Sometimes, like now, it feels almost ridiculous to say that we’re living through challenging times. There are only so many times we can say it before it seems worn thin from over usage. Perhaps numbness creeps in? And yet, it is precisely in such times, when everything feels like it’s too much (or too little), that our awareness can be most transformative, both for ourselves and those around us.
I’ve received so many messages from participants on our course after my last missive about forgiveness, and once again I wanted to honour those and to thank you for sharing so much. It is truly humbling to see how many people are striving to cultivate and maintain an intentional compassion through these days of pandemic and political uncertainty ...
I’m very much aware that there has been a longer-than-usual gap between my last email and this one, and I’m grateful for the various messages that I’ve received in this time: thank you. As for many of us, these have been challenging days for me. However, it’s genuinely uplifting and inspiring to see how the community of learning around this course is supporting its members and also offering support to others.
I’m very familiar with the feeling that I’m not doing enough or that what I’m doing isn’t good enough, and I know may of us are living with that feeling at the moment. Sometimes we need an external voice to reassure us: the touch of a loved one, an affirmation from a teacher or boss, a quiet thank you from someone we helped in the grocery store. Today, I’d like to share a little token of affirmation with you, since it’s yours rather than mine: ...
It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I was last in touch. In that time, I have received very many messages and questions from our community. I am very grateful that you have shared so much and for your trust, and I am also deeply moved by so many of your stories. It’s remarkable to see how diverse our group is, with messages from Belgium, England, and Spain, from Canada, USA, and Mexico, from Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia, from China, Japan, and India. And elsewhere. It’s so inspiring to know that people all over the world are engaging with mindfulness in their own ways, trying to make use of it to help them and others make sense of the lives they’re living.
In my last message to you, I invited you to write to me if you had questions. So ...
It’s been at least a couple of weeks since I last wrote, but you have been much in my mind during these continuously challenging times. Many of you have been in touch with me with questions and requests, and I have done my best to respond – sadly, it’s not always possible for me to give what might be needed. Like many of you, I’m managing my capacities at the moment. In any case, I’m sorry if you have been disappointed – but please know that I read, appreciate, and respect everything you share with me. Thank you.
To many people at the moment, the world seems to be spiralling into something like chaos. The ongoing grip of the COVID pandemic around much of the planet seems to be only one of many challenges, which emerge in different forms and at different speeds in different places. Holding it all in our minds and hearts at the same time can feel (and be) overwhelming. I have received many messages from people struggling to keep track of things, and then also struggling to keep track of their anxieties and stress about those things. For some, the immensity of everything feels like it is too much to cope with ...
Despite the current state of lockdown in many places, these are dramatic times on the streets and in the hearts of many communities. It can be hard to hold all the events and emotions, especially when so many of them might seem so overwhelming. Many of us are struggling and, to be honest with you, I have been trying to give my own mind some time to settle before writing to you again. Given how we always talk about the importance of making use of mindfulness to help find a site of spaciousness from which to think about our responses and actions, I wanted to make sure that I honoured this in communications with you during these challenging times. So, in previous weeks I have apologised for being late with my message, but this time I think I should simply say that it’s taken me quite some time to see where my mind has settled.
As usual, I think I’d like to address two things: ...
The last week or so has seen some dangerous, disturbing, and frightening developments, especially in the USA. Some of you have written to me to express your heartache about the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May. For some, your response has been despair and horror, for others anger and outrage, and for a few something like resignation. And then many of you appear to be struggling with how to feel about the protests, the destruction, and the violence that has been unleashed in the period since then. Some of you have been directly involved.
To be honest with you, I too have been listening to various responses to this terrible situation and I have also been struggling with how to respond. As I mentioned in my mail last week, the COVID pandemic has both revealed and exacerbated social and material inequalities in all societies. Racism and other forms of bigotry and chauvinism, none of which are new to our societies, seem to be being emboldened as the pressure-cooker of lock-down is beginning to be released. People are venting, sometimes in the most offensive and dangerous ways. ...
