Hear, See and Feel your way into Equanimity
The Greeks had two words for time. Chronos (as in chronology) referred to linear time: months, years, days, hours, eons, eras and other such human constructs. Kairos was the timeless realm of the soul, that part of you that is not associated with body or mind. Your soul does not much care what day or time it is, not when it is making love, listening to Mozart, or communing with plants in the garden.
It’s useful to distinguish between these ways of thinking about time, because when you’re living through a pandemic of unknown duration, dwelling in Chronos time can wear you down. Over linear time, everything is just getting scarier and more exhausting. We just want to know when it will end.
One extremely restorative thing you can do for yourself is to take very short breaks to tap into “soul time” where you are not bound by the clock or the calendar.
Stress is a function of linear time, thoughts and feelings about the past generating depression and remorse; thinking of the future fueling anxiety and a cocktail of worst imaginations. Each is compounded by physical problems. You can’t sleep, your digestion goes off, you’re irritable or antsy, your body aches.
Thoughts and feelings feed on each other. A daily COVID-19 tally triggers a feeling and the chest or belly tighten, an almost imperceptible frisson of “fight or flight”. Thoughts begin to intensify or accelerate as you attempt to think your way out of what you fear. Thoughts feed the fire of emotions and they ramp up further.
Typically, when we feel uncomfortable because of something like boredom or anxiety we try to either suppress it, divert it, or outrun it. Suppressing only numbs us out and has a negative effect on our capacity for joy, as well. Getting busy (shopping, calling a friend, TV, bingo) may have worked well in the past, but most of our usual diversions are now totally unavailable – or unhealthy in excess. And so frustration grows.
The good news is that Mindfulness gives us a very immediate way out of the discomfort of linear time and into the expansiveness of the moment.
Right now, take a deep inhalation. Notice the feel of cool air in the nostrils and the back of the throat. Imagine it making its way down into the lungs, enlivening them with oxygen. As the lungs expand, bring your awareness to a feeling of spread in your back and the rise of your soft belly.
Staying with the sensation of your physical body, exhale. If that felt good, do it a time or two more.
You’ll have to read this next part, then soften your gaze or close your eyes and try the exercise. The basic instruction is straightforward: simply close your eyes and notice where your mind goes.
It’s very likely your attention will be drawn to what you Hear, what you See, or what you Feel.
Maybe there’s a lot of internal thinking. Let your focus stay with what you hear inside your head, not judging it or even wanting it to stop. Just patiently and silently label your experience “Hear”. If the “internal talk” stops and it’s totally silent, label “Rest” and enjoy a few moments of being present.
If you have a strong visual sense, you may be attracted to some kind of imagery on the screen behind your closed eyes: lights, shapes, colours, scenes or a feeling of flux and flow. If that’s the case, note or label “See”. And if it’s just a blank slate, label “Rest” and enjoy the visual silence.
Finally, you may be pulled to sensation in your body. It could be purely physical: a sore back, a headache or hunger. Or it could be an emotional feeling: fear in the chest or belly, the tightness of resentment, a numbing boredom. Most of us have an automatic aversion to unpleasant feelings, but in this case try turning toward these unwelcome visitors. With a spirit of curiosity, rest right there and note “Feel”. If you don’t feel anything, note “Rest”.
Note or label Hear, See and Feel at intervals of about 5 seconds, a rhythm that will keep you focused without disrupting the flow of your experience. Do the exercise for just a few minutes and then check in to determine if your breathing has changed, or if you feel any more present or relaxed. Then, go on with your day.
COVID-19 may be asking more than we feel we can sustain, day to week to month. Kairos time provides a refuge that allows the passing and the ending, even as we continue to engage in the now.