However you’re feeling right now, it’s valid.
If you’re frustrated or scared, if you feel you or other people should be doing more or less, it matters. If you want things to be better, that’s important. If you wish things weren’t as they are, it counts. And this is what makes us so beautifully human: we share something called “common humanity”.
Common humanity is what connects us all globally. It’s recognising that as humans we all want just two things: to be happy, and to be free from pain. (I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning and says “I hope I have a miserable day today)”.
The problem is, it is sometimes our efforts to be free from pain or our desire to be happy, that can lead to greater difficulty. When we are sad or anxious, we can isolate and withdraw. We can feel like no one else in the world understands how we feel. But common humanity means you are not alone. Somewhere in the world right now, someone understands because they are feeling it too.
When you feel frightened, or worried, when you feel annoyed or even numb, in a planet of 8 billion people – there is somewhere who feels as you do right now.
It might not be for the same reasons, your problems right now may be completely unique to you. But even so, there will be someone somewhere feeling anger, sadness, worry or joy.
This is where mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is giving yourself permission to experience the present moment just as it is even when it’s difficult, but without getting caught up in the commentary about why it is like it is.
It is leaning in to a situation rather than pushing it away, because we know ultimately avoiding problems doesn’t work.
You’ve probably been mindful more times than you realise, if you’ve ever caught yourself listening to the birds, or watching the sun rise. It’s being immersed in the present moment without trying to change it. You would never say a sunrise was imperfect, because you experience it just as it is. This is the essence of mindfulness.
So mindfulness is being where you are right now, just as it is, without getting caught up in unhealthy thinking, or thoughts about how things – or people – should be. Mindfulness helps us to recognise what we can and can’t control, and that we can learn to pick our battles.
Meditation is the formal act of mindfulness and choosing to bring your attention to the here and now, just as it is, without trying to change anything. Many people think that meditation is about clearing the mind, it’s not. It’s about managing the mind, especially when it your thoughts become circular and unhelpful. One way to do this is through the breath.
There are many ways of practicing meditation, and it’s usually best under the guidance of a teacher. If your breathing is affected right now, or if focusing on your breath creates more anxiety, see if you can find other ways to meditate that work for you, either under the advice of your doctor or healthcare team.
We know that the breath is one way to help relax the mind and body; it can be a switch between the subconscious and the conscious mind. It can activate the relaxation response, and calm fight or flight. It can take you from a place of “I can’t cope” to “I can cope”.
A loving kindness meditation (sometimes referred to as Metta or Maitri) is an acknowledgement of common humanity. It allows us to connect with others who may be feeling as we do, when you’re going through a difficult time, and is an act of compassion both towards yourself and others. One example of this is known as Tonglen, the practice of “giving and receiving”, or “taking and sending”.
There are different ways to practise this. One way can look like this:
- Make yourself as comfortable as possible, and gently bring your awareness to the experience of sitting or laying down where you are. Your mind will wander, because that’s what minds do. Every time your mind wanders off, notice that, describe it in your mind as “thinking” (because that’s what you’re doing, without judgement) and then return your attention to sitting or laying down, repeating “sitting” or “laying down” in your mind to keep your mind in one place.
- Then gently turn your attention to your breath and just notice that you’re breathing. We don’t need to worry about what that looks like or why, just sink in to the natural rhythm of your breath knowing it has the capacity to relax your body and mind.
- As you breathe in, acknowledge that this breath is for you, as it helps activate a relaxation response to calm your body and mind. If you want, and if it’s helpful, you can say in your mind “I breathe in for me”.
- As you breathe out, keep the people in your mind who may be feeling as you do right now, as an act of solidarity with them wherever they are. If you want, and if it’s helpful, you can say in your mind “I breathe out for you”, wherever they are in the world right now. Remember these don’t have to be deep breaths, just natural as they come.
- Then when you’re ready return to your day.
You can do this activity anywhere it feels safe to do so, whether in the supermarket or sat at your desk.
I’ve produced a guided meditation for these difficult times, and it’s available with my compliments. You can access it below. This meditation focuses on the breath, so make sure it’s right for you. If you’re in the U.K. and really struggling you can call Samaritans on 116 123, or the NHS on 111.
The content of this recording is protected by copyright and won’t be suitable for everyone. Practice meditation when it feels safe (not whilst driving or operating machinery) and if you’re not sure if meditation is right for you, always check with your healthcare team. This recording is not available in any other format and may be removed at any time.
Copyright Delphi Ellis 2020