A guest blog by Raymy Boyle
I think it was the week beginning 13th March when it happened, although familiarity has blurred the days! We were all beginning to realise the true extent of the coronavirus, the schools would close that Friday and the shops were running out of ‘essentials’. Apparently, we could measure panic by the amount of toilet paper and pasta we all need!
And it was in a supermarket that I witnessed something that has stayed with me all these weeks because it epitomised what was to follow. A young woman was storming out of the shop, pushing a toddler in a buggy, followed by her hapless partner who was obviously embarrassed by her behaviour. To use a lovely Scottish term, she was ‘raging’, and as she left, shouting and swearing at the supermarket staff, I wondered what had set her off? Perhaps they had already run out of some vital item, but I think the real reason behind her anger and aggression was fear.
Fear is a natural response to the unknown and we have come into a time which none of us have experienced before. During the early government press briefings, the word ‘unprecedented’ was used frequently – and with good reason. As I write this, the official UK death toll approaches 37 thousand. All those families dealing with the tragedy and devastation the virus has brought, without the comfort of a ‘traditional’ grieving process. And the longer-term impact; economic, social and emotional is only now being considered, the ripples from this period in our history will no doubt be felt for years to come.
But history also tells us that it is often at the worst time that the best in us comes out. As well as the angry, scared young woman and the (often thoughtless) panic-induced behaviour we have witnessed, we have also seen so much good emerging, from the heroes in our health and care services, the 100 year old who captured our hearts by doing what he could and the millions of other examples of random acts of kindness in every community and neighbourhood.
For me, the lockdown has presented an opportunity for reflection and insight. Like many people, my mindfulness practice has grown over the past few weeks, a benefit of more time and space and a much-needed way of coping with the day-to-day stresses and pressure of living with lockdown. As I have meditated, three themes have emerged for me.
The rainbow has become our symbol, celebrating the dedication and sacrifice of the staff in our health and care sector. Used in the Bible to represent the passing of the storm and, more recently by Desmond Tutu, describing the ‘rainbow people of God’ as apartheid ended, hope has become an active response to fear. In my time working within social care, ‘hope’ became one of the words we used more and more in our work with vulnerable children and families. Having hope for them represented intention, ambition and belief that things could and would change, belief in their capacity and ability. Hope is not simply wishful thinking, it is a proactive mindset and holding onto hope, I believe, will help us navigate the difficult road ahead.
Resilience has often been described as the ability to ‘bounce back’ but I think I prefer the idea of ‘bouncing forward’ – using our time of challenge as a source of learning and growth and informing what we will and won’t continue to do when we are in whatever the new normal looks like. My good friend and colleague Alister Grey felt compelled to act on his own inspiration around this theme, responding to the current situation by creating a movement to Realise Resilience, which aims to serve those struggling with the overwhelm, sharing wisdom and support with individuals and organisations. It is this kind of response that is informed by compassion, which in turn is fuelled by hope.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation connects us to our ourselves, giving us the opportunity to become aware of our thoughts, feelings, habits, and mindsets. For me, it has also been the bridge between how I react to the outer world and my sense of inner peace, something I have come to believe we all have within us. As we connect with this innate peace, even when there is turmoil around us, we can identify what we appreciate in our lives, what we are grateful for. There is much research on the benefits of practicing gratitude and, like hope and resilience, the need for this has never been greater. And, if we are being grateful, we have limited capacity for negativity – we cannot do both at the same time! We find what we search for – if we find reasons to be grateful it will grow our appreciation of all that we have and all that we are, subsequently changing the way we engage in the world.
This weekend sees us entering phase 1 of what the Scottish Government describes as the ‘route map’ out of lockdown. It is a gradual and cautious plan by necessity but will be welcomed by many as the first step to ease the pressure felt during lockdown. But I truly hope we don’t forget everything we’ve learned and gained from the last few weeks. Our planet has had a welcome break from us and seems to have used the time to do a bit of healing. We too may have experienced some unexpected benefits in our break from our routines, some new opportunities and a growing realisation that how we were living before was both unhealthy and unsustainable.
So, what will we mindfully stop doing, start doing and continue doing that will better serve us, our communities, and our world as we emerge from this, knowing that we have enough and that we are enough? I will end with a quote I discovered over the last few weeks which has served me well, from Matthieu Ricard, who has been described as the happiest man alive.
Happiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.Matthieu Ricard
Raymy Boyle is a coach, trainer and mindfulness practitioner and Head of Community Development with Mindful Talent Coaching Academy