Since the majority of the world's population has been sheltering in place and staying home now for more than 11 weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, (as I write this on May 28th, 2020) many emotions have arisen for everyone around the world.
These emotions have included fear about getting the virus and/or dying from the virus; panic about not having enough supplies while we stay at home for weeks or maybe months; grief or depression about loss of loved ones, loss of job, business and/or income, inability to see friends, travel, shop, go to bars/restaurants, play/watch sports etc; anxiety with lack of routine, feeling lonely, and about the future world; anger about the restrictions and decisions being made, and more...
Whatever emotions have been arising for you are ok and very normal. This has obviously been an unprecedented time for us all, and it's human nature that all these emotions and thoughts have arisen. For many people, the last 11 weeks has been a roller coaster of ups and downs, or downs and ups...or in some cases, downs and more downs. With so many unknowns about the future, many people are still on this continuous roller coaster of emotions day to day, moment to moment.
As we navigate this time, we can continue to identify with our emotions and thoughts as being real and true, and react to the situations happening around us, based on our thoughts, judgments and emotions. In this way, we may find ourselves sinking deeper and deeper into depression, or becoming more and more judgmental or angry about the rules we must follow or about other people's actions, or becoming more fearful about catching the virus or losing loved ones.
Or we can we step back from our emotions for a moment and look at them as if we are an outsider looking in. When we do this, we may realize that our emotions and thoughts are based on our perception of the world, and although we cannot change what is happening in the world right, we can change our reaction to what is happening. We can choose how to respond or react.
To take this one step further, Yoga teaches us that our suffering, such as emotional turmoil, arises because of our attachment to things being the way we want or have planned for, and due to our self-cherishing mind, believing that our happiness is most important. If you have not come across these terms in the past, I certainly do not mean to belittle any of the emotions that are arising for you, and the crisis that we are all going through right now all over the world.
However, when we step back and consider our emotional state, we may begin to realize that our attachments to people, places and activities we used to see and do, but have recently been taken away from us, are causing our suffering. We are attached to all these things because we believe they will make us happy, and now that we don't have those things, we are sad or depressed. We are also attached to our own happiness as if our happiness is more important than anything else. This is our self-cherishing mind. We are attached to a certain future that we have planned for ourselves, and if something threatens those future plans we feel anger or sadness. We are attached to our own precious life as if it is more important than taking care of the planet, and we fear death because of this attachment to our own life.
Now we see even more clearly than ever that the happiness that those experiences brought us before the lockdown were not "true happiness". They were in fact a false sense of happiness because now we are sad or anxious without them. The "pure happiness" that exists within us all has no opposite. There is no fear, sadness, anger, anxiety, when we are living from the true sense of pure happiness from within.
When the world reopens and we are once again free to travel, shop, meet up with friends, go the gym, play and watch sports etc, will we rush back to our old, busy life, grabbing onto all those things again, staying busy in order find happiness? Could this "staying busy" tactic have been distracting us from moving inwards and finding our true inner happiness? Could this time at home be an opportunity for us to cultivate "true happiness" so that we can feel more at peace and content during our time sheltering in place? We can still enjoy and embrace all the external world activities and experiences, once permitted, whilst not "needing" them, or attaching to them in order to be happy. Is this possible?
Can we use this time to pause, reflect inwards, and choose how we are showing up in the world for ourselves and others, and make wiser choices about our actions? Could our wiser choices be filled with more awareness, more presence and less judgment of ourselves and others? Could our wiser choices be filled with greater health, more nature and more connection with ourselves and others? Could our wiser choices be more about benefiting others and the wider universe, and less about filling voids in our life and satisfying our self-cherishing mind and our ego?
"All the suffering in this world arises from wishing ourselves to be happy. All the happiness in this world arises from wishing others to be happy." - Shantideva, The Way of the Bodhisattva
"True happiness comes from a deep knowing that what you are looking for is already within." - Babaji, Sonoma Ashram
Meditation is a state of mind. It is more of a noun than a verb. Meditation is a state of mind that has mastered the continuous flow of cognition or awareness towards a single point focus or meditation object such as the breath, a virtue, a mantra etc. Once we are able to hold this single point focus for a long period of time, the mind is no longer distracted by thoughts, judgment or attachments and the mind is then calm. The nervous system relaxes. We no longer feel fear, anger, anxiety, depression. We are peaceful. How wonderful would this be?
"During a laboratory study, scientists discovered that when one-pointed attention is strong, the nervous system kicks into a relaxed mode, the heart-rate slows, metabolic rate declines, digestion picks up, and the brain activity associated with worry and agitation goes into neutral." - Mark Epstein, Advice Not Given, psychiatrist and author
Practice, Practice, Practice! The meditation state is not a place or state to strive for or something we should try hard to achieve. It's a state of mind that already exists inside us, and will naturally arise when we let go of all the other stuff...the attachments, the delusions, the stress, the emotions and our self-cherishing ego mind.
So it's more about letting go, and less about striving or achieving. That said, there is still some effort required in order to practice! If you would like some helpful tips on how to meditate, feel free to check out our article about Meditation Tips for Beginners.
Here are some additional tips that might help as you practice.
Allow this state to arise within you naturally, with some effort, whilst mostly ease, finding the balance between effort and ease. Some effort is required to have the discipline to practice, to draw the awareness inwards, and to train the mind to let go of attachments. The ease is cultivated naturally once we continue our practice and soften, release and allow ourselves to be.
We can still look forward to all the things we enjoy doing (traveling, meeting friends, shopping, eating out, activities etc) and embrace all the enjoyments of the world around us. However, the key is to enjoy the journey, and let go of the idea that we "need" to have these things, or meet the goal, in order to be happy.
