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Know Your Mind – in a Pandemic

By March 26, 2020 No Comments

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth,  

So a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. 

To make a deep physical path we walk again and again. 

To make a deep mental path we must think over and over  

The kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.

H.J. Thoreau

With so many unprecedented changes over the last week and with so many new life situations, people may naturally be experiencing unusual amounts of fear and anxiety. Even if you feel quite calm, those around us may not. Learning how to process the current situation, manage the external changes, navigate our own mental health and maintain healthy relationships with others is key to maintaining peace of mind.

How we relate to our experiences plays a key role in our peace of mind. For example, how are we relating to:

Being indoors more? Working from home and keeping our home/work life separated when they are physically together? Managing our fear of potential illness? Dealing with current illness? Home-schooling? Job uncertainty? Financial concerns? Spending more time together than normal? Managing your own responsibilities and worries whilst remaining supportive and empathetic to your staff, children and partners?

Are we maintaining motivation and remaining open-minded or are we resistant, frustrated and annoyed…?

We generally have more clarity about how to process life events if we can relate to them from a place of calm and interest rather than fear and rigidity. Of course, this is easier said than done at times of crisis. I hope the following will help you consider mindfulness as a way to maintain peace of mind, navigate the current terrain and set you on course for the future. 

That the birds of worry fly over your head, this you cannot change.  That they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent. – Chinese proverb. 

No one will escape thoughts and emotions about the current Covid-19 events at the moment.  We are being alerted to danger so we will naturally physiologically react to manage this situation.  For some of us that reaction can escalate to heightened anxiety and ruminating thoughts. It can dominate our mind and our lives! In uncertain times it is usual for our thoughts to flit around as our brains naturally attempt to control, make sense of and find solutions. The more we are dealing with, the more we are trying to work out. The current news is obviously providing a lot to think about and without regular re-balance, this will accumulate and our thoughts and emotions could easily become overactive.

Promise yourself not to try and solve all of life’s problems at once! Anonymous 

By taking charge of the essential activities first and then taking it one mindful step at a time we could move forwards, albeit not as perfectly as we might like, but forwards all the same. The other external solutions may then come more naturally into focus once we have calmed our internal processing unit

Our mind is the key player here. Peace of mind is something we can learn to cultivate with more awareness and know how. Introducing mindful-ways of living provides us with a deeper understanding of what is going on within and around us. We then apply practical techniques to enable us to manage what we notice.  It will also help us relate to situations in helpful ways. The more we live in this way the more natural it becomes. Understandably it is harder to start something new in times of crisis, but it is still possible if we chose to do apply ourselves.

I don’t need easy. I need possible! Bethany Hamilton – Soul Surfer. 

Getting to know our mind is just like any skill such as learning to read, maths, juggling, music, sport, cooking…it takes willingness to try it, practice to get better and kind understanding to progress helpfully. To make it possible we need to believe it is worth it!

Unlike things like art or music, we can’t hear and see the progress in our neurological pathways unless our brains are scanned. We believe it is good for us to keep going just as we do with physical exercise. Initially we believe it is good for us, do it and with time we start to notice an improvement in stamina, strength, flexibility. At the start it is often difficult. Scientific research on the effectiveness of mindfulness and some testimonials (https://mudandlotus.co.uk) might help you discover your intrinsic motivation/reasons for doing it. For those who are living with uncertainty, depression and anxiety, motivation can feel quite elusive. It can be helpful to take the following approach: Take action first then the motivation is likely to follow. (Professor Mark Williams – Professor of clinical Psychology.

Mindfulness is only one option out of many options to consider right now, but I can say with absolute confidence, having lived it for 25 years, taught it for 10 years, and with 3 decades of medical research -“It works!”

The theory behind mindfulness will undoubtedly make sense, but the only real way to feel the benefits is to do it yourself!  We can feel benefits instantly but to make it a way of living it will take more than one go.

The only source of knowledge is experience  – Albert Einstein

Most likely our first barrier to take care of our mind will be a sense of no time. When we feel have a lot to do, the thought of taking the time to do, what outwardly looks like nothing, can make it feel ‘out of the question!’  It goes against our social conditioning!

Time remains consistent but our perception of it will change according to our stress levels. Consider your perception of time when you feel calm and focused compared with when you are stressed? When do you feel more peace of mind?

Taking the time to work with our mind can help us manage the stressors more effectively, feel a deeper sense of calm, confidence and resilience which in turn helps us work through the lists more efficiently. Start with the mind and the rest will follow.

