What in you needs transformation? The question was posed by one of my teachers, Caroline Myss, towards the beginning of pandemic social distancing and sheltering at home. I wrote the question on a piece of paper and laid it on my bedroom “altar”, unsure what would transpire over the span of the uncertain months ahead.
Reflecting over the past year, I am grateful for the changed lifestyle and expanded opportunities created by the pandemic. Strengthening family relationships, raising consciousness and creating a work environment that allows for a healthier way of life are the outcome. The transformation evolved through navigating fear, grief, and self-reflection; all the while building on practices that were ripe to germinate and grow.
Raising consciousness with mindful meditation
Mindful meditation is a practice of being aware of the present moment by focussing on an anchor such as the breath, body sensation or a mantra. Practices that contribute to an improved mental attitude and positive daily path for me are Metta (loving kindness) and Karuna (compassion). These are two of the Brahma Viharas that especially benefit us during times of stress. We combine these practices by using phrases, or mantras, whose sentiments are shared with ourselves, others and all beings. The phrases are: “may (I) you be well and safe; may (I) you be happy and at ease.”
During the pandemic, each day starts and ends with mindful meditation. Instead of rushing around to get ready for the commute to work, I sit on my cushion or bed and practice meditation. Sometimes, this is a solo activity while other days there’s the connection with a virtual group. Often, a meditation practice bookends the day with another virtual group gathering, a podcast or a meditation app session.
Mindful movement is a sanity break that expands the safety of home.
Another activity that contributes greatly to transformation is physical exercise. During this year of pandemic uncertainty, exercise has been a sanity break that was renamed “mindful movement”. Every day I spend about an hour engaged in walking, biking, swimming, yoga, or calisthenics. Other than staying in good physical shape, these sanity breaks provide important times of self-reflection and growth. Some days I listen to podcasts by wise ones whose words of wisdom and perspective help me work through anxiety, boredom, uncertainty.
Pre-pandemic physical exercise was stuffed into the day between classroom obligations, at lunch or early in the morning. Remote work has transformed the idea of “home” to include the outdoors as an extension of that safe space. Mindful movement allows for planning time, phone calls, and self-care in the outdoor meeting space of nature.
Equanimity is an awareness that transforms relationships.
A person who goes with the flow of life shows us that a key to being happy is to stay grounded in life’s experiences. Equanimity is the trait in which a person is able to coexist with the world in a balanced, and non-reactive way.
Reconnecting with family during the pandemic has strengthened relationships. Our family trio consists of my husband, teenage daughter, a cat and me. We all coexist within a 1500 sq ft home and at any given moment, we are each in a separate room working, learning, and creating or all together in the living room or dining room sharing thoughts, concerns and experiences. Evidently, there are times when we get on each other’s nerves and the home feels really tiny. This is where equanimity comes in.
Equanimity can be nurtured through the practice of mindful meditation. After developing basic concentration skills using meditation and releasing thoughts, a person gradually is able to stay present in the moment and not overreact to daily stimulus. Surely, it takes practice and patience to be equanimous and it is a trait that can be nurtured at any age.
Through equanimity, the daily grind of pandemic fatigue is transformed. During a meditation retreat with another of my teachers, Oren Jay Sofer, I learned that grief and the heaviness of uncertainty can teach us to find renewed strength. Using equanimity, that which we can’t control is acknowledged and allowed to transform into love and compassion. Consequently, equanimity grows relationships when we learn to accept each experience without overreacting.
During the pandemic, we have the opportunity to transform fatigue, grief and anxiety into opportunities to raise our consciousness and strengthen relationships. Mindful meditation, physical exercise and equanimity are well-rounded practices that can alter the course of a person’s life towards a more balanced existence, both mentally and physically. Whether one practices these for three months or three years, the benefits are long lasting.