Mindfulness is often described as a state of being where our awareness is focused on the flow of experience in the present moment without commentary, analysis or judgement.
During periods of challenge and change the mind, body and emotions tend to react based upon our deeply rooted habitual responses. Whereas some of these may be beneficial, others may well be problematic. The situation in response to the Covid-19 pandemic certainly represents such a period for most of us and our families.
Here, Dr Dean Howes of Warwick University sets out five ways mindfulness could help you and your family during lockdown.
1 Noticing now
Whether you are settling down for a mindfulness meditation or out there in the busyness of life, the first step towards the mindful state is to pause and notice what is happening around and inside of you.
While we often find ourselves naturally attentive of now from time to time, with mindfulness we want to make the process more intentional.
We can do this by noticing the experiences coming from outside of us through the five senses.
These are always available for us to connect with. In the same manner we can notice our inner experience by connecting with how our mind, body and emotions are in the present moment. No commentary, analysis or judgements are needed – just a gentle curiosity in how our experience is as moment passes to moment.
2 Noticing rhythms
Rhythms, and the noticing of them, are an important part of cultivating mindfulness. For example, we can notice the ebb and flow of nature around us. As we do, we will begin to notice the patterns and routines that go on without our interference.
Not only can we do this with ourselves, but also with those around us during lockdown.
One way to cultivate this is to use the breath. Begin by noticing your natural breath rhythm in a given moment. Again, no commentary, analysis of judgement is needed. Rather, just notice the pace of the breath, the depth of it and the way the body is moving with the breath. Don’t worry if the mind wanders, just gently bring it back to the breath as often as is needed.
Then, when you are ready, you can bring a more intentional, mindful breath rhythm such as the four or five seconds in, four or five seconds out technique. As you do this you can notice this new breath, focussing upon how it sounds, feels and moves the body now.
3 Cultivating acceptance and compassion
Acceptance and compassion are two more fundamental components of mindfulness and the more we cultivate these internally, the more we can express them outwards in an authentic manner.
Most people are their own worst critic and so self-acceptance is usually the first step. In the current situation we may also notice that those around us are critical of themselves too and invite them to be mindful of this.
An acceptance of the current situation can help to nullify some of the habitual responses. Viewing it as a unique and shared situation may also help to cultivate compassion in and between us too.
4 Finding protected time
Another important component of mindfulness is the concept of protected time. In the current situation many of us will be working from home and some of us will have partners and children doing the same. In times like this it is easy for distinctions between our work-life to become blurred. Being aware of this and creating an effective schedule can be an effective way of navigating lockdown.
5 Sharing the journey
Some critics of mindfulness claim that it is self-centred and lacks a social aspect. In my many years of teaching mindfulness and working with clients I have never seen any evidence for this. Indeed, another fundamental concept in mindfulness is that of connectedness.
When our own minds are less ‘full’, we have more capacity to relate. Many people have already found that they are connecting more with their family and/or nature during this time and this is something we can lean into, engage with and let grow. With mindfulness though, the aim is not to get to a positive experience or outcome per se, but rather to have an awareness of now that helps us to navigate it the best we can. This means sharing the difficulties as well as the enjoyable moments.
We can cultivate our sense of sharing and connectedness through many everyday life experiences. We can bring a state of mindfulness with us whilst walking, exercising and doing other leisure activities. One of the most effective shared mindfulness experiences we can try during this time is shared mindful eating. Here, we can take protected time out to connect with each other and, of course, the food itself.
Dr Dean Howes teaches the Introduction to Mindfulness and Cultivating Mindfulness courses at Warwick’s Centre for Lifelong Learning. See warwick.ac.uk/study/cll/courses/short/accredited for details.