In terms of time, learning to live mindfully can be done in manageable ways that fit into our individual circumstances. We can prioritise our time. The minutes are happening anyway; we simply chose how we pay attention to them. Daydreaming, surfing the web and other distractions may be things we enjoy doing. Living more mindfully does not mean we have to give these things up. Doing things we enjoy is important to our happiness. However, we learn to chose as and when we do them rather than living out of habit. We take the driving seat of our life rather than our life being driven on automatic pilot.

Formal mindful practice(https://mudandlotus.co.uk/audio-practice/) provides the know-how and understanding of our mind. We develop insight, awareness and helpful approaches. Informal practice becomes our natural way of living in our everyday activities. Guided, structured learning really helps it all make sense and develop mindful well-being as a more natural way of living rather than a topic.  If however a new course, even if a remote one, is not possible in the current climate, then doing the practices will still help re-balance our body and mind.

The other most common barriers I hear are “I can’t do it.” “I’m not doing it right”. “I can’t relax.” It may be helpful to mention briefly here that mindfulness is not about getting it right.  There is no right state to feel.  It is about becoming more aware of what is going on and how it affects us.  Observing our mind rather than being lost in it.  We will not empty our mind! Our mind is designed to think and feel. We will do this for life so we get to know and work with them.  It is also not about relaxation even though that can be a positive side effect. Mindfulness is experiencing your life as you live it with interest and friendliness. Life is happening and moving forwards anyway so we live it with open hearted awareness and move with it in the best ways we can.

For example, many of us are appreciating the wonders of technology in this current crisis. Most people can stay connected remotely, have access to 24/7 news and educational resources at our fingertips.  Technology is providing us with so many benefits. It also creates a lot of information for us to process. Do we feel informed, swamped, overloaded, fearful… At what point do we notice our emotional state move from interest and informed, to reactive and maybe even fearful?

Become aware of how this information really makes you feel during and after ingesting it? How do you feel when you are not watching it? In the moment start to notice your body, thoughts and feelings and then employ mindful approaches to manage the moment. Either to savour and enjoy it, or to re-focus outside the realm of those thoughts and feelings to a direct experience such as the sights, sounds, breathe. We are not pushing things away nor avoiding them, we are noticing and managing them. When it is convenient, make some time to do a formal practice that can help rebalance and re-calm.

Our attentionis a key player in all of this!  Where we place our attention will make all the difference.

When our attention is lost in a thought- based reality, and the storyline creates fear, overwhelm or uncertainty how do we feel?

When we are not mindful we tend to live more automatically and more reactively. Our emotions, behaviours and body are all connected and so heightened states in one will obviously affect the others. Being such amazing biological creatures, primed to detect dangers and remember these alerts, our reactivity can happen and escalate very quickly. The more we live in this way, the more it becomes our default and the more familiar it feels the more we believe it to be true. The more mindful we are, the less automatically we live, the less reactive we become, the more we detect changes and can re-balance before we feel overloaded.  We won’t always manage it but with practice it becomes our natural way.

We are what we repeatedly do – Aristotle

Currently it may be particularly helpful to notice where our attention goes when interacting with others, especially if spending more time together and have less space. If we feel stress we tend to hold on tightly to our ideas in our attempt to control and protect ourselves. We can become more judgemental as our sense of self defends its identity. This can create more reactivity and conflict.

Pausing often can curb our habitual reactivity. Notice and consider “where is my focus right now?  Is it helpful? Can I re-focus in helpful ways?  What do I really need right now?…

Dwell In Possibility – Emily Dickinson 

The hardest part is to remember to notice! Create a personal prompt to remember to pause and notice. A Mindfulness Bell App. is great.  A screensaver could be a great reminder too. A post-it on the kettle, computer…

Maybe consider ways that would bring your focus away from the stressors.  It may be moving the email icon off the front of your phone and choosing not to look until a certain time.  Choosing not to watch the news, or at least limit it to once a day. Do the same with social media.

Take breaks when possible if you are caring for others and consciously notice your cup of tea, look out the windows and see around you or step outside and breathe in deeply…

Make the time to do what we enjoy, as soon as we can such as read a book, go for walk, watch TV, do art…And look out for the positives.

Please note our thoughts and emotions are so powerful and sometimes we need help to bring them down to a manageable state.  It takes great strength and courage to recognise this and ask for support and finding ways to do it is important too.

I appreciate how simplistic this can sound and how hard it can be to do. I have only mentioned a small part of all the wonderful information there is on mindfulness. I also recognise that sometimes we really don’t want to hear anyone else’s opinions – it’s not the right time. I totally get that. But for those that would like to explore more mindful ways to manage the current situation, please get in touch. jill@mudandlotus.co.uk

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