretend the resource I’m recommending will banish your psychological or physical pain—or make it easier for you to ignore your sudden or worsening economic problems.
But I hope if you’re looking for some way to help you better adapt to our truly bizarre situation, you’ll give it a look.
And you needn’t be a meditator to appreciate its offerings and to find these common sense approaches helpful.
The source is Ten Percent Happier: tenpercenthappier.com. I actually paid a discounted price for a phone app last year.
Now, and for the duration of the quarantine at least, the content is available for free on YouTube.
Live sessions featuring some of the most prominent teachers in the world are aired at 3 pm weekdays and are subsequently available on video. I listen to them (I don’t always watch) each morning before I get out of bed.
Dan Harris, a correspondent for ABC News, is the founder. Harris has explained that he turned to meditation after suffering a paralyzing panic attack on the air. He’s since become immersed in mindfulness and has developed strong friendships with a number of the leaders in the field.
But he remains ever the “fidgety skeptic” (his words) and is clear when he’s asked to recite or act in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him.
He will repeatedly interject about the scientific grounding of certain practices. I think this approach makes him a perfect host for a program that is far more universal than it might otherwise be.
Each session begins with Harris talking with the guest speaker, who briefly describes her/his background. The speaker then gives an explanation preceding meditation lasting about five-minutes—suitable for those who’ve never meditated before as well as more practiced folks.
And then the speaker answers viewers’ questions—often my favorite part of the session, as the questions, while unique, underscore so many similarities in what we’re all experiencing. And the answers are invariably helpful. In their entirety, the sessions run for about 20 minutes.
The goal, Harris says, is to bring some sanity into this rocky time, and to build a community, realizing the loneliness experienced even by those of us who are not quarantined alone—because we’re cut off from so many whom we care about.
Today I heard Rev. angel Kyodo williams (sic), trained as a Zen priest, describe ways to recognize the importance of being in the present moment by trying to look at things in a different way.
She used the acronym SKY, suggesting boundless spaciousness, to counter the constraints of both being so isolated and experiencing fear in these unprecedented times.
S is for Self-care: We should radically protect our own health and well-being, assess our own situation and take steps to protect ourselves, such as practicing social distancing. She noted that since her health situation puts her at risk, she has become considerably more aware of the need for self-care.
K is for Kindness: That means being kind to both ourselves and others—for example, accepting the annoyance we may feel toward people who seem oblivious to the 6-feet distancing advisory, but not being rude to them.
Y is for Yearning: We tend to contract with suffering, but if we acknowledge that we wish things could be different and are hopeful people take care, we can move out of that mindset. She suggests writing down our yearnings in order to breathe space into our perspectives.
Here is a video of Rev. williams’s presentation.
I have been so pleased with the sessions to date that I’m doing what Harris suggests: spreading the word to help build a community when many people are feeling cut off. I hope if you think you may need something like it—or just want to investigate—you’ll give it a try.