Tuesday, April 21, 2020
By Celine Cavalec, Professor, English, and PJI Academic Coordinator
COVID-19 has been testing us — asking whether or not we can be present with fear, overwork, upheaval, uncertainty, distractedness, sickness, isolation and loss.
I’d love to say that I have met all the challenges of this pandemic with a steady mind and a generous heart, full of grace and fortitude. I have not. But, that’s okay. I have felt deep anxiety, worrying about my 87-year-old mom in New Jersey where cases are slowly increasing, knowing her only support is my sister who is a severe asthmatic and ovarian cancer survivor. I have struggled with the loss of freedom and the deep sadness I feel for our brothers and sisters in Italy, Spain and New York who have seen many die and their health care workers and systems become overwhelmed.
But through all of this, one thing that has sustained me is my mindfulness practice. It has helped me sit with uncertainty and fear, meeting those unwanted feelings with a modicum of warmth and acceptance.
Each morning I sit quietly in stillness and attend to whatever arises. I drop into my body. I notice my breath. I acknowledge my thoughts and emotions and meet each visitor with as much kindness, curiosity and non-judgement as I can muster. Some days that isn’t much. But other days, a deep openheartedness emerges, settling my mind enough for me to examine and learn from what greets me in the present moment and watch as sensations shift and change. This is the gift of mindfulness. It offers us tools to meet whatever arises so that we can be there for ourselves and others with compassion and clear seeing.
Kindness, non-judgment and compassion — these are the qualities that we can cultivate each day as we rise once again to a day full of Zoom meetings; as we email a student who has lost a job; as we support our overworked teachers, OIT workers, administrators, homeschooling parents; or as we wake to spend one more day alone or with people we may now know too well.
Stop. Pause. Listen to your heart beat. Feel your breath. Connect with your body and integrate this body knowledge into your thinking before responding. You may not choose the perfect response, but that momentary pause may create a space for you to recognize and interrupt a habitual pattern that does not serve you or the people in the room. Listening to and integrating the heart-mind grounds a response in an integrity that is absent when only the heart or mind is considered.
I sit to bring more joy and attention to each unfolding moment. To work kindly with the unwanted. To greet each visitor with curiosity and openness. To learn to be with the uncomfortable and comfortable, joyful and heartbreaking and to learn what each has to offer before it moves on. And, it will move on.
So next time a joy or sorrow rises up, be present. “Meet them at the door laughing … because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” — Rumi
Celine Kavalec is a qualified Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher through the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness. She teaches MBSR at Valencia and in the community.