Mindfully living with the virus

Ondy Willson

When life throws us lemons, make lemonade

This sounds simplistic but it is the basic premise for mindfulness training – that we have a choice how to respond to anything. However, before we can make lemonade, we need to know how; and in the same way, if we want good mental health then mindfulness training provides the recipe and methodology.

There is no magic potion for pain and suffering

With any practice that manages mental wellbeing, we need to be aware that nothing is a panacea to pain and suffering. I am reminded of how when I wanted sympathy from a friend when I was going through a difficult time she gave me antidotes. She was versed in positive psychology and immediately pointed out the benefits latent in my experience. This was not what I wanted to hear right then. I needed consolation and understanding – a hug, tea and sympathy. She meant well but was perhaps herself unable to face my pain and so misjudged her response. 

Some states of mind cannot be counselled

Practising mindfulness acknowledges that sometimes a state of mind cannot be counselled. That is when we are least open to advice as our minds close down with loss and pain. At such times, mindfulness can help, but we need an understanding about the mind itself first.

We can apply mindfulness psychology to prevent burn out, break down and despair

To manage our minds we need to know its nature. If we understand that our minds are like streams flowing continually, collecting all kinds of muck and rubbish – bad habits that pollute us with negative and destructive attitudes – we can get a clearer idea of how to clean up our acts. Just as we can clean up the rivers before they are clogged up and poisoned, we can apply mindfulness psychology to prevent burn out, break down and despair.

All states of mind are impermanent

Negative thoughts are not only fueled by impassioned emotions like anger and jealousy, but also troubling emotions like fear, grief and anxiety. With these latter states of mind, we need to apply especially sensitive antidotes. All these states of mind require recognition of the transitory nature of everything. That everything is in flux is a fundamental truth.

We have little, or no, control over external events

Let’s time-travel back to Pre-Virus Living. Think about a time when you weren’t thinking about imminent death or ruin. Remember that state of mind? It wasn’t so long ago that we were planning holidays, new jobs, relationships as if we had control over our lives. Even though we know that through experience, we do not have control over anything. Yesterday’s mind seems like freedom now….another reality! 

None of us know what will come first, our next breath or death

It is this idea that we have some kind of control over our lives that we need to consider. Today’s mind, with the world in a ravaged state and no end in sight can understand that no insurance policy, no job or house can give us control over life and death. We are all subject to dramatic change beyond our control at any time. They say we are only two steps away from homelessness. Actually, we don’t know for sure what will be our next step… a breath or death.

We can become our own therapists – guides to our own inner peace

Understanding about impermanence, and how the mind operates, is crucial to our happiness, offering us a degree of control over our wellbeing. Without this understanding, life will toss us around, and we will cling to everyone and everything as if they will last forever, becoming distraught when they inevitably leave us or we lose it, and our mental and emotional states will torture us. Not waving but drowning. When we understand this, there is an immediate experience of release because it just makes sense. There is a way out! It is not reliant on belief or even science, but on our own experience. We become our own therapists – guides to inner peace. Happiness and wellbeing are not dependent on external factors but on internal resources.

Present day pain- future hope

There is a view that the virus is offering us hope for the future. This is a macro-cosmic view. The planet is healing as traffic grinds to a halt and land and water becomes purified. So, yes, the virus is good for the planet. Some might also say that the loss of life, especially of the old and infirm is also healthy for the planet. There are too many humans putting demand on too many resources. This is also true. I personally find it hard to argue with, and I am considered “old” and therefore one of those more at risk. BUT at the micro-centre are individuals, all shouldering enormous burdens. Usually it takes history for us to be objective, so having a universal view also needs present day empathy for the individuals – the victims of this deadly virus. 

Grief and sorrow can be transformed

When we arise from those deeper levels of grief and sorrow, mindfulness will support us to help prevent grief falling into despair, anxiety into neurosis and sorrow into depression.

There is no enemy or friend

We can view the virus as an enemy or a friend, much in the same way that we can view anyone as either. For example, if we consider our friends to be those who accompany us on our pursuits of hedonistic and materialistic madness then good luck with that! They may seem like fun but they will drag you down with them and reject you when you are in need. However, if we consider a true friend to be one who really has our backs, wants us to be well and happy, then the virus could be just that if we choose to consider what it might be giving us – the human race. 

There are gifts in everything

The gifts of the virus is something Bill Gates has also been considering. He is quoted as saying:

“I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad. As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the Corona/ Covid-19 virus is really doing to us: It is reminding us that our true work is not our job, that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another.”

We can feel for others and develop positive qualities

And there is the true gift. Connection. Whatever our level of suffering, be it directly or indirectly, we can feel for others and develop positive qualities. 

Truth is hard to hear

The virus will indeed change us all; in ways that we struggle against because, these ways impede our pleasure and comforts. Our self-centred egos will hate it, because it is the voice that we avoid… because it tells us the truth… that is our true friend. Truth is hard to hear.

Making changes to our mental continuums

While we have this opportunity, we can make changes to our mental continuums that could last us through the rest of our lives, whilst giving nature the break for which it has been begging. 

Mindfulness is not just for problems

I frequently find with my work that people want mindfulness when there are problems. Then when they feel they have overcome their problems or they have gone away…be it personal or work related… they return to their old ways of living, repeating the patterns that created their problems in the first place. They will say, “I’m all right now. Thanks!” And I will not see them again. Maybe some time later they will reappear when another big problem arises. 

Mindfulness is not a bandage

There is an attitude to use Mindfulness like an Elastoplast, and ignore that its psychology gets to the root cause of our illness. Like children, we want our wounds licked better, and then we jump off the lap of our carer to play again, as carelessly as we did before.

Mindfulness is for life

Maybe this mega-lesson is about recognising that good psychology is much like a new puppy…it’s for life, not just for Christmas! Managing the mind takes perseverance and an honest relationship with ourselves. That needs sustained practice and support. 

Mindfulness is ancient wisdom

The root of Mindfulness Psychology goes back into ancient history. They are cited in Buddhist teachings, of which there are said to be 84,000. I still listen to the basics and teach them after 40 years of first hearing them. That’s because I‘ve got an ego the size of an iceberg….before it started melting… and every time I hear them they chip another little bit of that cold self-centred rock away.

Mindfulness enables us to reach out

Viewing this situation as a huge problem and an enemy to be defeated will fill us with fear and anxiety because it currently has the upper hand. Our dinosaur brains will be fleeing and fighting all over the place. Accept that it is happening, deal with it day by day and then view it as an opportunity to make radical change to our minds and the way we live, and we could be looking at a healthier future that has never existed before. And our amygdala will be lighting up inside our brains and sending it out to protect and benefit others. We will be healthier externally, and more importantly internally.

The love we have for others will become manifest in ourselves

In this process, undoubtedly we will lose loved ones, experience enormous levels of powerlessness and feel intense fear and loss. But the light, the rainbow, the silver lining is out there. Personally, if I die of corona virus and through offering this knowledge it is a cause for someone to be more compassionate and live in a more connected world, then my death will not be in vain. 

Our wisdom and compassion will connect us to everyone and everything

Just like the canals of Venice are clearing and the ducks and fish are returning, so our streams of consciousness can become fertile rivers for wisdom and compassion to flow in… and out… to others.