When I mention “meditation” as a mitigation technique for the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of people think I’m crazy or a bit foolish. Many people have answered with “that’s weird,” or “what for?” Yet, as we know, Buddha gave us guidelines for living and a technique for meditation in the 6th Century BC. He famously said, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
Instead of offering a way out of life and suffering, we are offered a “way in” to ourselves. This was seen as a mitigation technique for life itself. What attracted me to this teaching was how it put the onus and responsibility for our lives squarely on our shoulders, instead of passing it off onto a deity or outside figure. Because the true practice of meditation and mindful living is an inside job and during these times of uncertainty and fear, it can greatly help find peace and be OK with the world and can be done in the many parks around the neighborhood.
How Meditation Can Help During Difficult Times
In these times of pandemic, social and political unrest, violence, racism, media bashing and rampant fear, it behooves all of us to develop a technique that will allow us to quiet the outer voices screaming at us from television, podcasts, radio, the streets — wherever — and learn to tune into the inner voice. Or the inner quiet. We can never really stop the thinking mind, but we can certainly develop a happier and equanimous relationship to it. In the midst of chaos in the outer world, meditation allows us a window into the development of an inner world. It will not change what happens, but it will help us grow into a better relationship with ourselves and an improved way of dealing with what happens.
Right now, people are dying because of a virus no one can see. Black men and women are dying at the hands of police. Some of us have lost loved ones and friends. We want to honor those we have known and loved who have died and also take care of ourselves. It is crucial to develop what Angela Davis refers to as “radical self-care,” which is essential to our well-being.
In order to make change and be effective in our world we need to be healthy in ourselves. Part of my radical self-care schedule, along with diet, exercise, walking, yoga, creativity, music, friends, family and all-important sleep, is daily meditation. I try to tune into the quiet time at least twice a day and often four times a day in these challenging times.
I began my meditation practice 52 years ago at age 19 when I did my first meditation retreat. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I have been in and out of various practices, multiple teachers and teachings, and periods where I wasn’t meditating much at all, especially when I was running a house, raising three children and caring for my father as a solo act. Since coming to Chicago in 2008, however, I have renewed and intensified my meditation practice and made it a daily commitment and I now encourage others to do the same.
I have spent 13 years meditating on the Boulevard on Kedzie avenue in all seasons, with the exception of winter-snow-on-the-ground. I go to Monument Park daily, sometimes twice a day, to do a quiet meditation on one of the benches! I attended meditations on Sunday at the Kriya Yoga house — a most beautiful venue that sadly had to leave our neighborhood physically, but their services are still available online.
Mitigating Loneliness and Slowing Down
This daily tuning, much like the tuning of an instrument such as a violin or cello before one can play, mitigates a host of things, especially loneliness. When one reaches a sense of calm in the midst of a storm there is often a feeling of support. You are supporting yourself. And, in so doing, you are never really alone. The consciousness that is doing the supporting is there for the personality that often blocks the hidden support system we all have. Opening up to this is becoming your own best friend.
I began this journey, as I said, many moons ago but the daily practice has been what has consolidated my energy so that when I am confronted with complicated moments, emotional turmoil and demanding situations, I can step back, breathe deeply and allow myself to slow down and be less reactive. I am, by nature, a highly volatile and reactive “type,” so this has been a journey to tame that girl, that woman, and now that old woman, into a more contemplative person! I have found, since the pandemic has hit us all, that this practice has given me the clarity of vision and the ability to slow down enough to really savor the good moments and move through the painful moments with calmness and self-control. I have more poise and my creative output has exploded exponentially.
Teachers and Teachings Influential to My Practice
I have not done this alone, however. I am the product of thousands of years of teaching and teachers, and the loving patience of our modern teachers who have been generous with their time in leaving transmissions accessible online, through podcasts and books, and direct video teaching. These inspiring people have changed my life. I cannot afford to go their places of teaching for inspiration, but I have found that through videos, podcasts, recordings, books and other means of communication my life has been completely changed and I have grown as a student. I highlight just a few teachers and include links to their lectures and websites for further investigation at the end of this article. But a few that have really changed me are Alan Watts, Pema Chodron, Jack Kornfield, Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle. Their guidance helps me keep perspective, deal with discouragement and enlighten me as to the deeper meaning behind many of life’s experiences.
Alan Watts, especially, has taped lectures made in the ’70s that sound with such presence, prescience and wisdom, as if they were made last week. He was the center of awareness.
“What do you feel when you say the word “I”?”Alan Watts
How Meditation Can Help Us Practice Forgiveness
The practice of love, forgiveness and compassion lie at the heart of all of this, of course.
Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34)
These words from the New Testament are echoed, as well, by many other teachers, and before the life of Jesus or Buddha taught that forgiveness healed the forgiver. In these very difficult and often violent times, when truth has been assailed in the mainstream media time and time again, the way of forgiveness is the most challenging one. The practice of meditation will help with this. It will also help with fear, anxiety and depression, not by taking these things away, but by teaching us and allowing us to have a more reasonable relationship with fear.