We are living a societal crisis. Our survival instincts threaten our better nature. Hoarding, profiteering, getting a gun — these might help you individually in the short term, but at the cost of our collective wellbeing. Just as violence does not solve violence, nor will our survival instincts help society survive. We live in community, because we aspire to something far greater than survival. More than ever, we have to lead with love in all our decisions and actions. Love is an individual and collective imperative, if we are to get through this moment with grace, compassion and a flourishing society.
A key tool is the practice of embodied mindfulness — tuning into all five channels of intelligence available to us, instead of the one source we usually rely on. We have so much more wisdom available to us than what our brains provide. Our mental capacity is only 20% of our bandwidth and yet many of us rely on it 100%. Instead, let’s stream the full spectrum we have at our disposal — our mental, physical, emotional, spiritual and intuitive intelligences. I call this our body-mind singularity. For a deeper dive on this, here’s a talk I gave on this at The Battery in San Francisco.
When we upload our whole intelligence, we can access our deepest knowing. At the core of this wisdom is love. Embodied mindfulness is a practice of tuning into how we are in the world, how we participate in building the society we want to live in and stepping into the full citizenship of our shared humanity.
“We yearn to rise above the waste and futility that can so easily drag us down and, in the transformative human experiences and practices we call ‘spiritual’, we glimpse something of transcendent value and importance that draws us forward.” So writes John Cottingham in his Aeon article, “What is the soul if not a better version of ourselves?”
Embodied mindfulness is the practice of tuning into that yearning, into the transcendent impulses, which draw us forward and which hold us together in community.
There’s no time like the present to start this practice.
How does each action we take impact others? What can we do to ease the general anxiety level? What are our responsibilities toward one another?
High anxiety is a force of energy to be reckoned with. It can surface our worst behavior. Way back on March 3rd, I was at a small hair salon. I went to the bathroom. I noticed a container of Clorox wipes. I thought, I don’t have any of these and I can’t get any. I thought, I could take these and no one would notice. Then I thought, WTF are you thinking??? Who are you?? All these thoughts settled inside of me, allowing a final thought to bubble, Mina, this is not how you want to be. I went back to my salon chair lighter, strangely comforted by my lack of sanitizing wipes. Nine days later on March 12th, I was on a plane. Every time I heard someone cough on the plane, I felt my body seize up and a ripple of violence pass through my thoughts. I felt that same energy in the people around me. How easily could I become part of a madding crowd?
When I mentioned my violent, thieving thoughts to a psychotherapist client of mine, she reminded me that our thoughts are a long, long way from action and that suppressing them is not the solution. Instead, we need to acknowledge them as they arise and re-affirm our commitment to different behavior. Indeed. I use embodied mindfulness for this purpose, letting myself feel the rancor until it dissipates, like mud settling to the bottom of water, leaving me with the clarity of my intention — to not behave poorly. More — to behave as well as I can.
I notice, too, that I’m thinking like a driver vis-a-vis other people’s behavior. Everyone who is driving faster than me (i.e. taking fewer precautions than me) is an inconsiderate maniac. Everyone who is driving slower than me (i.e. taking more precautions) is a nervous-nelly feeding our collective anxiety. This too, I’m treating with embodied mindfulness. Allowing my judgment to arise, so I can acknowledge its potency, while at the same time, giving it space to shift.
Each of us has our own path, our own driving speed. What’s important is that we practice embodied mindfulness, so we can choose with intention and the wisdom of our body-mind singularity. To that end, here are some observations about ways in which we can lead with love in our decision-making over the next weeks or months:
1. Meditate or practice other relaxation and anti-anxiety techniques (breathing, movement, exercise), so that you can not only reduce your own anxiety, but contribute calm to the current of energy in the world. Being consumed by worry 24/7 doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all you. Take a moment of embodied mindfulness to tune in: Is your heartbeat regular or erratic? Do you feel tightness in the chest? Can you relax or are you experiencing a full body jangle that needs some TLC? Acknowledge and accept what you feel. Sit with it quietly. We all know the difference between allowing something to be and perseverating on it. Making space for what is will allow the feelings to flow, instead of getting stuck. The fewer hair trigger blockages there are inside each one of us, just waiting to explode at someone else, the better off we will all be together.
2. Tune into your mind-body when you make decisions that implicate other people — in other words, when you are going out in public. Consider how you want others to act toward you and the people you love. Check in with yourself as to why you are going out. Are you going stir crazy at home? Are you running necessary errands? (And I don’t mean buying even more toilet paper.) Or are you trying to prove that you won’t be scared off by the ambient panic? There is nothing to prove, only love to give.
3. Find joy in life. Can you do something outdoors with others instead of indoors? This is a great moment to take time for a walk. Get creative with the new state of affairs. My partner and I are mostly alone where we are at the moment and given the fluidity of the current environment, we aren’t sure when we will get back to NYC (where we live most of the time). So, we have started to have online dates with friends. No, it’s not the same as being with them in person. But it’s a balm and source of healing laughter. We drink wine or ginger tea with honey and whisky and enjoy their companionship. We feel less socially distant. Love is present. We are thinking of sending handwritten cards to friends (like a Christmas card in March), but are still trying to work out whether that’s virus-responsible behavior. We are signed up for an online dance party via Zoom.
4. Slow down and notice. As the news cycle closes in around us, keep making space for what feels good, what tastes good, what’s beautiful. Just when our instinct is to retract, can we expand, expand, expand?
5. Be as generous to others as possible. Here are a few examples of things I’m doing — instead of taking a refund on a theatre ticket from a non-profit arts organization, I’m donating the ticket price back. I’m continuing to pay my housekeeper, though I’ve asked her not to come. Yes, these small measures come from a place of privilege, but that’s my point. If you are in such a position, now is an opportunity to exercise the privilege of being generous, however that translates in your life.
Embodied mindfulness is a practice like any other; a process of adjusting our inner dial a little more each day. We can stay abreast of current events, without becoming mired in them. Check in with your whole intelligence. You will know when you are spinning into a vortex and when you are grounding, breathing and making space.
Tune into the core of your being — there you will find the love you need for these times.