A lot of my friends and colleagues are having a difficult time dealing with the current Covid-19 pandemic. Whether it's in Vietnam (where we are on strict lockdown) or globally, the constant barrage of negative information, change, isolation and work-from-home can take it's toll on anyone; CEO and professional alike! As I write this article, my income has been reduced by 95%, all my contracts have been either cancelled or suspended, and I am owed money. I have to rebuild my business (online), and I am facing the prospect of not having my Visa renewed in September, which may mean I have to leave the wonderful country I have called home for son long. Also, there are problems with food shortages, supplies and of course Covid-19.
As you can see, I am not immersed in some hippy fantasy I am facing real, and pending challenges. BUT as I write this, I feel genuine joy, gratitude and peace. Sure I have my moments, but 90%+ of the time I feel good, even great. Contrast this to 6 years ago and I would have been crippled with anxiety and fear. So, what am I doing to keep good spirits?
Meditation and Lots of It!
I have discussed meditation and mindfulness before and I encourage you to have a read to get a deeper understanding of what they are. In short, It has been proven in recent scientific literature (the past 30 years) and more importantly since the time of Buddha (2500 years ago) that a consistent meditation and mindfulness practice has the following benefits:
Better Heart Health
Reduced Chronic Pain
...and likely some I've missed! With all of the above very clearly understood, it is a wonder why this practice isn't front and center in everyone's life. The impact meditation has had on my well-being is enormous to say the least. The key to developing a meditation practice is to DO IT! It doesn't have to be much at first - maybe 5 minutes of breath focus. As you begin to practice more the easier it becomes, the more you learn and the more benefit it has on your life. For those of you who are interested in beginning, please check out my introductory video here. I am currently sitting Zazen (a style of meditation from Japan 'Zen') about 90 minutes per day. Truth be told, I feel great and very peaceful.
I know this seems cliche, especially with all the over-the-top 'toxic' positivity stuff out there. Hollow advice that, in essence says "Don't feel X, feel Y Instead". Guess what, our brains don't work like that. We don't receive a conscious suggestion like that unless we are feeling the suggested state of mind already. Want some proof? Has anyone every told you to 'cheer up' or 'be grateful' when you don't feel go? It doesn't help. But when you DO feel good, it helps a lot! Remember where our focus goes, our energy flows!
So, what the hell can we do? Firstly, the mind is an incredible structure. It is by far the most complicated 'machine' known to humankind. It has the ability to process 100, 000 chemical reactions/second, story our entire life and imagine a Universe over 13 500 000 000 years old. Absolutely remarkable. To that end we have an incredible amount of power stored between our two ears and if we let our thoughts go unchecked, our emotions can quickly go awry. Long story short, our conscious mind can only process about 50 of the 11 000 000 bits of information we receive each second. So, they we we see the world, is a subjective perception. For example, have you ever left for work in a bad mood and seen everyone around you as selfish, angry, mean, or useless? In the same way have you ever left in a great mood and find joy in nearly everything and everyone you encounter? The beautiful thing is, we have more control over our experience of living than we realize! Let me prove it to you:
Count to 5
Who is your best friend?
What is you happiest memory?
Who do you love the most?
What would you trade for your left eye?
See, if you're like 99.99999 % of people then you were able to do all of the above. Let me ask, how did you feel when you thought of 4 and 5? If you followed those suggestions you were able to control your thinking, and subsequently, your feelings. You see, if our conscious brain can only process so much information then the information we do process must be regulated right? This is TRUE! there is a part of our brain called the reticular activating system which filters the information we receive from the outside world, based on our thinking. So, in short, we change our thinking, we change our experience. How do we do that? A great way is to practice gratitude which I discussed in this article. Another way is to monitor your thinking and actively transform your statements into questions. For example:
"This sucks. I hate working from home."
"I can't see my friends and online meets are terrible."
"Covid is the worst thing ever, the world is ending."
Transformed into questions:
"What advantages do I get working from home? What opportunities can I take advantage of"
"What family or friends have I not talked to in a while that I could connect with."
"What am I learning about myself, my life and my future? How can I take the time to grow?
Long story short, statements are close-ended commands to the unconscious mind to see the world a certain way. If that's the way you think, it's how you'll see things and feel them. Active questions engage our neocortex (logical brain) which produces a relaxation response in the body and can shift our focus. Of course if you are feeling REALLY bad then you might want to calm down before you try this exercise. For that I have two techniques which are very helpful. The first is a breathing technique and the second is a sensory awareness technique. When your mind and body is settled, you can then practice active questioning and gratitude.
Relationships and Connections
Speaking of focus, a lot of us during lockdown fixate and focus on the people (friends, family, co-workers) who we can't see, at the expense of missing out on who we could! There is a very strong causative relationship between social connections and happiness. It is well studies and adds YEARS to our lives. Our brains are hard-wired to connect and we release oxytocin (the love hormone) when we have substantive interactions with others. So, I challenge you (like I have done myself) to reach out to people you normally would not talk to. We tend to use our immediate social network as a proxy to gauge how active our social lives are. During lockdown, when we can't see them it feels terrible. However, what opportunities are there to connect with others who we may have lost tough with or mean a lot to us?
So, make a point to schedule 2 meetings a week with long lost family, friends or colleagues. Make sure you are making room for meaningful points of contact with people. This will have a profound effect on your state of well-being and help shift your mindset in a way that's undeniably joyful. Interestingly, in Buddhism the three treasures are Buddha (the teacher), Dharma (the teaching) and Sangha (family or community). So, essential to a meaningful and awakened life is to be surrounded by those who are will to walk beside us.
I wish all of you reading the best in health, happiness and well-being and I am always open to hearing from you! Please contact me here if you'd like to talk more!