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Implementing mindfulness after the pandemic



Our health awareness was collectively rocked in recent years by the pandemic. While COVID’s state of emergency ended in the spring of 2023, the normalcy of life seems to have mostly returned. Even as I write this, I know many people won’t want to even read the word “pandemic” anymore. But like an asphalt freeway in a Minnesota winter, the cracks are still fresh. 


We shouldn’t diminish the trauma, the hardship, and the all-out panic we all experienced. Some people were faced with frequent thoughts of helplessness and mortality. In contrast, others dismissed what was happening altogether (dismissal can also be a fearful reaction), and some fell somewhere in between. We were all affected in some way or another – be that through our own experiences, the experiences of others in our lives, or from learning about fellow humans across the globe. We are all inhabitants of this earth; we went through a tumultuously chaotic and fearful experience together. We deserve to grow and be stronger from this, even if it’s just taking personal moments of reflection.  


So where does that leave us? Where do we begin to grow and initiate progress? The thoughts that arise in my mind bring forth a few reflections. Apart from the evident aspects such as health, science, and even politics, experiencing the pandemic has also brought about shared experiences and transformations/change, irrespective of our beliefs or individual circumstances.


Shared Experience

The shared experience of the pandemic compelled us to confront our mortality. Although we are unique individuals who will eventually meet our end, our shared impermanence unites us all as equals. Surprisingly, the pandemic has compelled us to confront our mortality and declining health alongside everyone else. Acknowledging this reality can diminish one's sense of individuality and foster a stronger connection to the collective human race.


Change

Change can symbolize the end of certain things. According to the Buddha, "All things that are conditioned have the nature of disappearing." However, change can also signify new beginnings. Often, these fresh starts involve venturing into unfamiliar territory, which can be quite intimidating. In such situations, our innate survival instincts kick in, triggering a sense of fear as a means of self-protection. This fear is a natural response, as we seek to shield ourselves from potential harm. Yet, what if we possess the courage to embrace change despite our fears? What if we view change as an opportunity to challenge ourselves and grow? The result is personal growth and a more profound existence.


The Buddha also said,  “Change is never painful, only the resistance to change is painful.”


So how can you embrace change in order to foster personal growth? The answer is less complex than you may think. You live in the moment. By developing a heightened sense of awareness, you acquire the ability to fully comprehend and embrace your experiences. This enables you to navigate through life at a pace that is both manageable and absorbable, rather than perceiving it as a hazy photograph that merely captures the fleeting moments slipping away from you. 


Below is a practice that you can try in order to adopt change through mindfulness. 


Mindfulness  

Mindfulness involves directing your attention toward the present moment. It encompasses being fully engaged in your actions, emotions, and surroundings. Even though there may be numerous thoughts that occupy your mind, it is important to remain present. When thoughts about the past or future arise, they can lead to distress and anxiety since the uncertainty of the future and the repetition of the past can consume your thoughts. These distractions hinder your ability to live peacefully in the present. 


By practicing mindfulness, you can enhance your ability to control your attention. Since the only thing you truly have control over in life is yourself, why not allow yourself to experience greater relaxation and tranquility by choosing where to direct your focus?


Three Steps to Practicing Mindfulness: 

  1. Focus on your breath: An easy place to start mindfulness practice is to focus on breathing. Begin by taking a deep breath and notice the air flowing in through your nostrils or mouth and filling up your lungs; then, notice the air flowing out from your lungs and through your mouth or nostrils. Pay attention to your breath for a few minutes. This can allow you to shift your attention from being scattered to focusing on what you’d prefer. 

  2. Tap into your senses: Another easy way to practice mindfulness is to lean on your senses. 

    1. Taste and smell: If you’re eating, focus on really tasting your food while also appreciating its aromas – you can even slow the motion by focusing your attention on bringing the food from your hand/utensil to your mouth and then chewing slowly. You may even begin to appreciate your food more by feeling gratitude for the food you have. 

    2. Touch: You’re always touching something. Even when you don’t think you are, you are still wearing clothes and feeling the air around you. Paying attention to touch allows you to be right in the moment. In moments of hardship and emotional burden, it is possible to place your hand on your heart or even embrace yourself in a hug. By doing so, you can ground yourself in the present moment and find solace within yourself.

    3. Hearing: It is amazing how much we naturally tune out when it comes to sound. Paying attention to the noises around you pulls your awareness into your environment. If you’re intentionally listening to something, like music, or someone talking to you, you can go even deeper by reflecting on your feelings while listening to others. 

    4. Sight: Our sight can contribute to our sense of overstimulation fast. It’s our biggest signal to our brains for what we experience in our lives. But by focusing our attention thoughtfully on what we see, by choosing what to absorb, sight can help us slow down and give our energy to what we want to at this moment.

  3. Use a layering method: It can be easy for your mind to wander from the future to the past to today to chores to finances to work to your family to your activities and everything going on in your life. Using a layering method allows you to think of your life from big layers to small, all the way to being in this moment. 

    1. Start by thinking about your life as a whole. You can let your mind bounce around here with anything (your job, your family, friends, hobbies, etc.) – there is no limit. 

    2. Then just think of yourself. Again, you can let your mind bounce around here by thinking of anything, but your lens must be about yourself (your ambitions, your hopes, your fears, etc.). 

    3. Then just think of today. You can again let your mind bounce around with thoughts about anything, but it must only focus on today. If things start blending into the future, pull your focus back on things only applying to today. 

    4. Next, allow yourself to put your attention only on what is happening now. This can include your actions and thoughts, but try to maintain your focus on anything relating to what is happening now. What are you doing? Put all your focus on that. What are you thinking about what the day brings? If you really need to put your attention on the future, jot some thoughts down on paper or an electronic device to revisit after this practice. 

    5. Lastly, when you are placing your attention on something, someone, or something, put all of your focus there. Yes, there will be distractions, but unless there is a dependency/reliance tied to those distractions, allowing yourself to focus on what is in front of you will be a better experience for you and what you’re pouring your energy into. This practice can also enable you to act with intention about what you’re going to put your focus on next. 



So where do you see changes when you’re living mindfully? Everywhere! Living mindfully allows you to witness changes in various aspects of life. These changes are omnipresent, whether you perceive them or not. They permeate every corner of existence, including within yourself.


The aftermath of the pandemic has left numerous challenges for us to confront and overcome. However, it has also presented us with an opportunity to adapt and welcome change. Hence, this lesson of embracing change may not solely be a consequence of our fast-paced society, but also a guiding force to accept our inevitable destiny. In the meantime, we can strive to cultivate a greater gratitude for the present moment.



P.S., I recently released a meditation book called Gentle Recharging: 52 Simple and Calming Meditation Exercises.

 

This book is a tool to help you be inspired to go within, reflect, and let your inner voice slow to allow you to be gentle with yourself. It is your guide to let the quiet in and flow with a calmer sense of being.

 

May you find more balance, health, happiness, and recharge often to ensure those things keep coming back around.


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