We finally kissed 2020 goodbye a few weeks ago, hoping for more peaceful, healthy, and productive times ahead. And yet as I write this, the U.S. is breaking tragic records for deaths from Covid-19 and Congress is debating whether to impeach President Trump for the second time. That 2021 is off to a difficult start feels like a massive understatement.
I do take a little comfort in our practices of mindfulness and compassion during a difficult time and I hope you do, too.
Mindfulness helps me be a bit more aware of how it’s all affecting me. I feel distracted, worried, at times fearful. At times angry. I’ve learned it’s so much better if I know how I’m feeling. I used to be so good at “stuffing” difficult feelings.
And mindfulness helps me make choices that help keep me at least a bit more available to myself and others. No, I don’t need to check the headlines every few minutes. Yes, it is nourishing to do my practice, to exercise, to reach out to friends and family. And yes, I am human and I have been reading too much news and neglecting exercise. I’m working on it.
But most importantly mindfulness supports acceptance. The current situation is a tough pill to swallow. How could it be that our country is this divided? How could the events in the Capitol that happened last week have happened? And yet it is and they did. By allowing these realities in more fully, I stand on ground that’s a little bit firmer than the shaky ground of rage or denial or distraction and avoidance. This helps me keep going.
This acceptance isn’t acquiescence. It’s not saying it’s “all okay.” We each have different views and approaches, but I am sure that things are happening that are very much not okay for just about every single member of our society right now. So tough. And I do know that it’s a lot tougher for a lot of people than it is for me.
Although it never feels like I’m doing enough, standing on this firmer ground of acceptance-of-what-is gives me a bit more strength to contribute. In my case recently: a bigger than usual donation to the food bank – it’s so hard to accept that I have neighbors without enough food – and I was able to muster a little courage to go with a friend and volunteer some help at the nearby homeless tent city here in Bellingham (it was easier than I thought and they were very appreciative, but what a hard thing to see).
And mindfulness steadies the ground for compassion. Compassion: that willingness to be with suffering and try to help. Even when the suffering is really challenging – even when what I see “out there” brings up strong emotions and suffering in me, mindfulness helps steady the ground in me for compassion for those who are behaving in ways that upset me greatly.
Our teachers remind us that everyone wants to be happy and doesn’t want to suffer. Some suggest that all unhelpful behavior is a result of unmet needs somewhere along the way. I think of the wise advice given to parents to seek to correct the child’s choices and behavior without giving your child the message that there’s something inherently wrong with them. And I think also of the danger in being righteous and demeaning to others. Can I look at the many troubling images in the news and have compassion for my fellow humans even when they’re behaving badly?
These are tricky times. There are no simple answers. Plus it’s almost impossible – maybe completely impossible – to speak out about what’s happening without offending someone. We won’t get it right. But our practice calls on us to try our best. To accept, to work for a better world, to view everyone with the eyes of compassion. Our year – now it may be years – of living under Covid I hope will help us to see at last that we’re truly all in this together.
As you know Mindfulness Northwest offers a variety of classes, workshops, and retreats to support your practice. I want to highlight this month that we’re growing our drop-in offerings. In addition to the Midday Mindfulness I offer (Wednesdays weekly, noon to 1pm) and the monthly Alumni Practice Group (fourth Friday of the month, 7pm – 8:30pm) we’re adding a new weekly Midday Mindful Movement program on Mondays noon to 1pm. All three of these drop-in programs are offered free of charge. You need to register to receive the Zoom link. And we rely on your kind donations to our Accessibility Fund to help fund our operations when we aren’t charging registration.
Hope to see you soon at one of our programs.
And here’s hoping for a peaceful Inauguration Day next Wednesday.
Yours in mindfulness and compassion,
Tim Burnett works for Mindfulness Northwest as Executive Director and Guiding Instructor.