Life is always changing and we need to be open to adapt to these changes and adjust our plan. Buddhism teaches us about impermanence, whereby nothing is fixed and everything is in constant change. When we realize this concept of impermanence, we begin to have a very different outlook on our life, and we realize that our plans may need to evolve in order to adapt to change, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Our previously created plan or goal may never manifest, as we have all experienced during this pandemic. At Body Flows, we have cancelled or rescheduled 9 yoga retreats so far since the pandemic started mid March 2020, and all our corporate events and retreats have also been cancelled.
If we allow changing circumstances to drop us into a state of fear, anxiety, depression or anger, and remain stuck in that place, we will always be living our lives in this state of suffering. It is very difficult to come up with new ideas or wise choices whilst we are living in a state of fear, anxiety or anger.
Since this pandemic has been a major "changing circumstance" in all of our lives, I am sharing with you some ways that I have personally adapted to this new situation, whilst keeping in mind the Yoga and Buddhism teachings that I have learned over the years. I came up with 3 C’s that I have used to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic in both my business and personal lives, and I hope that you agree that we can apply these 3 C's to every situation in our lives, to cultivate greater happiness, peace and wellbeing for all.
I have been feeling very energized since the start of the lockdown. I have been reflecting on this energized state and realized that it could be that I have been keeping myself busy to deal with all this change. It could also be related to the state of creativity I've been living in, having to quickly shift gears with my yoga retreats business and now teach yoga classes, retreats and teacher trainings online while we cannot gather together in person for retreats. This has created a lot more creative work for me, which has been fun and interesting. I've also been considering other ways to keep Body Flows alive and survive this crisis, and it's been energizing to come up with new creative ideas.
At the start of the pandemic, I did have a lot of fear and anxiety. Through my yoga and meditation practice, as well as my daily runs, I was able to shift this fear and anxiety into more calm and balance. With a calm and balanced mind, I was able to start hearing creative ideas and listening to my inner wisdom and I began to feel energized and playful again.
When we are faced with sudden change, it's important to have the tools to be able to pause, reflect and listen inwards so we can remain open to new and creative opportunities and possibilities. Using this challenging time as an opportunity to create something new, to transform and grow, can shift our state of fear or anxiety into a state of creativity and inspiration.
Yoga also teaches us that we can create the world we want by making wise choices, becoming more peaceful, more kind and happier. Can you use this time to create a new version of yourself? Can you manifest a future of greater health and greater awareness of yourself, of others and of the planet? How can you tap into your inner creativity during this time, and benefit something greater than yourself?
I have been feeling more connected with family and friends since the start of the pandemic. My family all live in Scotland and Switzerland and we have all made more effort to talk regularly on video calls, and check in with each other, as well as our weekly family yoga class!
Perhaps all the external distractions in our lives, and all the busy-ness we were in before the pandemic, were distracting us from what really matters. Spending more time at home with family and loved ones, or more time on FaceTime and Zoom calls with family and friends, has helped us to appreciate, and connect with, the people in our lives who we really care about.
During challenging times in our businesses, it’s important to also stay connected with customers and keep them informed about any new online offerings, and future plans. Through my online yoga retreats and online yoga classes, I’ve been able to bring people together, and help them to feel supported during this time, strengthening relationships, and asissting people in connecting more deeply with themselves and others.
I am also grateful for this time to connect more deeply with myself through my yoga and meditation practice. Living alone, if I felt anxious or lonely before the pandemic, I would sometimes go out and stay busy and be entertained with the external world. Now, since the pandemic, I have been forced to go inwards, and be with my anxiety or pain, and notice it, and work through it. This has been truly incredible and has helped me to deepen my sense of self awareness and self healing through my yoga and meditation practices.
This leads me onto the 3rd C, Compassion. The lockdown has been a wonderful opportunity to practice compassion for ourselves and for others. Compassion means to take on our future suffering, or take on the suffering of others, so that we can free our future self or free others from their suffering.
With so much suffering in the world right now, this is the perfect time to practice compassion. Meditating on compassion for ourselves and others is a powerful way to cultivate this virtue and free everyone from suffering. One of the objects of meditation described in the Yoga Sutras, the teachings of Yoga, is The 4 Locks and Keys. This practice can help us to cultivate compassion for others and for ourselves, also known as the Brahmavahara in Buddhism.
A beautiful Sanskrit mantra that can also help us to cultivate compassion and peace for all living beings is Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu, which means "may all beings everywhere be happy and free from suffering, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all." Chanting this mantra reminds us that we are all connected and part of the universe, and we can have a positive impact on all beings, with our prayers and intentions.
I invite you to consider ways that you might integrate Creativity, Connection and Compassion into your life during this time of change, and even in the future. Are there creative passions or hobbies you would like to start? Or creative ways you can spend your day? Or a creative new career you would like to create for yourself? Can you feel more connected to others and your inner self? And where in your life could you practice more compassion for yourself and for others? Whatever themes are resonating with you at this time, and whatever emotions or thoughts are arising, I hope you can find some peace and inspiration by contemplating my 3 lockdown learnings of Creativity, Connection and Compassion.
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Author: Sally Mitchell, founder of Body Flows Yoga Retreats and RYT 200 Yoga Teacher leads yoga retreats in the USA, Mexico and Costa Rica. Living in beautiful Sonoma, California, after 15 years in NYC and San Francisco, her approach as a leader and teacher is holistic, balanced and grounded. She enjoys studying and practicing Yoga and Buddhism, hiking and trail running in nature, traveling, writing and inspiring others to live a more spiritual and meaningful life.