A Meditation (& Story) for Calm & Compassion

Dear friends, there’s a lot going on right now. And it’s changing all the time!
Each of us will be responding to this situation with the COVID-19 virus differently, struggling with different parts of it and not struggling with others, and as things change and develop so quickly, we are forced to change and adapt too. I don’t know about you but I’m not a great fan of having to change and adapt quickly!

I’m feeling so aware that, in these strange and uncertain times, we very much need each other. I am also feeling the urge to be intentional about what I need to do in order to navigate the ongoing, potentially stressful circumstances as well as I can, and to do whatever I can to support and help others. I want to find practical ways to do this, and have a few ideas bubbling, but decided to start by offering a meditation and story I brought to our community at St. Stephen’s University this afternoon, when we met to let students know that in-person classes are suspended for the remainder of the academic year.

I’m hoping that this offering will both help with what you may be feeling right now, but also suggest some really simple tools you can continue to use in the weeks to come. Because we all need some calm and compassion round about now, am I right? Before the meditation, I want to start with a story of my own from this week, as a way of giving myself, you and all of us permission to be dealing with this in all the varied ways we are and the ways we will.

So, on Saturday – having heard on Friday that schools in New Brunswick were closing for two weeks and so my daughter Amelie would be home for that time – we went to Superstore to buy groceries we needed, and I decided to buy a little more than I usually would at once. I was NOT STOCKPILING, I might add – I only bought six giant packets of toilet roll (jk, I didn’t buy any!) – just enough to not have to go back in a few days like I normally would. I haven’t been feeling overly anxious about the outbreak, a bit concerned for my elderly parents in the UK, but on the whole feeling like we can do this, we can make the changes we need to in the face of this challenge, we can even learn from it, and support each, and do this together. Anyway, there Amelie and I were in Superstore, putting most of the things on my shopping list into the cart, but also coming across a few items we wanted that were sold out, like (horrors!) British-style Heinz baked beans. And, yes, the loo roll section was almost empty. (What’s with that?!) Good thing I bought some last week haha! Around the Natural Food section, Amelie got out her phone and was on it but walking next to me while I got milk, salsa, and so on.

After a bit I turned to her and said, a little snappily, “Why are you on your phone?!” To which she replied “Because you’re being so weird!”

“What do you mean?” I responded, “Like asking you why you’re on your phone?”

“No! Before that! You’ve been being really weird, kind of angry, and annoying, like a really weird energy, and that’s why I went on my phone – to get away from you!”

I wanted to deny this and defend myself, because I really thought I was doing fine, but I managed to refrain, and tried super-humanly hard to be pleasant – maybe even fun?! 😉 – the rest of the way around the store. I realized as I did this that, yes, I did feel a bit weird, but hadn’t been aware of it until Amelie acted as a kind of mirror for me. (It’s one of the profound gifts of having a daughter!) 🙂

I felt bad for affecting her with my unconscious weirdness, and annoyed with myself that I hadn’t noticed there was anything going on. But I’m slowly learning that judging myself doesn’t do any good, while self-compassion and gentle curiosity go a long way! So I tried to be compassionate and curious towards myself and my behaviour:

“Hmmm… what’s going on in me right now? I’m trying to be a grown-up here and just deal with it, but this is weird and I’ve never experienced all this and I don’t know what’s going to happen and what my next weeks are going to look like! True, I haven’t felt particularly anxious, but I when I pay attention to my body and my emotions I realize I definitely feel unsettled, uncertain, and because of that somewhat on edge, and that’s making me annoying… and weird!”

So that was me this weekend. Today it’s different; I realized this morning I felt a bit emotionally vulnerable. This afternoon I feel more mentally muddied. And of course tomorrow it will be different again, and I probably won’t realize quite what’s going on inside me – and outside! – for a while, till I overreact to something or someone, or notice my body not feeling good in some way.

All of you have your own stories that you could tell, and some of your story you might not be particularly happy with or proud of, and other bits you’d be fine with… and isn’t that just what it’s like to be human? But all of us are dealing with new realities and will continue to do so for a while, and that brings new stress for us to cope with. We are all doing our best, using the tools we have at our disposal, maybe learning new ones as we go along, not knowing at times how to understand ourselves, or how to keep up or catch up with what’s going on around us or in us. In all of it, I hope we can keep trying to be kind to ourselves and those around us as we respond/ react to whatever is happening, bringing gentle curiosity rather than judgment to ourselves and others. And I hope this meditation can help with that.

