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: ...
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: ...
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.