As spring descends in the northern hemisphere, nature awakens. What was dormant or resting now bursts forth — trees bud, flowers blossom, and once hibernating animals emerge, often with new offspring.
The energy that supports this rebirth is made possible by the deep, replenishing rest of winter — a period of incubation. Now, at a newly vigorous pace, organisms fully engage in the inextricable web of life to which we all belong.
However, for those of us who do not feel well-rested, the activity of spring can feel unwelcome and off-putting. Sometimes the increased daylight can feel like a harsh glare, keeping us indoors. We might hide from nature’s invitation, isolating ourselves and turning further inward, contracting around our burdens and daily frustrations.
Where so much outside seems fresh, inside we can feel stuck.
With the continued shifting of the state of the pandemic, this spring in particular has the potential to engender in some people feelings of anxiety about the safety of emerging, and what’s to come.
Wonderfully, ancient Buddhists recorded teachings in writing that are highly relevant to modern life, including how to antidote feeling cut-off from the rest of the world. In fact, among the thousands of discourses the Buddha delivered to students of various sorts (monks, lay people, kings, and outlaws) there are instructions for mindfully relating to the elements of the natural world.
Practicing with these can be extremely useful for those of us feeling out-of-step with nature.
By mindfully contemplating the elements (namely the early Buddhist writers were concerned with Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind) we can start to view ourselves as not separate from nature, but very much of it. Such a meditation invites knowing the properties of the natural elements within our own bodies, as well as outside, in the landscape.
For example: a body scan in which we note the properties of hardness/softness, roughness/smoothness is a recognition of the expression of the Earth element within. We can become aware of the Water element by noticing moisture in the mouth and the cohesive property of the flesh. Fire, or the heat element, is felt through temperature on skin. And we notice Wind in motion, circulation and, of course, breath.
Simplifying our experience for several moments in this way, followed by noting properties of the elements in the landscape outside, or a favorite landscape from your life, makes it clear:
We are not separate from the world around us, but inextricably connected to it.
There is ease in the direct experience of the truth that we are just nature. Further, during the embodied mindfulness practice of an Elements meditation, what all feels so personal — our preferences, concerns, and worries — fall away.
If you're feeling discomfort with transitioning into the conspicuously busy season of spring, try this audio meditation. Here I guide an "elements" mindfulness meditation based on the ancient Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, and inspired by the teaching of the contemporary Theravada Buddhist monk and scholar Bhikkhu Anālayo.
Early last spring, how many of us thought that certainly by fall at the latest, life and work would return to normal?
Most of us.
However, with autumn around the corner, everything remains quite different, and it continues to change.
Life now requires near constant adaptation to shifting and uncertain circumstances. Families who are sending their children back to school and college are preparing for the possibility of their students’ return home, should circumstances require. Similarly, people who worked in an office in the “before times” continue to work from home, with return dates pushed farther out, and some companies discussing the possibility of a permanent work-from-home model.
While working from home is a dream come true for some folks — no commute, no draining social interactions, and you can get the laundry done by dinner time — for others, it is a real struggle. The social ties we develop with our colleagues contribute to a sense of belonging, which is crucial to our well-being. So especially for people who enjoyed a large part of life’s social interactions at the workplace, the shift to working from home can impact a sense of connectedness and contribute to a sense of isolation.
Isolation and its relative loneliness are implicated in several things we want to avoid: burnout, depression, and earlier death. How can we recognize the signs that we may be struggling with working from home?
Reduced ability to focus is the canary in the coal mine for many problems. Coupled with waning interest and productivity — or worse...disillusionment, exhaustion, and frustration — you have a clear indication there is a significant disruption or imbalance in your body-heart-mind system.
1. Monitor yourself.
As a mindfulness teacher, I help my clients learn to regularly connect with the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of their being so they are aware of how they are doing before it's too late. Sustained mindfulness practice builds self-awareness and can reveal changes and trends that need course correction.
In this way, mindfulness practice is a monitoring tool for our well-being. Without it, we might not catch or understand the signals our own bodies, hearts, and minds are sending us.
While mindfulness is an inherent psychological faculty we all possess, I recommend learning mindfulness meditation from a trained teacher who can provide the methods and support necessary for establishing and maintaining a regular practice. Only 10 minutes a day can make a big difference in how readily we can attune to ourselves and the life around us.
While getting started with a practice can feel like a hurdle, once you’re over it, the only thing you need to do is continue. That’s it. And the motivation to do so will arise naturally as you notice improvements in focus, relationships, and your ability to manage stress.
But what if, using mindfulness, you notice that against the backdrop of these troubled times you feel increasingly out of sorts, unable to focus, frustrated in your relationships?
2. Seek outside help.
This may be from a doctor, therapist, or coach. We can’t always feel well on our own, and a trained professional will be able to support your journey toward wellness with evidence-based and time-tested methods.
If you have a meditation practice, check in with a teacher as well. It may make sense to adjust something about your practice, perhaps even the method you are using. When difficulties in our bodies, hearts, or minds plague us, mindfulness might be contraindicated, and a different type of meditation could be useful.
3. Practice lovingkindness meditation.
This sister practice to mindfulness meditation in which we stimulate a sense of goodwill, is a great way of antidoting a sense of disconnection.
While the formal practice involves repeatedly inwardly reciting phrases to help cultivate a sense of friendliness and ease toward yourself and others, you can use this practice informally, at any time. Simply pause in your day and silently wish yourself and your co-workers — those you like and those you have a difficult time with — safety, health, happiness, and peace.
Say “May we be safe, healthy, happy, and peaceful.”
Say it again.
Then a third time.
May it be so!
Pause often, stay in the body, allow vulnerability, and connect to what matters to wake up and show up to life right now.
What a year.
The novel and unpredictable circumstances created by the pandemic and the uncertain outcome of righteous unrest calling for racial justice — both exacerbated by leadership's uneven and inadequate responses — have provoked deep anxiety in individuals and communities.
They also offer enormous potential.
Here are four tips for coping with anxiety and lowering stress in times of crisis so you can effectively engage in fights for our lives.
Now is always the time to capacitate ourselves to meet what is present.
is a mindfulness educator, Insight Yoga mentor, and end-of-life doula who cares about individual and collective well-being at every stage of life.