Thirty years ago, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn published his groundbreaking work “Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and illness”, outlining his work utilizing mindfulness practices to help patients. In this moment, we find ourselves grappling with a collective version of the “full catastrophe” in the form of an unprecedented global pandemic. As humans, we are hardwired to perceive threat and then react to it, so it is natural for each of us to experience fear and anxiety right now. Kabat-Zinn urges us first, to honor these reactions and then, to work with them using mindfulness practices to calm the body and focus the mind. He teaches that there are particular attitudes or ways of approaching the practice of mindfulness that make it more supportive and ultimately deeply healing. These attitudes are:
The attitudes also offer wisdom for moving through life’s challenges, including the one we find ourselves facing today. Here’s how:
Viewing Coronavirus with a Beginner’s Mind – Practicing beginner’s mind means bringing an open, unbiased perspective to our experience… yes, even in the midst of a pandemic. What can we learn from what is happening all around us if we drop our preconceived notions and simply observe what is going on with fresh eyes? How can we be more like Dory in “Finding Nemo”, where her poor memory makes everything new and delightful to her, evoking in her the spirit of a beginner’s mind again and again?
Hey, No Judgement
Practicing non-judging means bringing our attention and awareness to the situation as an impartial witness to whatever we are experiencing. This attitude invites us to suspend our habit of wanting to categorize things as one way or the other, good or bad, for example, and not privilege either one as “better”. In other words, how can we get comfortable with what is happening all around us right now and not place a value on how we or it “should” be?
Accepting What Is
Practicing acceptance means acknowledging things as they really are IN THIS MOMENT… right now. Yes, this virus is impacting our lives and our communities in unprecedented ways, and while we may not want it to be this way, denying this reality by fighting, suppressing or resisting drains us. Acceptance frees our energies for staying healthy, using our good judgment, and finding creative solutions.
Being Rather Than Doing
Kabat-Zinnteaches that mindfulness requires an attitude of Non-Doing. This means cultivating an ability to simply be who we are, being with what is already here; and realizing that the best way to achieve our goals is to release any striving and focus on seeing and accepting things as they are. In THIS moment, we are called to keep ourselves and our community safe by… yes, staying home and doing nothing. Just being. And being okay with it to #flattenthecurve.
Let it Go, Let it Go!
Non-attachment means letting go of our investment in particular thoughts, feelings and experiences and not elevating one thing while rejecting another. Again, witnessing and releasing any agenda or opinion we might have for what any best course of action might be. With regard to COVID-19, watching, listening and being open to what solutions might be most helpful for us, our families and communities. We might have been attached to plans or a big celebration, or event that has been canceled and it is okay to grieve the loss of it. You do not have to deny yourself grief when letting go. It’s important to name it and create a ritual for yourself, or with the ones closest to you that honors the loss.
Creating Space for Gratitude
Holding an attitude of gratitude means being thankful for whatever arises in the moment. As Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” and this is so true right now too. This is a terrible time and yet goodness abounds. Cultivating a spirit of appreciation brings what is good and healing and helpful into focus, even in times of despair, and reminds us of our common humanity and the basic goodness inherent in us all. Getting specific can be helpful, one practice to try is to find the privilege even in the mundane, for example “it is a privilege to have running water and soap, I am grateful for this privilege”, “it is a privilege to have internet, I am grateful for this privilege.”
Fostering an attitude of generosity can be the simple act of offering ourselves the opportunity to BE and not DO. This is a gift, especially if we give it with a spirit of gentleness and kindness. How are you practicing generosity with yourself during this crisis? And how are you being generous with others?
Patience is a type of wisdom that recognizes that things must unfold at their own pace. Right now, we are uncertain about how or even when this crisis will end. Practicing patience frees us from insisting that we need to know what comes next so we can relax and calmly observe as things unfold. Think of a seed that must be nurtured and cared for long before its small sprouts break the surface into the sunlight. Patience is for everyone, all of us.
We are each learning how to be here now.
Faith and Trust
Trusting is an attitude that honors our own intuition, our feelings and our inherent wisdom. Having faith and trust in these uncertain times also means being willing to sit with the discomfort of the unknown and recognizing that all we really have control over is this moment and then the next. We also have the freedom to choose how we show up in each moment. Maya Angelou reminds us that “Hope and fear, cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Invite one to stay.”