Tuesday, April 28, 2020

This Very COVID-19 Moment is Perfect

It can be hard to want to stay in the Now these days.

We wish things were different, longing for a month ago when faces weren’t covered by masks or yearning for a date in the future when existence returns to something at least in the same phylum of normal.

Every morning when I wake up, I keep my eyes closed for a full minute, dreading what additional previously unimaginable will happen between now and the closing bell of day.

Unless we’re one of the heroic individuals on the frontline, the majority of us can’t control the events happening outside our own doors (literally), but we can take charge of our own inclinations to run away from the present.

We should try to stay with the present because by fleeing the Now, it’s more likely we’re increasing our anxiety and fear through our monkey minds—our non-stop inner talk.

We evacuate the present moment and by extension abandon our actual place of calm, our only sanctuary.

Mindfulness can help people deal with difficult thoughts and experiences with self-compassion: those benefits are amplified when mindfulness is combined with writing.

The intent of mindful writing is the same as a general mindfulness practice. 

The intent is to see that this very moment—the length of time between one breath and the next—is perfect, safe, okay. We can reside in what’s happening rather than fleeing into a chimerical past or future.

During normal times, when I’ve spoken about mindful writing, it’s been in the context of reducing students’ anxiety about writing assignments. Students have been trained by the conventions of the classroom to ignore the present time of writing.

During a crisis like the one we’re witnessing, mindful writing can harness the power of the written word through the present moment to process and articulate painful experiences.

First, mindful writing steers attention to the present moment, which is useful for developing calm awareness through writing.

Mindful writing also helps us notice that double-edged nature of self-talk. Our monkey mind causes problems when we let ourselves be blindly persuaded by it. If we perceive our inner babble, this leads to greater emotional regulation.

Finally, mindful writing helps us notice how we gamble on the next moment, thinking we know how it’ll turn out, limiting possibility.

So for this COVID Spring, I suggest we all do a “Write Now.”

This calming activity doesn’t require special equipment (only basic writing materials) or even a lot of time (5-10 minutes would suffice) or qualifying writing skill (it’s just a freewrite, messy and improvisational).

To do a Write Now, ask yourself: What do I have to learn here and now, from this very moment? Then jot down whatever comes to mind, free of any evaluation.

The trick is to pose that question and then follow up (in writing) to see what arises. Accept and write without revision or denying any of it, without putting a spin or backspacing anything that this moment is producing.

Keep asking the question during the session: What do I have to learn here and now, from this very moment?

This mindful writing is not an occasion for oblivion (for that I have Netflix shows).

Instead, it makes me calmer because I am present. Rather than letting my mood be dictated by my runaway monkey mind, I supervise that monkey’s hijinks. I can be less kneejerk reactive to my own thoughts.

Mindful writing is not the same as keeping a COVID-19 journal. The point isn’t to record events as they unfold: the point is to use writing to be here, now.

It's about thinking of the long-term (because there will be a day when our lives reinflate). The skills we learn by writing in the Now during this COVID will assist us later.

Then mindful writing will filter into our regular lives whenever we need to write and are procrastinating or filled with self-doubt—a time when our fears have moved on to more benign concerns, like a blank page.

Now I'm off to do a Write Now of my own. This morning... I really need it.

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