9. Stirring emotions
It is a longer piece today, so please feel free to skip to the meditation. However, if you have time to read please do.
I do not have to juggle working from home with small people who are bored with the tenth round of CBBC, I do not have the pressure of being a parent who now has the cat laser-focussed on chewing the laptop cable or showing its bum on a Zoom work call, staying awake until midnight for that ONE TESCO SLOT at 11pm in six weeks' time, while trying to keep up with a mind-bending new workload and manage the anxiety that the daily news updates bring.
I feel enormous compassion for those that do, I cannot imagine the balls being juggled, the worries felt, for my time in self-isolation has dulled the edges of what life is like outside my small bubble. The most stressful life experience is collecting prescriptions for loved ones and running the gauntlet of the one-way system in the supermarket without wanting to knee-cap the chap who stands too close.
For some of us stress ebbs and flows, but for others it is a constant stream of stress-flow. And that stress-flow has to leak out somewhere.
For our nurses, our key-workers, anxious business leaders, our isolated friends living alone, we have a new world to navigate, strong emotions to manage, and even now we have had a few weeks of practicing at this lock-down lark, it's still an ever-changing worrying landscape.
Couple that with the 'helpful' people like me and others who proffer up what can really feel like trite advice on developing a mindfulness practice! The cheek of her. Or the Social Media user who paints a natty insta-feed of freshly baked goods, a winning a smile and who blasts their stories with hearty zeal suggesting we use the time to learn a new skill! The layer upon layer of demand, expectation to turn up, be cheery, be super-human. Arghhhhh.
Recently I've had a couple of nursing friends expressing their despair, the anxiety they live with every day – and overriding – their anger. It is wearing them out. 'I just wanted to take my dog for a walk when I got home but there are so many people about, and it made me angry'. Anger is a debilitating emotion, and when we are in the depths of it's grip it's all-consuming. The simplest of pleasures no longer provides solace when most needed.
I popped to the post office early this morning, waiting patiently and some distance away even in the squashed confines - the elderly post-master discussing with the security van driver loudly the frustration he was feeling at so many people making unnecessary journeys – posting packages, buying 'stuff off the internet that they don't need' his anger and frustration evident in his scant regard for me and my packages. The security driver mirrored his same frustrations and said he couldn't believe how many people were exercising or making unimportant journeys – 'why can't they just stay at home it annoys me!'.
How do we in this challenging time take the perspective of another so that we do not become each other's enemy?
How do we see the human behind the strong emotion, or not become awash and overwhelmed with our own?
We can practice kindness. I can thank them for all they are doing to keep the world turning. I can recognise that I represent fear to many, and for many that fear is in every single moment of the day ahead. I can do my bit and stay home, I can practice patience when I witness others who are struggling.
Be kind, be kind to the person on the street who gives you a wide berth of 50 miles rather than two metres and holds their breath – they are scared. Notice the emotions behind the behaviours and suddenly we can all relate to how it feels.
So today I have a different practice for you, if you are out and about at all – send loving kindness to the people you meet, you may notice your inner critic and our natural reflex judgment – so send kindness anyway. 'may you be well', 'may you know peace'. Look the person in the eye and notice their humanity.
And if you are feeling overwhelmed and really angry – practice kindness toward yourself 'may I be well' may I know peace'. With a gentleness to your practice – allow yourself to feel angry, for when we hold a space for emotions, they diffuse, they move through us, denying them, avoiding them – they creep up and smack us upside the head in other ways – so feel the feeling, ease into it gently and let is dissipate.
A useful analogy when leaning into difficult emotions is to imagine leaning into them as you would a bale of hay, the initial poke of the hay may startle so go gently, and kindly, and breathe slowly.
Sorry this is long, I didn't know how to write this one.
Take care of one another.