Being present in lockdown

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Since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, I’ve been bombarded with promotional messages on how to market my online services. Coaches, therapists, yoga teachers and many other self-employed individuals and small business owners suddenly find ourselves in perilous financial situations.

Being pushed out of your comfort zone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all know how it can help us grow and develop as human beings. The current crisis is forcing us to be more creative and come up with alternative ways of earning a living. But I wonder if spending more time online is the answer.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve kept in touch with friends and clients, most of whom are in jobs that have allowed them to keep working from home. Many of them have expressed a sense of exhaustion due to the increased workload, but also to the growing time spent on social media.

Being told by the government that we MUST stay at home and cannot meet with our friends has made us all want to spend more time communicating and socialising online – and thank goodness for modern technology, right?

Chatting with friends and family on social media can be fun, but it’s not so healthy for us when done excessively. Studies have revealed that problematic internet use leads to a much higher degree of depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep disorders and suicidal ideation. And these studies were carried out long before the spread of C-19.

Combine excessive internet use with the current restrictions of our freedoms, and we’re in for an outbreak of mental health issues.

Of course, we must make sure to inform our friends and clients that we’re still there for them if they need us. But my general advice, at a time like this, would be to stay away from the internet as much as possible.

On the long Easter weekend, I turned my phone off for three days and it was the best thing I could have done. I had been yearning for a meditation retreat and feeling slightly jealous of (and at the same time happy for) a friend who resides at a meditation centre. So I decided to have a mini-retreat in my own home. Zero communication. I came out of it feeling calmer than I had done in weeks.

Not everyone, of course, is able to self-isolate in the same way. You might have your kids, or an adult you care for, living with you. But whatever our living circumstances, we can all aim to reduce the amount of time spent staring into a screen.

Unlike in other countries, where tougher restrictions have been imposed, in the UK we have been lucky so far in that we have been allowed to go out and exercise in the park – and the weather has been on our side, too.

Personally, I have no desire to participate in a yoga class on Zoom. But if you just can’t motivate yourself to do any exercise without the support of an instructor, then by all means, join one of the many online classes on offer. However, if you’ve been practising yoga and mindfulness for a while, this might be the perfect time for you to develop your own self-practice and become more autonomous. It might even be time to let go of that mindfulness app and just be with yourself.

Remember there are no rules in mindfulness. No formulas. No mantras. No prayers. Just Presence.

If you’ve never practised any mindfulness before, you might believe it’s about sitting around staring at a wall. Or, as Suzanne Moore states in the Guardian, that it’s all a big fraud and that during lockdown we should numb ourselves into mindlessness instead. But the reverse is true: it is especially during times of crisis that we need cultivate Presence, as it enables us to stabilise our emotions and to think more clearly.

Focusing on physical sensations for the first time can bring about a feeling of anxiety or dread. As a way of processing old traumas and fears, your body might even start trembling. If you can stay with the process and observe these emotional and physical reactions without labelling them, you will begin to feel more and more grounded in the here-and-now.

As you gain experience with being present, you develop your ‘inner observer’, as well as your own inner guidance. Which is what so many of us need right now.