A Meditation for Calm & Compassion

The meditation I’m going to offer is a really simple one where we’ll be invited to take a few minutes to just be in our bodies – these dear bodies of ours that carry us through life and hold all our emotions, and that are processing a lot right now. We have this simple and incredible tool at our disposal at any moment of the day to help us come into our bodies and give them some support – our breath. Whenever we take just a few moments to consciously breathe, we come into our bodies rather than getting stuck in our minds with their often racing, problem-seeking and problem-solving thoughts; and as we breathe and come into our bodies we also come into the present moment, rather than being stuck in the future or the past. So let’s do that now.

Make sure you have some protected time for this and are in a comfortable position. Take your time with it, pause often, enjoy. You can decide whether you want to read ahead to see where this is going and then come back to engage with each element, or simply pause after each new suggestion. Of course, and always, adjust things to fit who you are and what you need in this moment – we are all different and that is wonderful!

Take a moment as you begin to really notice where you are, and then to notice your body in the chair or however you are positioned. Now either gently close your eyes or lower your gaze to the ground and keep it there softly, and just notice that your body is breathing itself without you making an effort for it to do so. You are alive and sustained.

Start to deepen your breath now, breathing in through your nose if you can, and out through either the nose or the mouth. Take a few deep breaths in and out, and notice how your chest and your belly expand and rise as you breathe in, and fall and empty as you breathe out. If it helps you, place a hand on your chest or stomach or both, as you breathe, and pay attention to the movement of your hand instead of the breathing itself. Just breathe.

If you want to, you could start now to lengthen the exhale, and really pay attention to it as the breath leaves through your mouth or nose. I like to breathe enough that it makes a bit of a rushing noise, with the mouth either closed or open. If you do this, listen to this hushing noise as you exhale, and let it be a HUSH, a kind and comforting “Ssshhh”, that you are saying wordlessly to your body, to your emotions, to your mind. Just saying,”It’s OK! Shhhh. Hush.” Just breathe a few times like this, deeply in, deeply and slowly out, with a comforting HUSH to yourself.

As you breathe now, notice if there is anywhere in your body that is feeling anxious or tense or unsettled. If you like, put a caring hand on the part of your body where you feel this emotion or sensation, and as you breathe, use your breath to give loving attention and support to this part of you or this feeling, with no judgment and no need to fix or change it or yourself. Just letting it be, just breathing, just being as you are in this moment.

Continuing to breathe, you might be able to release some tension you feel in your body on the exhale, perhaps relaxing your shoulders or un-tensing your hands.

As you give yourself and your body this loving, accepting, calming presence, just as you are right now, I invite you to repeat, out loud if you want or can, or just internally in your mind and heart, these phrases that express the lovingkindness you are directing towards yourself:

May I be filled with lovingkindness.

May I be safe and protected.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

As you continue to repeat these phrases (used in Lovingkindness Meditation), you can picture yourself – either as you are now or as a child – and hold that image in your mind and heart as you direct lovingkindness towards yourself. Adjust the images and the words as you want and need in order to best open your heart to kindness and compassion, remembering that without loving yourself it is difficult to love others. 

May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe and protected.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.

Repeat these phrases a few times, letting any feelings of compassion and love permeate your body and mind, while also being aware that the meditation could feel mechanical or awkward or bring up feelings that are the opposite of lovingkindness – maybe feelings of irritation or anger or sadness. If this happens, it is especially important to be patient and kind toward yourself, allowing whatever arises to be received with friendliness and kind affection.

Now, having evoked this lovingkindness towards yourself, you can expand this to include others, turning any worry or concern you may feel for others into intentional wishes for their well-being. So choose a person or people that you are concerned about, picture them, and repeat the same phrases with them in mind, with love and care:

May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe and protected.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.

As you repeat the phrases, it doesn’t matter whether the image or feelings are clear or not. It just matters that your intention is to wish them well, and to open your heart to lovingkindness and compassion.

May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe and protected.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.

After directing lovingkindness towards this person or these people, you can if you like gradually begin to include others in your meditation, perhaps in ever-widening circles, even expanding your concern and compassion to include our global community at this time. We need this, our world needs this.

May you be filled with lovingkindness.
May you be safe and protected.
May you be well in body and mind.
May you be at ease and happy.

As we draw this meditation to a close, take a moment to check in with your body. How does it feel now? If there is even the slightest bit of calm or compassion or peace that’s been created by coming into your body, paying attention to your breath, and directing lovingkindness towards yourself, your body, and others, notice this and savour it now for a moment. Let it be. Let it grow.

As you end this meditation, you might want to take a moment to let your body know you will be back at a future point to give it some more loving attention and let it breathe more deeply. 

Well done and thank you!
Be safe, friends, and BREATHE! 🙂

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