It has been a very long time since my last email message to this wonderful and diverse community. Like many of you, I have been doing my best to navigate these constantly challenging times. Perhaps ‘challenging’ doesn’t even begin to describe them? Even though I have not been emailing, as I was doing for a concerted period during the pandemic from March 2020 – March 2021, neither this course nor this community has been far from my thoughts. As you may be aware, we launched a major update a few months ago, and I have been fortunate to have received many messages from course participants. I’ve even been able to talk with some of you over Zoom.
As this year slips, slides, and staggers towards its end, I’m writing today mostly just to check-in with you. This time of the year can be stressful and difficult even in the best of times, so I’m more than aware that many of you are probably struggling right now ...
Sometimes things move so fast that they seem to slip into a blur of constant motion, appearing to stretch and morph as they slide through the world. There is a stream just outside my window here and, after it rains, it rushes into a single streak of rapids. Perhaps, outside your window, there’s a flood of traffic streaming past; if you half close your eyes, perhaps the brake lights stretch into lines behind the vehicles?
The last month or so has felt rather like that for many of us, I think. With events and milestones flashing past at such a rate that they have blurred into a haze of relentless movement around us. At such times, it can be easy to feel swept off our feet, as though the flow of things will just carry us along with it – we tumble and bob and are whisked along by the rapids without feeling much control. For many, this certainly seems to have been the experience of the easing of lock-down and the re-opening of social spaces. It’s like someone opened the hatch on a pressurized plane and we’re all instantly sucked outside into a giant jumble of confusion and anxiety...
Like many of you on this course, I am feeling the relentlessness of things at the moment. The pandemic continues. And continues. ... And continues. Attempts to alleviate it are uneven and sometimes confusing. Resistance to these attempts can be infuriating. Violence continues to haunt so many streets around the world. On some days, it can be very hard to see through to the light – the wounds can feel very deep and dark. However, as the great poet Rumi tells us when asked what to do about pain and sorrow: ‘Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light enters you.’
In that spirit, I’m like to invite you to take a breath, right now, gather your awareness into your breath, and then ground your breath into your body. Yes, now. Do it now. Each in-breath like a new beginning, and each out-breath a letting go or a letting be...
I can wait a few minutes, if you’d like to breathe a bit more ...
As we head towards the lunar New Year next week, I’m taking some time to sit with the various messages that have come in from participants in our course over the last few weeks. Many have been deeply moving, and I wanted to thank you for your trust and courage in sharing them with me. And some have been extremely generous and kind; as for many of you, this is a challenging time for me too, so I’m sincerely grateful to those of you who have reached out.
One theme that has been pervasive in your messages recently has been anxiety about ‘repairing’ the world within and around you in various ways. ...
This time of the year is always challenging, at least for me. We’re always told that it should be full of magic and bounty and laughter, and I sincerely hope that it is for you. But, as many of us know very well from our course, wanting things to be other than they are can make us feel so much worse. So, wanting (or even expecting) this season suddenly to bring about the end of quarantine or dark nights or racism is not going to make it better; it’s going to make us feel worse. Sadly, December doesn’t come with a wave of magic to make things instantly better, even temporarily. Reality just sits there, waiting for us to notice that we’re pretending it’s vanished. No amount of misdirection or distraction can change that.
The weight of expectation at this time of year, and perhaps especially this year, can really hurt people ...
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: ...
During the 2020/21 COVID19 pandemic, Chris Goto-Jones started writing periodic 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.