I hope this message finds you well. And I hope, too, that you’re finding some support for yourself and others in your mindfulness practice, whatsoever that might look like for you at the moment. These are complicated emotional times for many of us, if not for all, and there is no shame in accepting that we might need a little extra support to help us get through, or to bolster us enough to be able to help others as we would like.
Judging by the messages I’ve been receiving over the last week or so, I’m guessing that quite a few of us are now trying to come to terms with the sensations and feelings that emerge as the ‘lock down’ eases and more people are moving out of isolation into something that resembles society once again. Of course, that emergence, such as it is, is far from being a return to ‘normality,’ whatever that might mean for you. The virus that occasioned this lock down has not vanished, and people are still at risk, especially the more vulnerable segments of the population. Our responsibilities to each other are not eased just because the terms of our lock downs have eased. Indeed, the more freely we move through the streets and stores and pathways of our world, the greater our responsibility to be mindful of our responsibilities to others and ourselves. Ironically, frustrating and disorienting as it may have been, being shut into our homes for the last weeks made our movements much simpler, since we were not endangering people with our actions while sealed behind our doors and windows.
It seems that there are two main themes to your messages this week: ...
First of all, my apologies for taking an extra few days to write this email. As for many of you, I know, this has been a challenging time for me as well. So, I’m a little behind with things. Many thanks for your patience and understanding.
The last week or so has seen some big changes for many people, as the conditions of ‘lock down’ have eased in many countries around the world. Perhaps you are one of the people impacted by this change, and perhaps you’re not. Whichever is the case for you, it’s good for all of us to remember that the easing of ‘lock down’ restrictions is not the same as the ending of the pandemic – it’s simply a change in the way we’re living with it.
Judging by some of the emails I’ve received, I’m going to guess that the significance of this change is going to take a little while to settle. On the one hand, for some people, the easing of restrictions feels like hope; I’ve had a few messages that spoke of the beginning of a return to ‘normality’ (whatever that turns out to be). On the other hand, for some people, the easing of restrictions feels like anxiety; even without clear progress on a vaccine or a cure, many people now feel obliged to be outside amongst other people...
I know it’s hard to believe, but time is actually passing as its usual pace. No matter how much it might have seemed to drag on (or flash by), last week was simply another week. Judging by some of your emails, it certainly seems to be case that many of us are experiencing the passage of time differently at the moment. For some, it feels like time is passing very slowly, making the present circumstances of quarantine and uncertainty feel interminable – as though we will never get out of them. For others, the days are just vanishing as soon as they begin, and we get to the end of them unsure what we did and where they went.
Sometimes philosophers refer to this idea of ‘lived time’ as ‘duration,’ precisely to differentiate between how time feels to us as we move through our days and how it continues to pass in the scientific way at the same … time. For most everyday purposes, the fact that we can measure time accurately to within 1 second every billion years with an atomic clock is far less important than the fact that anxiety, stress, boredom, or depression might make that second feel like a lifetime. That is to say, ‘duration’ matters to us. And, thankfully, although there is nothing we can do about the flow of time, we do have some degree of control over duration. ...
I hope this email finds you safe and well and … perhaps even sane? These are trying times for our bodies as well as for our hearts and minds, so it’s appropriate to check in with ourselves occasionally to see what’s going on and what we might need. Like putting your mask on before helping others (precisely so that you can help others) on a plane, self-care matters a lot in times of difficulty. Ironically, this often means that self-care matters most when it’s least on our minds.
So, in that spirit, let me ask you: how are you doing right now – what do you need at this moment? Take a moment to breathe, to settle, and to feel what the answer might be for you, accepting that it might be different from the needs of others; it might surprise you. Perhaps you’re more stressed than you realised? Are your shoulders taught and tense? Is your breath high, shallow, and tight? Is your mind racing in search of new distractions? How many windows/apps are open on your electronic device right now? ...
During the 2020 COVID19 pandemic, Chris Goto-Jones writes weekly emails to the participants of the MOOC DeMystifying Mindfulness on Coursera and FutureLearn. Following requests to put them all in one place, they are reproduced here.