As each day passes, the situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is becoming more and more serious. Entire societies are coming to a standstill and many across the world are confined to their homes for the forseeable future. Those who once mocked the situation, myself included, are waking up to the astonishing gravity of it all.
How can we find our footing in such times of uncertainty when so much of our usual way of life is changing at such an alarming rate? Are we just here for the next few months to grit our teeth and bear it — or is there something richer and more beautiful stirring in the human spirit in response to this challenge?
In the past few days, I have been through myriad different emotions, from fear and dread about how I will cope with the spectre of isolation in the coming months, to confusion and uncertainty amidst the bewildering array of different opinions and possibilities flying at me.
But alongside these I have also felt a growing fire, passion, and even relish in my heart and belly, calling me to come alive so that I can meet these unprecedented circumstances with the intention, presence and care that they deserve.
“What spirit, what attitude are we able to meet these unpredictable, chaotic, ever-changing circumstances with?”
I have struggled and continue to struggle with mental health difficulties, and I really need to be here to care for myself now. I realise, too, more acutely than before that I need the support of people who care about me. And just the same, I recognise that those around me in turn, from my housemates, to friends, to family, to those self-isolating, need my support to ride out this storm. We’re all in this together.
Here at the Heart-Based Living Initiative, we are happy to be offering a range of free online sessions over the coming months to support you with mindfulness, heart intelligence, and listening spaces. These are virtual “refuges” where our facilitators can help you to take the time to care for yourself and others, and build a shared sense of community.
These are challenging times, but they are also an opportunity to learn and to reap the benefits of supporting ourselves and others with a depth of heart that would not necessarily be accessible to us in less extreme circumstances. If we are able to see this, then we can meet what is happening wholeheartedly as a chance to grow more love, more community, more appreciation of how we each rely on and support one another.
I’m not saying it’s all sweet-swelling roses; the reality feels grim at times. But the real question is: What spirit, what attitude are we able to meet these unpredictable, chaotic, ever-changing circumstances with?
At times, my journey over the past few days has been a rollercoaster of fear and anxiety. Reading the newspaper headlines and watching the latest political briefing, the rhetoric is getting more and more severe over time. Wherever I go, the topic of conversation seems to be: “Coronavirus, coronavirus, coronavirus!” I feel in shock and disbelief about the bizarre and unprecedented unfolding of the situation. The unthinkable is quickly becoming reality. Much of the future that felt secure is now becoming uncertain — trips and holidays are being cancelled, workplaces and gatherings are being shut down… I don’t even know if I’ll be able to go to the pub in a few days’ time!
“What can I nourish myself with in the coming days, weeks, and months to be happy and healthy?”
I feel myself beginning to become overwhelmed by it, feeling disconnected and surreal in conversations with others. I know that I have been overindulging in coronavirus hype today. Sure, I need to be informed, but if I’m overwhelmed I will be no help to myself or anyone else. I will be miserable and oppressed by it all. This oppressive fear is a great burden on my mind and my body — my poor heart and kidneys are doing overtime dealing with the stress hormones pumping through my veins.
Aware of the toll of this fear, I am beginning to wake up, beginning to see the danger in it. I don’t want my life to be lived in fear and panic, and I’m certainly not going to be able to sustain this day after day if the situation continues for months.
What can I do? I need to bring myself back with mindfulness to make conscious decisions about how I can care for my mind, heart, body, and those around me, given the unavoidable reality. I need to be informed, but I know that reading alarming headlines too much, or talking about coronavirus 24/7 will exhaust me.
The important truth is: It’s not just the contagion of the coronavirus that has been spreading throughout our society. There’s another dangerous, harmful, quickly-spreading contagion that can damage our bodies, cause us to languish in bed, and darken our days — this is the contagion of fear, anxiety and panic. If I’m not careful, then I will end up bingeing on this fear, and I will become sick.
“What is it that reconnects you with that feeling of being alive, of pure sensual enjoyment?”
I need to balance my diet! I need some foods that are delicious and good for me to compensate for the nauseating effects of imbibing all this corona.
What can I nourish myself with in the coming days, weeks, and months to be happy and healthy? To respond proactively and kindly to events as they unfold, I will need to be strong and stable. I owe it to myself and others to take care of what I consume.
