It’s been great to hear how you’ve been doing during these unusual days – many thanks to everyone who’s been in touch, and my apologies for being unable to get back to everyone individually.
Further to my previous note about the various ways in which your mindfulness practice might be able to support you through these days of anxiety and dis-ease, I wanted to let you know that we’ve been developing some new meditations for you to try while you’re physically (and perhaps socially) distancing yourselves. For instance, some of you asked for some guidance on the idea of the ‘hand washing practice,’ which I outlined last time. So, we’ll post some audio guidance for that and other things very soon.
In the meantime, I wanted to respond to some of the comments and questions that I’ve been receiving from course participants over the last week or so. Most people, for instance, are observing higher than normal levels of stress as their daily routines have been disrupted and their freedoms of action restricted. People are describing wandering aimlessly around their homes. Wringing their hands. Biting their nails. Being unable to settle down or focus on activities. Perhaps you will recognise these behaviours? ...
Well, thankfully, as we discussed earlier, a regular mindfulness practice should be able to help with some of these behavioural consequences of self-isolation. I won’t repeat all those points again here, but I will append my last note to this one (at the end of this email), in case that’s helpful for you.
Today I’d like to address something slightly different: one consequence of the situation around COVID-19 that seems to lurk in the background is the way in which persistent anxiety can impact on our moods and our emotional resilience in general. So, many people are observing that those around them are becoming more agitated and more short-tempered. Some are also observing that they themselves are becoming more agitated and more short-tempered, causing them to be less patient and understanding and kind, causing them to read other people as more agitated and more short-tempered … and so on, in a vicious circle.
If you’re noticing this about yourself, then you might pause for a moment to appreciate your own insightfulness. For as long as we think all the anger and irritation is coming from other people, there’s not going to be much we can do about it. The insight that our current circumstances of dis-ease might be making us less charitable towards others and more impatient is something that we can work with in our mindfulness practices. Indeed, this is one of the explicit purposes of compassion or be-friending meditations, which you can find in our course. That said, most of the mindfulness practices that we learn in a course like ‘De-Mystifying Mindfulness’ are designed to help us to become more aware of what we’re dealing with at any particular moment, and to help us intervene more gently and more skilfully to prevent those things from triggering automatic stress responses. So, even if you haven’t reached the compassion meditations in the course yet, or if you simply don’t like them (which I know is the case for some), any consistent mindfulness practice should help you develop awareness of the agitation you’re feeling and help you make some gentler choices about what to do with it.
If nothing else, short practices to help you be patient in queues as you wait 6ft from the people on either side of you (or calmness as you drive your car through oddly quiet streets and lines of stressed drivers) may help you to check your irritation and anger, and thus help to make everyone (including you) feel a little safer.
OK, I think that’s all from me for today. As I said, we’ll be posting some new audio guidance for meditations for you soon. And I’ll also write again in the next week about mindfulness and isolation.
For now, with all good wishes for a peaceful, healthy, safe, and calm week,
Dr. Chris Goto-Jones. Leiden University - Centre for Innovation; University of Victoria. www.mentalpraxis.com
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.