The Inclination Circumstances
(This essay is written in the first half of 2020, during COVID19 global pandemic)
We like to think that a disaster that affects billions of lives only exists in black and white. However, that is forever changed when said catastrophe is here in the flesh, and in color. Some might consider this to be the world war of our generation, except the fortunate twist is we are all facing a common enemy.
This is an exceptional crisis, where the biggest contribution for common individuals such as myself is to stay home, unless your presence outside is truly essential. As a result, we would find ourselves to have more time on our hands and our routine immensely altered. You are to put it simply, are being left alone with your mind.
Because we are dealing with a contagion, the responsibility to maintain our vigilance could not have been more important. How we escalate the state of the emergency is determined by how we maintain our hygiene. Most of us laughed when a viral footage in March surfaced of public health official from San Francisco licked her finger to turn her speech pages moments after warning people to stop touching their face. Neuroscientist Sam Harris then tweeted: “how can you avoid touching your face if your mind doesn’t know what your hands are doing”
With so much bad news and bad ideas being passed around, it is not uncommon for our emotions to be struck in a minor chord. We might feel anxious, worried, sadden, or stressed. What we say, and how we say them affect the minds of others.
Mindfulness and meditations for some can be a foreign a concept to some, however it is a powerful tool that you can utilize to keep your head straight. The idea is to increase your awareness of your thoughts, sounds, sensations, surrounding environments and your emotions without any judgement or adding anything to it. The most common method is to strategically place attention on the breath because it is always there. Often beginners dispute that they are unable to focus on the breath for more than 2 to 3 minutes, which is impossible to do even if your lives depended on it. American author Dan Harris stated, the moment you noticed that you are distracted and supposed to be meditating, then start again, is like a bicep curl for your mind. Other benefits from meditations include mental clarity, compassion towards others, and increase in alertness.
The common contention against meditation is who has the time for especially when there is other pressing matter at hand in an emergency. The unfortunate truth here is that we were all at least once felt regret the moment we reacted impulsively to an event that triggered our negative circuits. How many relationships and our personal lives were ruined when we acted out of negative impulses. Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield argued that the above symptoms are signs of an untrained mind. Just like your physical body that needs a workout frequently to be healthy and fit, your mind needs to be exercised too.
The untrained mind is submerged with negative flashes of thoughts, emotions, images, voices and memories, like a never-ending waterfall. In the book “Waking up”, Sam Harris mentioned that that we spend our lives being lost in thought, a state where we are thinking without knowing that we are thinking. It is akin to being washed up by a river of thought with no control whatsoever.
We are powerless to stop the river of thought, but we can however choose to stand on the shore and observe the flow of the river, which is what mindfulness brings to the table. Often, we tend to suffer unnecessarily due to the lack observing our own thoughts. The center of the bullseye in placing our attention on the breath is to hit the reset button on our thoughts and to detach our negative emotional reactions from taking over our actions. The ability to cut negative mental state when it stops being beneficial for us, is certainly a superpower that most tend to overlook.
If you happened to be the one of the luckiest human beings or your immediate needs are being met, you may see this practice as unnecessary. However, the goal of this exercise is to prepare for the worst day of your life. The worst day of your life, if it has yet to happened, will happen eventually. If your mind is untrained, then you will never know what tools you have when chaos knocks on your door. If we are living life with fully met needs, and yet are already feeling tremendously anxious and dwelling with anxiety when COVID19 first arrived on our doorsteps, then what does that tell us about the current state of our mind.
Currently we are experiencing less physical interaction with others. From a certain perspective, our current circumstances can be likened to solitary confinement. Unfortunately, there are convicts in prison who prefer to be in a company of murderers and rapist than to spend time in a room alone. It is fascinating that the prospect of being alone with your mind can be an excruciating experience, yet there are people such as Buddhist monks who enjoys solitude and labels these as “meditation retreat”. Being alone with our mind does not have to be painful, provided we already established a good relationship with it.
Meditation is a training that now you have the time for. We have the choice to channel our attention to our minds in our involuntary solitude. You would not be able to receive its benefit unless you have undergone repetitions, like any other practices. There are resources that you can use to learn and gain in-depth knowledge about mindfulness. Books such as “10% Happier” by Dan Harris, and “Turning Confusion into Clarity” by Mingyur Rinpoche are what I would recommend for newcomers. For people who prefer guided meditations, there are several mindfulness app such as “Waking Up” by Sam Harris. This essay was inspired and took notes from said app.
Once again, you are being thrusted with the responsibility to keep your head straight. How many minutes would you spend dwelling on the unfortunate things that are happening around you, and what kind of person will you be at the worst day of your life?