As we emerge from the lockdown, many voices are calling for change from the way things were before the pandemic. Part of this is about resetting our relationship with each other and the values that we accept as important in the modern world. During the crisis, people have built new bonds with neighbours and our sense of community has become stronger.
As individuals, our physical and mental health and wellbeing are intimately tied to how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us. Although we have a distinct and separate body and our own private subjective experience, we are all part of an interconnected whole. The well-known saying, “No man is an island” was written by the metaphysical poet John Donne when he was suffering from typhus in 1623. He wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. The current pandemic has brought the interconnections between people across communities, countries, continents, and at a planetary level, into greater focus.
In the science of complex adaptive systems, it’s not the objects themselves, but the inter-relationships and interactions between them that make a difference. Examples of complex adaptive systems include the human body, the earth’s natural environment, and organisations.
Our body is something we take for granted every day. Outside of our general awareness, something like eleven interdependent systems work together to keep us healthy and alive. For example, our muscles need oxygen, which is provided by our lungs and circulatory systems, which need the muscle system to work. As well as oxygen, our body is dependent on food and water for energy as well as replenishing cells. Almost all of this food and water comes from the earth around us, which we are also part of.
So, what has relating got to do with the practice of mindfulness? With consistent daily practice, mindfulness changes the relationship we have with our experience. It changes the way we see and connect with our bodies, emotions, thoughts, and what we experience through our senses. It also changes how we perceive ourselves and other people. These changes come from our awareness and insight as well as how we respond to our present-moment experience. So, we tend to be less reactive, experience greater emotional stability and mental clarity, bring a greater appreciation of others and the world around us, are more open, patient, kind, and understanding.
Rather than being fully absorbed and identified with our thoughts, we can see them as mental content with energy and purpose that comes and goes. So, although many thoughts maybe about our experience, we know that our thoughts are not who we are.
Similarly, rather than being fully absorbed and taken over by emotions that come and go, we can feel that something needs attention, acknowledge the emotion and use the energy and momentum to act. So, although emotions relate to our experience, we know that we are not our emotions.
Mindfulness is about an aware inquiry and investigation of the habitual attachments and assumptions we hold on who we are and the world around us. This is why mindfulness skills include observing, curiosity, and beginner’s mind – seeing the world as if for the first time. Our brain has evolved to operate on short-cuts, which makes good evolutionary sense. Why process the same thing to the same intensity when it appears every day? The downside is that our perception can become dull and we end up not noticing, so being less aware of habitual thoughts and feelings as well as the people around us. The practice of mindfulness gives us the skills to understand and break through these limitations to appreciate how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us in all of its rich complexity, beauty, and wonder.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified, and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second audio to explore how we relate to our body, emotions, and thoughts.
Suggested weekly practice
- Contemplate the relationships between things. These could include your body, emotions, thoughts, speech, sounds, nature, food, time, seasons, the weather… The list is endless.
- Use curiosity and beginner’s mind to explore unnoticed, fixed habits and assumptions about yourself, other people, and the world around you.
- Pick a familiar daily object that you own and explore your relationship with it. How long has the object been with you? When was the last time you really looked at it with openness and curiosity to appreciate the materials it’s made of, noticing signs of wear, or whether the object is part of an embedded habit?
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