by Dave Davis
As of this writing, it’s been a little over four weeks since “work-from-home” kicked in; elevating social distancing to an unprecedented level of isolation, especially for one who lives alone. As a local Head Start preschool educator devoted to empowering the lives of at-risk children for over 10 years now, both the short and long-term consequences of this pandemic give me great consternation.
I’ve been finding it nearly impossible to properly digest all of what’s happening. There’s also an inordinate amount of uncontrollable brain chatter that has decided to take up residency inside my head, what Buddhist teachings often refer to as “monkey mind.”
Consequently (now more than ever), I’ve chosen to rely heavily upon those closest to me, in addition to some of the most revered spiritualists of our time, for their calming presence and inspirational words of wisdom to assist me through these challenging times.
Over the course of many years, I’ve become quite intimate with the works of several of these spiritualists. I’ve shared their theories and practices with some regularity in previous columns. Others I’ve only become more familiar with in recent weeks, as I’ve attempted to expand my circle.
I’m especially grateful that each is currently producing words that are not only relevant to the recent outbreak, but are doing so on a near-daily basis. Be they simple words of comfort shared from a peaceful, outdoor setting or a 20-minute guided meditation, it’s a safe bet that I’d be completely lost without their gift of compassionate guidance.
Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist practitioner and one of those most instrumental in introducing Buddhist mindfulness to the West, recently suggested in an interview with the quarterly independent Tricycle Magazine: “Our meditation practice is something that we have to bring sensitivity, respect, and artfulness to. We have to listen to ourselves. What is it that works well for us?”
He later encouraged: “Let yourself be the explorer, the scientist, the inner yogi or sage who envisions and works with the possibilities of empowering and developing compassion that is boundless.”
Prior to this crisis, like many others, much of my day consisted of a familiar routine that often seemed to leave little time or energy for self-care and introspection. Even in those moments when I chose to address some particular need, it was typically carried out in half-measures. That’s no longer an acceptable option for me these days.
Mooji, a gentle, soft-spoken spiritual Master originally from Jamaica, shared a similar sentiment prior to beginning a guided meditation found on YouTube titled, “Begin Discovering Your True Self Today” by declaring: “Amongst all of the activities we do, we rarely give enough time to sit quietly by ourselves, and I’d like to introduce to you this wonderful opportunity to not just sit alone, but to guide you into your inner Being. What we truly are is not merely what we think we are. You are not attached to anything. There is no need to fight with anything that appears in you. Simply, it is noticed. Don’t be carried away by them. Everything else that has come to us as a thought, an event, a memory or our projections; they come and go, and naturally so.”
Therein lays my greatest struggle over the past several weeks — becoming overly attached to a particular thought and allowing it to define my well-being. Often-times there are irrational emotions or reactions which quickly follow, creating an unnecessary sequence of counter-thoughts, leading to physical discomfort.
At the onset of a 25-minute guided meditation conducted online by Sara Raymond of the Mindful Movement, I found great solace when she offered up the following: “In challenging or stressful times, it’s important to connect with your physical sensations, to ground your energy, to recognize your emotions as they are, and to remember that you are not your thoughts. You are not your feelings or emotions. At times you may feel controlled by your thoughts and emotions, as if they’ve become you. When you are experiencing anxiety, you are not the anxiety. It’s only an experience that you are having.”
ABC newsman Dan Harris, on his podcast “10% Happier with Dan Harris,” recently interviewed Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, whose words spoke volumes: “I think it begins with kindness towards oneself. We have to be very forgiving of what we feel. We cannot control what arises in our mind. We can influence it, but we can’t control it. We have to be kinder to ourselves in terms of what we’re going through. Not to take everything to heart and blame ourselves for everything that’s going on.”
Indeed, as I’d hoped she would, Ms. Salzberg chose to put things into perspective while referring to the bigger picture when she later adds, “If we learn anything from this, it should be that we are really part of an interconnected universe, that we’re not actually cut off and alone, even if we sense that we are at different times.”