I have the awareness that what I consume through my senses can make all the difference to my mood, my energy levels, and my capacity to help myself and others. With that comes the power to choose to consume different, healthier things through my senses.
I feel very lucky where I live, because there is natural beauty all around, especially at this time of year. Spring is dawning and it is so beautiful and alive, so full of promise. I draw a lot of strength from this beauty and the vitality of the living things I encounter on walks and sitting in the garden.
Nature is one of my “good foods” for sustaining my heart and my happiness, but for each person it’s different. What is it that reconnects you with that feeling of being alive, of pure sensual enjoyment?
Do you revel for hours in the silky tones of your favourite music? Do you melt with delight into the smells and sounds of a new dish cooking in the kitchen? Do you sink into blissful indulgence in the bath and play with glee with the soap bubbles? Do you buzz with energy and fire every time you get your weights out and pump like a beast?
Connecting to these rich, sensory experiences is a lifeline when we feel swamped by stress. It’s our food when we are starving. Can we allow ourselves to release all thoughts of worry and uncertainty, and inhabit these delectable moments as fully as we want?
Maybe some of the things that we have relied on for this stress relief — listening to sport on the radio, going to a live gig, meeting friends at a local pub or bar — are no longer options, or might not be in a few weeks’ time. It’s natural to feel worried about losing these things — but can we also see the opportunity to respond creatively? With a conscious intention to meet this situation with curiosity, we might just find out something new about what makes us happy.
With our usual social circles beginning to dwindle through “social distancing”, we need to find new ways to support each other as families, friends and communities. As we make the decision to spend more time at home, we can take the time to recognise the beauty of that decision — whether to protect ourselves or to protect those around us, we are doing it out of a sincere wish for no one to unnecessarily suffer or die because of this virus.
It’s worth acknowledging this kindness in us regularly — perhaps each morning if we have a moment — especially when it feels tough to be isolated. We can easily overlook the beauty of this action otherwise. Our recognition and appreciation of our own and others’ goodness can also be a healthy food for our troubled heart.
“If we consciously choose to work with the reality in front of us as best we can, we might recognise that amidst the grimness, there is something quite beautiful too. There is the recognition that we have a part to play in all this.”
As we become more physically limited to our home or local area, we might begin to fall into feeling emotionally limited or shut down, too. The threat of social isolation and loneliness are deep fears in our psyche, not so far away from death itself to our evolutionary forebears. If we are not careful, we might fall into a space of “waiting this out”, desperately hoping for an end of the social restrictions to come.
Our intention will be to escape the situation as fast as possible: “Help! Get me out of here!” We will feed ourselves with our own worry, restlessness, and frustration as we struggle without finding the escape hatch. This is completely understandable and human, but it’s also a sure path to misery and there are alternatives available to us.
If we consciously choose to work with the reality in front of us as best we can, we might recognise that amidst the grimness, there is something quite beautiful too. There is the recognition that we have a part to play in all this; we all have something to offer, and others need what we are offering. When we feel connected and involved in a wider network of supporting and being supported by others, we can gain a lot of energy from this.
Already local groups are starting to self-organise in towns across the world to pick up shopping, post mail, and speak on the phone with those who are vulnerable or sick and who have chosen to self-isolate. What we can offer might be closer to home, to be there to listen to concerned friends and family, to offer some light-heartedness when all seems glum. We’re all human, we’re all afraid — and we could all do with some comedy relief!
The Heart-Based Living Initiative are offering free weekly Listening Spaces on our Online Hub over the coming months—if you or a loved one need a space to be heard and held, this might just be what you are looking for.
If we can make the choice to meet this together, then we will know what to do. We will know not to overindulge in the fear, and that we need those sweet, delectable moments of sensual enjoyment to feed our heart. We will know that we are all in this together and that we have a part to play in all of this. We will know that offering what we can is a precious gift and a source of gladness for ourselves as much as others in tough times.
Ultimately, one of the best things we can offer each other is our realness as human beings going through this strange and unsettling time together. That’s something we are all able to give.
These unexpected, unasked-for circumstances are a call to bring greater care, creativity — and surely comedy — to ourselves and others. As we wholeheartedly respond to the fear and uncertainty of the situation, we might just surprise ourselves to discover that we are coming to life. Right in the heart of this mess, we find the freedom to smile.
To see the full range of online offerings that The Heart-Based Living Initiative is offering, please visit our Online Hub.